The Unseen Cost of Travel

Back at the start of May I was invited to speak at a business networking event run by Moral Fairground on the theme ‘The Unseen Cost of Travel’, alongside Intrepid Travel co-founder Geoff Manchester and Janine Hendry of Reho Travel. The invitation came about as a result of my posts here last year on the climate impacts of air travel. My brief was to cover the implications of carbon offsetting.

Here’s what I had to say, under the rough title ‘Carbon offsets or carbon penances? What a finite emission budget means for air travel and tourism futures.’


For a period pretty much identical to my own lifetime, travel for most rich-world citizens has effectively been synonymous with flying. In broader historical terms that’s a very small blip, and I’ll come back to that at the end in thinking about how those of us who take climate change seriously might deal with the dilemma that commercial aviation presents. Continue reading

Flying in the face of climate science—Part 2: Air travel emissions in perspective

The first installment of this two-part series set out the case for why carbon offsetting is incompatible with serious response to climate change, and looked specifically at what this implies for rich-world attachment to air travel.

In coming to terms with why this does actually matter, there is a further basic question that needs grappling with: why should flying in particular be singled out for such scrutiny? It’s hardly the largest source of emissions overall, so why give it such weight? With carbon dioxide from aviation accounting for just 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions (roughly 12 percent of CO2 emissions from transport, which in turn is 15 percent of the global total) the concern I’m expressing might seem thoroughly misplaced. Even for Australia, direct aviation emissions account only for 3.1 percent of the national total for all greenhouse gases (i.e. on a Global Warming Potential CO2 equivalent basis, rather than in terms of CO2 alone). I suspect this may in fact play a substantial part in why broader cultural attitudes diverge so sharply from my own.

There is a two-level problem with this apparently obvious but far too simplistic view. Continue reading

Flying in the face of climate science—Part 1

NASA released data last Monday indicating that the recent streak of monthly global temperature records has continued, with July 2016 being the hottest month since the modern temperature record commenced in 1880. Each month in 2016 has now been the hottest on record—in fact each of the last fifteen months running have now seen record maximum temperatures. The first seven months of 2016 averaged 1.3oC warmer than at the start of the record in the late nineteenth century. Arctic sea ice monitoring shows it at lowest recorded coverage for five out of the first six months of the year. 2016 is almost certainly on the way to being the hottest year on record.

It is now just seven months since announcement of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. That agreement supposedly paves the way for keeping global temperature increase during this century ‘well below’ 2oC, with hopes even of a more ambitious restriction to 1.5oC. This is viewed—rather arbitrarily—as the threshold for a relatively ‘safe’ global climate. In light of the current warming trend though, that mitigation task, regarded only last December as achievable by signatories to the Paris Agreement, seems already to have slipped from reach. Continue reading