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Transportation travel the world  keeping the environment healthy | Upload General

Travel The World: Keeping The Environment Healthy

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by: Sharai Hoekema
travel the world  keeping the environment healthy | Upload

Travelling has always been second nature to the human race. Historically, we have only found ourselves limited by the available means of transportation. Whereas our great-grandparents likely considered visiting the next town over to be a huge undertaking, we are now easily crossing borders and flying across continents to visit some of the most exciting places earth has to offer.

Flying! Why are we doing it?

We travel for work, to visit family, or for fun. The relative affordability of plane tickets has helped: for a couple of hundred euros, you will find yourself halfway across the world, visiting some miracle of mother nature. The problem? Soon, there will not be an awful lot of those natural treasures left to visit. Climate change is threatening popular tourist destinations like the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the South American Amazon, which has been made painfully clear by the events of the past few weeks.

graph ticket prices

Air travel: cleaner yet busier

And while our increased plane travel is not exclusively to blame for the breakdown of our earth, it has certainly been a notable contributor, accounting for 2-3% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Fact: more commercial flights take off today than at any point in history. Another fact: those are flying longer and more challenging routes, while being loaded heavier.

To be fair, air travel is cleaner than it has been in the past as well; with each plane requiring about 80% less fuel than it used to guzzle down some decades ago. Yet the mere quantity of flights taking off today does kind of offset this higher fuel efficiency and airlines’ increased focus on sustainability. Only this year, we recorded the busiest day in air traffic history – with 202,157 flights having taken off in a single day.

Keeping in mind that the polluting power of planes originates from their release of nitrogen oxides, some of the most powerful greenhouse gases out there, and that the industry will only keep on growing in the coming decades – and it is not hard to see why we should really try to become more mindful flyers. We unfortunately cannot rely on our governments to do it for us.

Government inaction on air travel

Indeed, despite a growing number of government bodies declaring climate emergencies, they seem rather lacklustre to limit the growth of the airline industry. Airports have been green-lighted for expansions and building extra runways and terminals to deal with the projected growth in travellers.

Only recently, plans were approved in the UK and The Netherlands to expand international airports, including London’s Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol. Rather hypocritical, you might say, to actively encourage one activity that is guaranteed to not help us fight global warming.

Recommended: Floating Cities: A Sustainable Concept For Future Communities

Unfortunately it is nothing uncommon. The airline industry has, for some reason, always managed to avoid the lion’s share of regulations and restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. Most countries are fiercely protecting their airline industry by not levying them like other industries, exempting them from anything from fuel taxes to emission accounting.

Industry action being taken

The airline industry itself is not really feeling the pressure either: although some airlines are really trying to portray themselves as being ‘greener’ and more sustainable than their counterparts, for instance through the use of paper cups and local sourcing of in-flight meals, this is still not making a large dent in the global emissions share.

Some countries did really try to offset these negative effects, let’s be clear about that. Australia, for instance, experimented with levying a carbon tax of about 15 euro per tonne of CO2. The effect of this measure was hardly noticeable, with no detectable change in the number of kilometres flown. Research showed that the drop in ticket prices actually offset the effect of this tax, even if it was to be passed on to passengers in full. Other variable costs, such as the cost of jet fuel, had a much larger effect on the overall bottom line – effectively reducing the added carbon tax to spare change.

Either way, the desired effect – moving airlines to cleaner energy alternatives, such as those generated by solar or wind power – was not detected. Cleaner fuels and technology are simply not yet available on the scale as required by the global airline industry, even if it were to be price-competitive.



                                                 Travel The World: Keeping The Environment Healthy
                                                               What's the greenest way to travel?

 

Ways of discouraging air travel

So, if taxes on carbon emissions are not the answer, and awareness of the detrimental nature of flying does not quite change our behaviour either. What would be a good way of discouraging air travel? Some are arguing for some kind of frequent flyer-tax, where individual passengers get levied based on the distance they are flying in a given year. However, critics say that this will only serve to increase the gap between the rich and poor passengers, with the latter being priced out of the market and the former not really caring, as they can easily afford it anyway. The net result would be zero.

Others are proposing some kind of flight allowance for all of us. We get rationed to, say, 500 km of flight per year. If we do not use up this allowance, we will get double this amount the year after. And so on, and so forth – we keep saving our allowance, until we get to take that one big trip – or perhaps opt for trading in those kilometres for cash or other benefits. Perpetrators who travel more than their allotted number of kilometres could be fined or even be blacklisted from air travel altogether.

