I used to love planes! I was absolutely fascinated by these monstrous machines taking off into the clouds thanks to human engineering genius. When the Airbus A380 was being built I collected newspaper articles about the construction and stuck a photograph of the plane on my fridge.
I also used to love hanging out at airports. When friends went on holiday I offered to meet up for a drink at the terminal and wave them goodbye because it meant a chance to soak in the shiny and cosmopolitan jet-setting atmosphere and watch the planes take off.
I used to love air travel since I had first boarded a plane to Buenos Aires. I was 20 years old and the trip was the most daring thing I’d ever done in my life. Flying was still something less of the ordinary and I felt extremely privileged.
Ten years later the novelty has worn off. Year after year I’ve spent more time at airports. Planes have taken me to exotic places, to job interviews and business meetings, to my partner or home for Christmas. What used to be a luxury has become a need.
And I am not alone. Most people nowadays wouldn’t even think about taking the train when planning their holidays. Thanks to budget airlines a lot more of us can now afford to travel across Europe to go to a birthday party in Munich or see a friend in Istanbul. This is great. Except that the consequences are horrendous.
There is no way around the fact that flights are bad news for the environment. First of all, planes are worse than most other forms of transport in terms of the impact of greenhouse gases per passenger mile. Flying also allows us to travel a far greater number of miles than we otherwise could. These two factors combined are the reasons why individual trips by air can have a remarkably large carbon footprint.
A friend of mine recently wrote in an email that she felt guilty for traveling by plane to Mallorca to see her parents. In Frankfurt I spoke to a man who was very conscious of the impact he as an individual made on the environment. He would never board a plane, no matter what. I found this attitude very inspiring.
My personal carbon footprint is something of an ecological nightmare: 14 flights from January to December 2012 alone! I live abroad, fair enough, and my family and many of my friends are based in Germany. But somehow that seems a bit of a weak excuse when thinking about the long term impact of my individual choices.
According to WWF UK, a passenger on a flight to Paris is responsible for ten times more CO2 emissions than a person using the Eurostar. I actually wanted to go back home by train this year for Christmas. But then I got confused by the Eurostar’s online booking system and opted for easyjet instead. (Again, very weak excuse!)
Living in London has made me a bit more aware of the extent of air travel that is taking place across Europe. It is only during the night that no planes can be seen in the sky. Apart from that I hear them all the time starting from or flying to one of the city’s five airports. When I went to Heathrow for the first time I was genuinely shocked because of its enormous dimensions and the amount of people traveling to and from there every day. Where are they all going, and why?
Finally, I’ve decided to reduce my ecological footprint and will try not to fly in 2013. This will be difficult when visiting back home but it’s not impossible. And for going on holidays it’s actually quite good that I live in another country: there are lots of beautiful places in the UK that I haven’t seen yet.