Commercial air travel is incredibly damaging to our environment. Just one round-trip flight from New York City to San Francisco, CA is estimated to put 2.5 tons of greenhouse gases into the air–nearly 15% of the annual carbon emissions for the average American.
And while scientists are hard at work to develop alternative fuels and more efficient engines that can lessen that impact, there’s no easy answer on the horizon.
So what’s an environmentally conscious person to do? Just as we’ve done with consumer goods, our first response can be to reduce the amount of flights we take or avoid flying entirely.
Yet air travel can also create opportunities for positive impact, as anyone who has flown to visit a loved one knows. There’s just no substitute to being there in person.
Treat Air Travel as a Privilege
As with so many things in this day and age, we’re called on to be mindful with our air travel and question our assumptions: Is the spiritual, philanthropic, or other return on this carbon investment a responsible use of our shared resources?
Flying around the world is a privilege unprecedented in human history. Let’s act like it.
10 Tips to Reduce the Impact of Air Travel
- Advocate for alternative communications tools. For business travelers, options like Skype or Maestro can spare the Earth and your company’s budget.
- Explore other ways to travel. Train, bus, and bicycle travel can have anywhere from half to none of the environmental impact of plane travel.
- Buy carbon offsets for your trip. It’s an imperfect option, as offsets can’t reverse damage that’s already been done (including your trip), but it’s something.
- Fly direct. Take-offs and landings use a disproportionate amount of energy.
- Lighten your load. Each additional pound of luggage increases the amount of fuel used.
- Check out budget airlines. Besides being easy on your wallet, budget airlines often have newer, more energy-efficient planes that carry more passengers (because there’s no business or first class).
- Bring your own [fill in the blank]. Pack your own meals in reusable containers to cut down on waste, save money, and feel healthier. Blankets, pillows, and headphones can also be brought from home.
- Travel to conscious destinations. Eco-resorts, community-based tourism, and volunteer travel programs can give your travel a purpose and positive impact.
- Choose low-impact transportation once you get there. Public transportation, biking, or walking can provide a more authentic experience of your destination.
- Reduce your impact in other areas of your life. Like carbon offsets, this tip isn’t license to fly as much as you want, but small daily changes can add up. Read more about community-based tourism.
Take a Purposeful Journey to Ecuador with Us
Our indigenous partners in Ecuador are keenly aware of the powerful opportunity travel provides when it comes to engaging new allies in the modern world.
They also know that a direct physical and spiritual experience of the wild, pristine Amazon rainforest speaks for itself, and community-based eco-tourism is their main alternative to oil development.
While our Pachamama Journeys to Ecuador are resource-intensive, nearly all travelers find it to be a wise carbon investment, clarifying their purpose and commitment to build a just, thriving, sustainable world.
More Resources for Low-impact Travel
- Characteristics of eco-friendly airlines from Ecolife
- Ranking of carbon offset providers from the David Suzuki Foundation
- Our tips and recommendations for community-based tourism
- Carbon footprint calculator from The Nature Conservancy
- Zero Waste Home’s tips for reducing your daily environmental impact
Share your tips and recommendations in the comments below or on our Facebook page.