Sustainable alternatives to plane travel

Some will cry, ‘but I need to get to that other place’. And it obviously should not be the goal to make us less mobile. The goal should be to have more sustainable alternatives explored, such as rail travel. Sadly, even if you are seriously considering this option, you will be quick to find that it is hardly convenient for larger distances – and definitely not competitive when it comes to price. One will have to be really committed to the cause to fork over a multiple of the plane ticket price for a journey that might take days or even weeks instead of hours.

Young climate activist Greta Thunberg famously took a zero-emission yacht to get to New York. Admirable, although critics are pointing at the added cost and travel time that most of us simply cannot afford – and frowning at the need for her crew to be flown in and out, effectively requiring more plane tickets rather than less. Nonetheless, her actions have inspired a so-called feeling of ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame’ in her native Sweden, having led to a net decline in passengers of up to 8% in the first quarter of this year alone.

Recommended: ‘Flygskam’: The Trend Of Scandinavian Shame Of Flying

New ways to travel the world

So the alternatives are shaky, to say the least, but developing at a steady pace. High-speed rail connections could make some of the world’s busiest air travel routes obsolete, while the illustrious hyperloop might considerably speed up longer distance (inter)continental traffic.

The concept of orbital rings is another futuristic solution that is frequently coined, consisting of steel cables running magnet-powered, gravity-sped trains some 80 kilometres above the earth’s surface. For the travellers who do not mind a slower pace, air cruises could become a thing – using zeppelin-like structures to fly mostly on hydrogen-like fuels.

White electric plane and chairs

Recommended: Electric Flying With Eviation’s Alice Commuter Plane: Israel

Planes do not even have to be abandoned, provided that we can come up with cleaner sources of fuel. Electric aeroplanes could be the next big thing, running on batteries as produced in a clean and responsible manner. Or planes fuelled by hydrogen or other forms of organic fuel – like sunflower oil, or algae. The technology to make it happen is already here, we just need to embrace it on a larger scale.

Change the world, start with air travel

But perhaps that is just what it really is. Whether we are making incremental changes, by changing the type of fuel that powers our existing airplanes, or radical changes, by exploring near-science fiction-like concepts, it all starts with willingness and openness. With someone daring to take a risk and making a stance. And with the rest of us caring enough about the survival of our planet to seek out those greener ways of exploring its treasures, ensuring their continued existence in the process.

Airship

Recommended: Sustainable Air Travel: Climate Change Mindset And Tips

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Travel The World: Keeping The Environment Healthy

