This year, Skippy and I have been doing a lot to try and reduce our carbon footprint. We’ve revamped our veggie garden, upped our recycling and composting so that less than 5% of our waste goes to landfill, fixed our bikes so we can cycle most places, and started buying all of our food (the one exception being Lyle’s Golden Syrup from the UK- because it’s that good) locally.
Overall, recently we’ve been feeling pretty pleased with ourselves… until I researched how many tonnes of CO2 had been emitted into the atmosphere courtesy of our penchant for travel… and the hefty carbon footprints of flights that comes with it. I used MyClimate.org to calculate the impact of our flights and, without including our two upcoming return trips to the UK, it came in at a shocking 24.2 tonnes. That’s the same as one American family (FAMILY- NOT COUPLE!), an amount that would cost a staggering £649 to offset.
Skippy and I don’t have £649 to spare and, although we always click the option to carbon offset our flights when we book them, I’m sceptical about this as an efficient way of reducing carbon emissions. If your house was flooding from a burst pipe, would you pay for someone to scoop the water out bucket by bucket? Or would you try to fix the burst pipe? You’d probably spend most of your money on the latter, and a small amount on the former in order to minimise damage in the interim. You certainly wouldn’t ignore the burst pipe just because, bucket by bucket, you were slowly getting the water levels to go down!
If we follow this line of thinking then, the obvious solution to carbon emissions from flights would be to fly as little as possible… and this is where we have a problem. While, as a bi-national couple (I’m English and Skippy is, funnily enough, Australian), we fly a lot, we also have a Millenial addiction to “travelling”. To quote a Forbes article from last year, “What’s more important to millennials than escaping from their student loans, buying a big-ticket item, or even improving relationships with their family and friends? If you guessed travel, you’d be correct”.
When my parents were in their twenties, barely anyone they knew went “travelling” or took a “gap year”. They went on holidays and island-hopped around the Greek islands or drove around the Dordogne. Now, on the other hand, nearly everyone I know has visited at least one South-East Asian country, or South America, or Australia, or all three, and/ or taken a gap year. Fuelled by plummeting airline prices, in an age where everyone wants to be unique, going on the same journey of self-exploration in similar locations around the world has practically become a rite of passage- and should it be?
In the six years since I turned 18, I’ve visited ten different countries- I’m just as guilty of Millenial travel addiction as that tattooed, dreadlocked person you know who only knows one song on the guitar ( probably Wonderwall). But the best, most rewarding trips I’ve done have been ones in locations that are easily accessible by road or rail; ski seasons in the French Alps (to which I travelled by coach 90% of the time) and a surf season in France and Northern Spain (the former is easy to get to by train, to get to the latter I went by car). In both cases, I stayed for at least two weeks- often four or more- meaning that not only did I “get my emissions’ worth out of my trip” (as opposed to burning all that fuel for the sake of only a few days) but I also formed lasting bonds with the people I met and the places I visited.
In Naomi Klein’s fantastic book, This Changes Everything, she argues that we need to “return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s” if we are to keep the rise in global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius. Thinking about this in relation to travel, and in relation to my own travel experiences, I think she’s right.
Of course, some things have changed and made reverting to a 1970s way of travelling a bit of a challenge. For example, Across Asia on the Cheap suggested a budget of US$500 for 4 months travel back in 1973 as well as hitch-hiking across all of Europe. But if we think back to “the hippie trail” from London to Singapore, or hippie culture in general, what’s there to stop us Millenials from taking a few tips from our parents’ generation? From ditching the mini-breaks and booze-fuelled trips to Shagalouf and replacing them with adventures? From avoiding expensive airfares and making our own way from A to B?
I have a good friend whose parents spent their honeymoon cycling around France. They simply cycled onto the ferry and cycled off. My own parents sailed from Plymouth to Jersey and back- arriving home a day later than planned because a storm had hit and stranded them in the Channel Islands. Both adventures yielded countless, often hilarious, stories.
Skippy and I are travelling around Europe this summer. We’re planning on catching up with friends but also on avoiding plane travel as much as we can. Instead, we’re making like the wannabe gap-yah types that we are and giving interrailing a go and, hopefully, we’ll be able to give my parents’ stories a run for their money…