Time flies. Should we?
Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series
Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.
When my daughter headed off to university in 2014, we promised her a family trip to Europe after graduation. In 2019, we fulfilled that promise.
We had a great time hiking and seeing the sights in northern Spain and visiting family in France. But for me, it was also a guilt trip. I’d been doing climate change presentations since 2017. Here I was flying while young climate activist Greta Thunberg was in the news for famously eschewing plane travel for train and sailboat. How could I fly when she was so right about our limited carbon budget and the need to drastically cut our emissions?
We’re seeing more and more evidence of that. Fiona ripped through the Maritimes in September causing chaos and destruction. Then hurricane Ian destroyed parts of Florida and the Carolinas. In May, a major storm system cut a swath across Ontario into Quebec, killing 10 and forcing Uxbridge to declare an emergency. This summer one-third of Pakistan flooded, affecting 33 million and killing more than 1,500. Europe and China suffered record drought and heat, as did California. All this is happening with about 1.2 C of global heating since pre-industrial times. Our 2015 international climate agreement set an aspirational limit of no more than 1.5 C of warming.
We have until 2030 to cut our emissions in half if we hope to meet that limit, and the airline industry hasn’t been helping. If it were a country, it would be the fifth-biggest global emitter, according to the David Suzuki Foundation. In 2012 Canadian airlines committed to shrinking their emissions. Since then, those emissions have grown 37 per cent and continue to climb, largely because we’re flying more. This September the industry’s new emissions reduction plans were released. Analysts aren’t too hopeful that they will be much better.
So what can we do to help?
- Fly less. One return flight from Toronto to Vancouver emits one tonne of global heating pollution per passenger. That’s enough to melt three square metres of summer Arctic sea ice, according to research published by the National Snow and Ice Center in Colorado.
- When flying: a) Book a direct flight. A quarter of a plane’s pollution comes from takeoffs and landings. b) Buy verified carbon offsets like CHOOOSE or Gold Standard. Or consider supporting PlantaForest.ca, a local initiative that plants native trees on land protected by the Kawartha Land Trust. They are intended to compensate for unavoidable emissions by funding green projects like wind farms or tree planting.
- Avoid short-hop flights. Especially in the Windsor-Montreal corridor, the train is a cleaner way to get where you’re going. But the same rule does not hold true for cross-country travel. In that case flying trumps train travel.
- Contact federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault (). Tell him the new agreement with the Canadian airline industry to cut emissions needs real emissions reductions targets. Denmark has committed to fossil-fuel free domestic flights by 2030. Canadian flights are longer, but we can certainly do better than we have so far.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Air Canada recently ordered 30 hybrid-electric planes, which it expects to have in the air in 2028. Granted, these are only 30-passenger planes with ranges under 1,000 km, but it’s a start.
Maybe we could see clean longer-haul flights by 2050. Let’s hope that’s not just pie-in-the-sky thinking.