Travelling has always been second nature to the human race. Historically, we have only found ourselves limited by the available means of transportation. Whereas our great-grandparents likely considered visiting the next town over to be a huge undertaking, we are now easily crossing borders and flying across continents to visit some of the most exciting places earth has to offer. Flying! Why are we doing it? We travel for work, to visit family, or for fun. The relative affordability of plane tickets has helped: for a couple of hundred euros, you will find yourself halfway across the world, visiting some miracle of mother nature. The problem? Soon, there will not be an awful lot of those natural treasures left to visit. Climate change is threatening popular tourist destinations like the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the South American Amazon, which has been made painfully clear by the events of the past few weeks. Air travel: cleaner yet busier And while our increased plane travel is not exclusively to blame for the breakdown of our earth, it has certainly been a notable contributor, accounting for 2-3% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Fact: more commercial flights take off today than at any point in history. Another fact: those are flying longer and more challenging routes, while being loaded heavier. To be fair, air travel is cleaner than it has been in the past as well; with each plane requiring about 80% less fuel than it used to guzzle down some decades ago. Yet the mere quantity of flights taking off today does kind of offset this higher fuel efficiency and airlines’ increased focus on sustainability. Only this year, we recorded the busiest day in air traffic history – with 202,157 flights having taken off in a single day. Keeping in mind that the polluting power of planes originates from their release of nitrogen oxides, some of the most powerful greenhouse gases out there, and that the industry will only keep on growing in the coming decades – and it is not hard to see why we should really try to become more mindful flyers. We unfortunately cannot rely on our governments to do it for us. Government inaction on air travel Indeed, despite a growing number of government bodies declaring climate emergencies, they seem rather lacklustre to limit the growth of the airline industry. Airports have been green-lighted for expansions and building extra runways and terminals to deal with the projected growth in travellers. Only recently, plans were approved in the UK and The Netherlands to expand international airports, including London’s Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol. Rather hypocritical, you might say, to actively encourage one activity that is guaranteed to not help us fight global warming. Recommended:  Floating Cities: A Sustainable Concept For Future Communities Unfortunately it is nothing uncommon. The airline industry has, for some reason, always managed to avoid the lion’s share of regulations and restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. Most countries are fiercely protecting their airline industry by not levying them like other industries, exempting them from anything from fuel taxes to emission accounting. Industry action being taken The airline industry itself is not really feeling the pressure either: although some airlines are really trying to portray themselves as being ‘greener’ and more sustainable than their counterparts, for instance through the use of paper cups and local sourcing of in-flight meals, this is still not making a large dent in the global emissions share. Some countries did really try to offset these negative effects, let’s be clear about that. Australia, for instance, experimented with levying a carbon tax of about 15 euro per tonne of CO2. The effect of this measure was hardly noticeable, with no detectable change in the number of kilometres flown. Research showed that the drop in ticket prices actually offset the effect of this tax, even if it was to be passed on to passengers in full. Other variable costs, such as the cost of jet fuel, had a much larger effect on the overall bottom line – effectively reducing the added carbon tax to spare change. Either way, the desired effect – moving airlines to cleaner energy alternatives, such as those generated by solar or wind power – was not detected. Cleaner fuels and technology are simply not yet available on the scale as required by the global airline industry, even if it were to be price-competitive. {youtube}                                                  Travel The World: Keeping The Environment Healthy                                                                What's the greenest way to travel?   Ways of discouraging air travel So, if taxes on carbon emissions are not the answer, and awareness of the detrimental nature of flying does not quite change our behaviour either. What would be a good way of discouraging air travel? Some are arguing for some kind of frequent flyer-tax, where individual passengers get levied based on the distance they are flying in a given year. However, critics say that this will only serve to increase the gap between the rich and poor passengers, with the latter being priced out of the market and the former not really caring, as they can easily afford it anyway. The net result would be zero. Others are proposing some kind of flight allowance for all of us. We get rationed to, say, 500 km of flight per year. If we do not use up this allowance, we will get double this amount the year after. And so on, and so forth – we keep saving our allowance, until we get to take that one big trip – or perhaps opt for trading in those kilometres for cash or other benefits. Perpetrators who travel more than their allotted number of kilometres could be fined or even be blacklisted from air travel altogether. Sustainable alternatives to plane travel Some will cry, ‘but I need to get to that other place’. And it obviously should not be the goal to make us less mobile. The goal should be to have more sustainable alternatives explored, such as rail travel. Sadly, even if you are seriously considering this option, you will be quick to find that it is hardly convenient for larger distances – and definitely not competitive when it comes to price. One will have to be really committed to the cause to fork over a multiple of the plane ticket price for a journey that might take days or even weeks instead of hours. Young climate activist Greta Thunberg famously took a zero-emission yacht to get to New York. Admirable, although critics are pointing at the added cost and travel time that most of us simply cannot afford – and frowning at the need for her crew to be flown in and out, effectively requiring more plane tickets rather than less. Nonetheless, her actions have inspired a so-called feeling of ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame’ in her native Sweden, having led to a net decline in passengers of up to 8% in the first quarter of this year alone. Recommended:  ‘Flygskam’: The Trend Of Scandinavian Shame Of Flying New ways to travel the world So the alternatives are shaky, to say the least, but developing at a steady pace. High-speed rail connections could make some of the world’s busiest air travel routes obsolete, while the illustrious hyperloop might considerably speed up longer distance (inter)continental traffic. The concept of orbital rings is another futuristic solution that is frequently coined, consisting of steel cables running magnet-powered, gravity-sped trains some 80 kilometres above the earth’s surface. For the travellers who do not mind a slower pace, air cruises could become a thing – using zeppelin-like structures to fly mostly on hydrogen-like fuels. Recommended:  Electric Flying With Eviation’s Alice Commuter Plane: Israel Planes do not even have to be abandoned, provided that we can come up with cleaner sources of fuel. Electric aeroplanes could be the next big thing, running on batteries as produced in a clean and responsible manner. Or planes fuelled by hydrogen or other forms of organic fuel – like sunflower oil, or algae. The technology to make it happen is already here, we just need to embrace it on a larger scale. Change the world, start with air travel But perhaps that is just what it really is. Whether we are making incremental changes, by changing the type of fuel that powers our existing airplanes, or radical changes, by exploring near-science fiction-like concepts, it all starts with willingness and openness. With someone daring to take a risk and making a stance. And with the rest of us caring enough about the survival of our planet to seek out those greener ways of exploring its treasures, ensuring their continued existence in the process. Recommended:  Sustainable Air Travel: Climate Change Mindset And Tips
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