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

In praise of fossil fuels—Part 2: the remarkable legacy of ancient life

Over the past quarter century, the justifiably deep concern held by many of us about climate change has led to a shift in humanity’s relationship with fossil fuels—burning of which accounts for well over 60 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This relationship seems to have shifted from what  might be roughly characterised as ‘appreciative ambivalence’ (as long as the supply spigots remained open) towards uneasiness at first and more recently, even open animosity. Given the bad rap that fossil fuels get from many of us now, there’s more than a little irony in the fact that, even beyond the idea that the modern human identity is shaped—as I suggested last week—in the image of fossil fuels, we humans and the energy sources that enable our present ways of living are expressions of the same Earth-centred and carbon-based life continuum. As the remnants of vast accumulations of deceased organisms laid down over millions of years, fossil fuels are in a manner of speaking a gift left to us by our ancient selves. Granted, holding such a view requires that we first adopt a bio-centric sense of identity—an identity with all Earth-based life across evolutionary time. Assuming such a default mode of self-understanding may be taking things just a little too far for some readers. In the interests of advancing the systemic intent of our inquiry though, this is perhaps not an entirely unreasonable suggestion, at least as a provocation to new thinking about our collective situation i.e. a perspective with which to experiment in order to see what it might reveal. Continue reading

In praise of fossil fuels—Part 1: establishing context

Comprehensive understanding of the environmental and resource implications for humanity’s economic activity involves thinking in terms of the full life cycles of our goods and services. Thanks in large part to the work of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, awareness of  “cradle to cradle” design thinking has spread beyond the worlds of industrial ecology and ecological economics to establish a toehold in popular sustainability-oriented discourse. Over the past decade or so, it has started to dawn on an increasing number of us that the things we consume on a daily basis are connected to a globe-spanning network of socio-ecological consequences the extent of which is belied by the apparently modest materiality of our “stuff”. It’s in the context of this awakening systemic insight that the concept of embodied energy has—at least amongst those of us with an interest in the relationships between the spheres of technology, society and environment—come to be meaningful. Here in Australia, particular effort has been directed towards making information about the embodied energy of housing construction materials widely available—and moreover, to making this understandable for people involved in making the decisions that this might inform.

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