Sustainable alternatives for commercial flying

¨Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has started her voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to New York. The teenager, heading to the UN Climate Summit, has forsaken planes and is instead embarking on a two-week, low-carbon alternative: A sailing yacht. She joins a growing movement against flying, called flygskam or “flight shame” in Sweden. According to one study, avoiding just one flight is equivalent to going car-free for a year.¨ (Link)

The study mentioned (Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett.12 074024) is named: ¨The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions¨. It goes on what we all should be doing right now to Save the Planet, more efficienttly that other strategies like comprehensive recycling. After analyzing 148 lifestyle scenarios, recommends ¨four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions:

  • Having one fewer child,

  • Living car-free,

  • Avoiding airplane travel, and

  • Eating a plant-based diet.¨

This statement interestingly puts into perspective what we are all doing. All the recycling we do (and could be doing better), is four times less effective than assuming a plant-based diet. To change the household lightbulbs is eight times less. Avoiding airplane travel I think needs a deeper consideration than at first thought, if we are to succeed implementing it. Taking trains is a great solution, both are in a fairly comparable time and costs scale. The Hyperloop is also coming.

But what about crossing the pond? What are the options for any of the 3.979B air travellers per year? Some things are not as easy as they seem. Solutions like Gretha´s will satisfy an audience with a more relaxed schedule , but most business travellers won´t cope with it. And Cargo freight is still waking-up to the environmental alarms. But even if there is a big change in human behaviour (I argue habit is one of the main reasons for the lack of change in emissions) and people do prefer to spend 2 weeks travelling by sea instead of an 8 hour flight, I don´t think we have the infrastructure for it. I hope to see soon nautical facilities everywhere replacing most of today´s airports, with even a smaller real-state footprint. Joining a global intermodal network of clean mobility.

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