How travel contributes to climate breakdown
- 15% of of all global green-house gas emissions come directly from transportation, for our commute to work, flying for vacation, taking a train for a business meeting, etc.
- On top of that 15% is the assembly process, which requires energy, generating huge carbon emissions for all modes of transport before they're even used! When a fossil-fuel burning vehicle hits the road it releases tonnes of carbon in the process. There are over 1 billion of these vehicles on the road today.
- 2% of the worlds emissions come from air travel, but only 10% of people in the world fly. 2% is the same amount as processing the entire worlds sewage, and 100% of the world are involved in that.
- Fossil fuels first need to be extracted, refined, and transported for use, all of which uses a lot of energy. There are leakages and spillages at every step of this process.
- Electric cars don’t emit any carbon once on the road, however they do require energy which has to come from somewhere. An electric car running on electricity generated by coal can create more CO2 than a petrol car.
- Contrary to popular belief, modern petrol cars produce more emissions than older models. The engines are becoming more efficient with new technology, but cars are getting bigger and heavier, with SUV's and luxury vehicles becoming more popular, even in 2020.
What stops us from changing how we travel?
- Many people have picked the location of our homes and the jobs we work at, based on having access to a car, so there may not be public transport.
- Many people have chosen the city or country we live in based on the assumption we can fly home to visit family easily.
- Unlike train travel, flying is heavily subsidized with our tax money, so we pick the cheaper mode of transportation.
- Electric cars seem scary due to uncertainty about finding compatible charging points at convenient locations.
- Acting on climate change represents a trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits, which is the hardest trade-off for people to make. Ignoring it in the short-term is easy as we don’t have to make any personal sacrifices.
What you can do now
The best thing to do is get rid of your fossil fuel powered vehicles
To have the most impact switch to cycling, public transport, and walking. For those who must have access to a car, consider sharing one with others, increasing the utility of each individual vehicle. If you absolutely must own your own an electric car is your best bet — though it's important to ensure your electricity supply is as close to 100% renewable as possible.
Owning an electric car is not as expensive as you might think, as many countries offer tax rebates, free road tax, and over the long term there are savings to be made on recharging and maintenance. Many governments have already committed to ban fossil fuel vehicle sales, some by 2030, others by 2050. Think of this as an investment for the future, which will save you money over time. Even better, if you're a couple/family with two petrol cars, you could sell the two petrol cars, buy one electric car, one electric bicycle for commuting, and still have money left over for a train vacation to explore somewhere amazing closer to home.
Another approach is getting vehicles converted. This reduces the amount of manufacturing emissions associated with your vehicle switch.
How much would this help?
A lot! Every time we take a carbon emitting vehicle off the road we send a message to car companies that we don’t want fossil fuel powered cars anymore. As their demand drops, more electric cars will be bought. With higher demand, supply and competition will increase causing prices to drop. Plus we’d innovate faster on the technology — better range, faster charging and more charging locations.
Only fly when you absolutely must
Airline companies often talk about a sustainable future, but there is no viable technology to decarbonize flying any time in the next 20 years. Biofuel is often mentioned, but that requires mass deforestation to plant monoculture crops. The growing, processing, and transportation is still horrendous. Electric planes are being used for 30 minute hops in Norway, but they're a long way from replacing long haul flights.
Until someone figures out how to decarbonise airplanes we are going to have to make some changes to our lifestyles. Try and save flying for long-haul journeys which can’t be achieved any other way. If you need to travel a shorter distance there’s usually another way. Look into it, cleaner travels methods like rail can be cheaper, and while it may take longer, you will get to experience more along the way.
How much would this help?
Air travel might only account for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but this is created by 10% of the population. The recommended sustainable annual footprint for a single person is 2.3 tonnes of CO2, and flying a long-haul return trip could be 50-90% of that annual budget used in one go. For the small number of flyers, stopping flying is the biggest impact they could have on their footprint.
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Help change the system
Support the people, groups and parties who prioritise the planet
All global warming could be helped by changes to laws across the world which prioritise the planet. Find your local candidates who promise to prioritise the planet and support them.
Get involved on a grassroots level with activist groups and charities trying to raise awareness.
How can I do even more?
Become a vocal advocate of preventing climate breakdown. You could stand as a political candidate prioritising the planet, or join an activist group or charity.
Why not start your own business or charity trying to fix a problem associated with climate change.
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We’re killing the planet. 26% of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions enter our atmosphere because of the way we travel. To reduce these we must:
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