So you’ve probably heard about the record-breaking heat wave that swept across the Pacific Northwest at the end of June. This terrifying rise of temperatures was caused by “heat domes” (zones of high pressure air that linger over regions and allow heat to accumulate) and is forcing many people to reckon with the direct impacts that climate change has on their safety. It seems like climate change is slapping us in the face these days. Since we normally don’t enjoy being smacked around, we’re doubling down on how to lessen our contribution to it. At the same time, many Americans are freshly vaccinated and ready to hit the road and travel for the first time in nearly a year and a half. So how do we balance our desire to get out there and enjoy our summer vacations while also being cognisant of the greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts that summer travel will bring? In this post, we’ve got some tips for lowering your travel footprint.
BAD NEWS FIRST
Flying is super expensive, and it’s also very carbon-intensive. Mile for mile, air travel is the most environmentally-damaging way to move from place to place -- the airline industry is responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2e emissions. Do you know what one cross-country flight and 46 square feet of Arctic sea ice have in common? 1.4 metric tons of CO2e. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a roundtrip flight between New York and Los Angeles is equal to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that will melt 46 square feet of Arctic sea ice. Yup, our flying habit is directly contributing to the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice. 1.4 metric tons of CO2e is also more greenhouse gas emissions than what 705 million individuals would produce annually when our individual actions are added together. You read that correctly — 705 million people on Earth go about their daily lives and their annual impact on climate change is less than one round-trip, cross-country flight. Talk about figuring out how to live within one’s boundaries.
The impacts of air travel are devastating and while our aircrafts are becoming about 1% more fuel efficient each year, the overall emissions associated with the industry aren’t going away. In fact, as more people travel, it’s getting worse. Aviation emissions increased 32% between 2013 and 2018, and will continue to rise as air travel is expected to increase by about 6% year-over-year. Air travel is a privilege that a very small percentage of people have access to and it is so important that we remember just how impactful this privilege is.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
How about that road trip?! Maybe save a few bucks by traveling on a bus, or travel the old school way via train. If you do have to fly, take non-stop flights since airplanes emit the most CO2e during takeoff and landing.
Before you leave home, unplug lamps, electronics, and your A/C unit (if you’re in the right climate). If you’re worried about a now-all-too-common heat wave spoiling pantry food and damaging electronics, set your A/C to 85 degrees to remove excess humidity from your house or apartment while saving energy.
We love Stojo collapsible water bottles and coffee cups because they’re super light, easily packable, and made of silicone (which is way better than plastic since it’s made of silica sand rather than crude oil). Trust us, you’ll wish you’d brought that reusable bottle if you show up to the airport empty handed and have to pay $5 for one of those dinky single-use bottles. We also like to pack those reusable cotton totes that everyone and their mother is giving out these days. They’re perfect for carrying unexpected things you pick up along the way and keeping pesky to-go bags out of the landfill. If you’ve somehow avoided accumulating 865,472 cotton totes, check out Baggu — their bags are made of recycled nylon and fold up into tiny little squares that are super light and easy to pack. If you want to go the extra mile, pack a set of reusable utensils, so you can say no to plastic cutlery while on the road. We love this one since it’s compact and comes with a washable pouch.
The lighter your luggage, the less fuel is required to transport it to wherever it’s going. According to Delta rep Ashton Morrow, if each Delta customer cut their luggage weight by two pounds, the annual environmental impact from reduced fuel consumption would be equivalent to taking 10,500 cars off of the road. Pro tip: Bring a detergent bar like this one for spot treating and hand-washing clothes on the go. Hotel laundry is usually super expensive and you can pack lighter if hand washing is an option.
When you do have to buy drinks in single-use packaging, choose wisely. We pick aluminum cans when possible since they’re the most widely and easily recycled. Glass bottles are second best, and we try to avoid single-use plastic at all costs. Here’s why. We also recommend shopping and eating locally if you can. Why go to Alaska only to buy a cheap plastic souvenir that was made in China? Why go to Maine if you’re going to eat salmon that traveled 4,500 miles to get to you? Supporting local farmers and artisans is always a good idea.