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Minimise Your Carbon Emissions on Holiday

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 16 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Carbon Dioxide Carbon Footprint

While carbon offsetting has come to occupy centre-stage in terms of how many people think about reducing the impact of their holidays there are aspects of it which have come in for some criticism. One of the things about donating to a scheme which removes carbon on your behalf is that, though this does cut the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, “your” carbon is still out there, so offsetting does not really undo the potential damage your trip actually caused. In some ways it is more an issue of balancing a debt, rather than dealing with the actual problem. This has led a number of environmental organisations to oppose carbon offsetting, in the belief that it offers no incentive for us all to examine our own lifestyles and make real, personal carbon cuts. While it seems a little harsh to damn all carbon offsetting out of hand, it is clear that they do have a point. So how can we go about minimising our holiday carbon emissions from the outset?

Travel Choices

Much depends on the type of holiday you intend to take. How you travel and how far makes a big difference – and this is not just about long-haul flights. Obviously, the nearer to home you choose to stay, the less carbon you are likely to contribute, but unless you opt for a walking or cycling trip and start from you own front door, it is pretty inevitable that you will produce some.

The eco-credential of public transport are well known, so using them whenever possible is the best choice – though the option may not always be available, as many places can be poorly served by buses or trains. Though using the car may be less environmentally appealing, if circumstances dictate, it can still be possible to reduce your carbon emissions by arranging a lift with a friend, or by car-pooling with fellow travellers. Even if you simply have to drive yourself, if your car is properly serviced, its tyres at the right pressure and you are careful to minimise fuel consumption, you will be doing something – however small – to cut back on CO2. As the advert says, every little helps!

The aviation industry has often found itself at the centre of the environmental debate in recent years and there is no escaping the fact that the numbers of flights taken annually around the world is growing at an unprecedented rate. There are alternatives to flying and it is always worth seeing if you can make use of them to reduce your travel emissions, though for some journeys there really is no avoiding the airport. Long-haul trips have come in for particular criticism, but in reality the situation is considerably more complex, not least because the aircraft used on these routes are generally flown near to capacity and are very fuel efficient – not the case with many “short-hop” regional flights. However, as a general rule, most fuel is used during take off and landing – so the fewer stop-overs you have in your itinerary, the less fuel is burnt and the less carbon dioxide released – a very effective strategy for minimising your holiday’s carbon contribution.

Secondary Carbon

How you get to your holiday destination – and travel around once you are there – clearly offers the most scope for making reductions, since it is the largest potential contributor. Never-the-less, with a little bit of thought, opportunities to minimise your carbon debt are often to be found elsewhere, in other elements of your trip.

It can start before you even leave – with a spot of eco-packing. Try to travel light – the more weight in your bags; the more fuel any form of motorised transport you use will have to burn to carry them to your destination. Jettison all the unnecessary packaging from your luggage and avoid throw-away items – especially if you are heading off to the remoter parts of the planet; waste disposal is often a major problem for developing countries and hauling rubbish about burns yet more fuel. Once you are away, the same sort of approach holds true for things like food and souvenirs; the further they have travelled, the more fuel will have been expended getting them to you, so look for things produced locally. Not only does this help minimise your secondary carbon emissions, but it also supports the local economy – a perfect “win-win” situation.

Reducing your holiday carbon contributions offers a very direct way to take responsibility for your own environmental impact and actually do something about it for yourself. Once you start thinking about carbon minimisation on holiday, it really is a very short step to make it part of everyday life – and then your carbon footprint can really start to shrink!

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