Should we stop flying and live in a "Hundred Mile Habitat"?

The bumper sticker on my car/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Over at Grist, Christie Aschwanden doesn't think much of TreeHugger founder Graham Hill's travel habits. In Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat — not just your apartment, she writes about Graham's "one lingering climate sin — a not-so-little travel habit." She complains about so-called environmentalists who travel:

Some of these “bleeding-heart jet setters” swore that they’d earned these flights with their green behaviors at home, even though their air travel obliterated the gains they’d made doing things like recycling and turning down the thermostat.

Christie concludes:

When you do travel, ride your bike or take public transit whenever possible. Drive if you must. And if you absolutely have to fly, buy carbon offsets like Graham Hill does. But understand that you can’t buy a clean conscience. As environmental journalist George Monbiot writes, “There is no way to halt global warming and continue traveling long distances at high speeds.”

Hill is right that reducing your consumption is a good way to start shrinking your impact on the planet. But if you really want a small climate footprint, you’ll need a small habitat too.

It's true that flying has a big carbon footprint; we have written about it on TreeHugger a lot. As George Monbiot has noted, this is a tough sell.

If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening.

But it is a complex issue. TreeHugger Mat wrestled with this:

Travel is good. From the act of movement itself, to the experience of new places, people, cultures and ideas, travel is a good thing. Strike that. Travel is a great thing. Though often times in the green movement in the past few years we have glossed over all the benefits of global travel in our blindered focus on carbon footprint, let's not lose sight of the fact that it's not travel itself that's the problem. What isn't always so great in all this, where it all gets muddied into various shades of greyish green, is how travel is done.....

There are non-carbon benefits to travel that, though they cannot be compared directly, are great and worthwhile. From traveling to support progressive action, to visit relatives, to just purposeful and life-enriching wandering, there is more to life than carbon emissions. (Yes, I said it, heresy as that may seem to some.)

Emphasis mine. What do you think?


Tags: Airplanes | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Transportation