I get a thrill every time I feel the three-second gravitational pull of a plane taking off. In 2019, I felt it 17 times on flights between the US, Mexico and Asia, and I plan to feel it another dozen times in 2020.
Some people, like Greta Thunberg, might wonder how I can justify traveling all over the world in an airplane. My upcoming flight from San Francisco to Barcelona will cost the environment 1.6 metric tonnes of carbon emissions. That’s just my share. To put that in perspective, hyper-consuming Americans use about 16 metric tonnes a year for everything.
I started thinking more about this after I read an article in The Guardian about a man who decided to travel from Germany to Canada with a lower carbon footprint. Instead of flying, he took a cargo ship across the pond and then a train across Canada to Vancouver. He was responsible for only a few kilograms of carbon emissions, and he had a lovely “immersive” experience. The trip took three weeks and cost more than $2,000. To put that in perspective, my flight to Barcelona will cost about $250 and will take less than 12 hours. I am pretty sure our hero won’t do that immersive trip again unless he has to write another article. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/jan/07/cargo-ship-train-rail-to-vancouver-canada-low-carbon-travel-europe
Since I am not doing a cargo ship to Barcelona to save on carbon emissions, my other option is to stay home, which I am not doing while 45 is wreaking havoc. I am voting with my feet, even if I am flying.
I defend my current aeronautical lifestyle by telling myself I am just drawing down a few of the carbon emissions I have saved in my life. I have been a vegetarian for 52 years. I sold my car. I have driven my family crazy about wasting energy. I have been wearing used clothes for 20 years and, for the last four years, I buy very little except what I eat — I pay other people so I can use their used stuff. Here’s the big one: I gave birth to no children. In carbon emissions savings, that’s 16 metric tonnes x 78 years x 2 children for a total savings of 2500 metric tonnes of carbon — or 1500 flights to Europe.
I still feel guilty, but there’s a bigger point. Although every one of us needs to change what and how much we consume, we also need government action. For example, if I don’t fly to Barcelona, the plane will take off anyway with the same carbon footprint. We need to reduce the number of planes taking off, with, for example, taxes on plane flights that acknowledge environmental damage, and require airline companies to develop technologies that reduce emissions. https://www.co2nsensus.com/chose-a-carbon-offset-project Oh and all kinds of other things my hopelessly analytical brain wants me to think about.
I love you, America, Land of the Free, but I am not holding my breath. And instead of spending $874 to get to NYC on Amtrak, I will do the best I can while I live my own brand of freedom.