I deeply appreciate John Pace’s recent meditation on the negative aspects of international travel, particularly its environmental impact (“The overwhelming desire to be somewhere …
I deeply appreciate John Pace’s recent meditation on the negative aspects of international travel, particularly its environmental impact (“The overwhelming desire to be somewhere else,” River Reporter, August 17-23).
Most people recognize that the climate crisis is already underway. Yet we behave as though our own actions don’t make a difference. It seems we have come to feel entitled to travel virtually anywhere in the world, putting all knowledge of the planetary impact safely out of mind.
Researching this letter led me to www.flightfree.org, where you can calculate the climate impact of your air travel. A one-way flight from New York to Paris emits two metric tons of CO2 equivalent per passenger.
That’s enough, according to the site, to melt 68 square feet of Arctic sea ice—and more than what 1.5 billion people in the world emit in an entire year.
For another perspective on those two metric tons: That’s what the average global carbon footprint per year needs to be by 2050 if we are to avert a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.
International travel is one of many human activities—including population, GDP, energy use, dam building and foreign investment, among others—that have surged dramatically in recent decades. So has a series of environmental changes, like greenhouse gas levels, deforestation, ocean acidification and biodiversity loss.
When graphed, the trend lines for all these parameters start to skyrocket circa 1950. This exponential rise across a host of socioeconomic and environmental measures has been termed the Great Acceleration.
The average American’s carbon footprint, Mr. Pace wrote, is 4.6 tons a year. But from what I’ve found, that’s actually the global average. In 2021, the figure for Americans was more than three times that, at 15 metric tons per capita.
Avoiding air travel is one of the most significant measures we can take to shrink our carbon footprints. Another is to cut back on the amount of animal products we eat.
According to new research from the University of Oxford, people who follow a plant-based diet account for 75 percent less in greenhouse gas emissions than those who eat more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day.
A vegan diet also causes significantly less harm to land, water and biodiversity. Even a low-meat diet is much better for the environment, researchers found.
In 2020, speaking of the Great Acceleration, Sir David Attenborough said, “This runaway growth is the profile of our contemporary existence.”
That doesn’t mean we have to fully participate in it. Every gigaton of CO2 that isn’t emitted and every tenth of a degree of warming avoided matters.
Rebekah Creshkoff lives in Callicoon, NY. She is a volunteer with Beyond Plastics.
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