This is a picture of the Aletsch glacier, which is featured in our section on EPIC Hikes. This monstruous natural wonder is 22 km long from its 4000 m top in the Jungfrau area to its 2200 m base at the Massa Gorge. But the glacier is shrinking at a rapid pace. Since the year 2000, one full kilometre has melted away. Researchers at the ETH Zürich have predicted that even in the best-case scenario (a global temperature rise of 2 degrees), the Aletsch will have shrunk by half in 2100. And if temperatures rise by their worst case scenario (which is a temperature rise of between 4 and 8 degrees), all of it - yes, all 22 km - will be gone in merely 80 years' time.
Climate change is not merely a technological challenge that engineers and scientists can somehow solve. It also requires a change in the way we live, consume, and of course travel. At the radical end of the spectrum, maybe we should just stop travelling altogether? Stay local and help to rescue the planet. There is some merit in this line of argumentation, but it would also mean a loss of income for communities that depend on tourism, in particular in economically challenged locations, where visitors might be one of the few viable sources of income. It would result in rural flight, making the areas even more depressed, and in turn would increase the problems associated with urban overcrowding. The broadening of horizons that travel brings, and the engagement with and understanding of other people and the way they conduct their lives would also most certainly be compromised. Stopping travel might therefore not be the conclusive solution that we are looking for.
But we can all change the way we travel. As you know, global warming is caused by a rise in Carbon Dioxide emissions (Co2), and there is a simple way how to tackle this. Here is a link to a carbon footprint calculator. This website offers a comprehensive way to assess how your upcoming trip impacts the environment. You might also want to check out this link to see about the carbon footprint of hotels.
We have posted an article on a massive road trip of 24,000 km driving along Europe's outer perimeter, staying mostly in campgrounds, or indeed using the vehicle - a 16 year old hybrid SUV - as the occasional place to spend the night. According to the calculator, driving that distance would emit a total of 5.16 tonnes of Co2. I presume that sleeping in a stationary car or staying at campgrounds would have a minimal effect on the environment. So how about doing such a journey by train which would necessitate overnight stays in hotels. A hotel room has annual emissions of between 5 and 15 tonnes of Co2. Hence, by staying around 4 months in hotels, such a trip would be responsible for between 1.5 and 5 tonnes. Add to this the emission from train travel, which is one fifth of that of car journey (or in this case 1.03 tonnes), and the total carbon footprint using trains and staying in hotels would be between 2.5 and 6 tonnes, depending on the type of hotel accommodation. The discrepancy is much less than I thought, mainly down to the high footprint of hotels, and the relatively low figures for a hybrid car. Still, I checked with carbonfootpint.com who advised that 6 trees would offset 1 tonne of Co2, which would mean a total of at least 30 trees to offset the journey. You can order the trees and identify the area where they should be planted straight from their website, with 30 trees coming in at just under 400£ - a fraction of the cost of the journey.
But there will be only a few people mad enough to drive across and around Europe for 4 months. Let us therefore take a more usual example of a couple flying to a Mediterranean beach for their annual break. Two people flying back and forth between London and for instance Malaga in Spain would account for 2 tonnes of Co2. If they stay in one hotel room for the entire fortnight, that will add a further 0.2 to 0.6 tonnes. If we add this all up, a couple flying to Spain have a carbon footprint that is about half of that of a 4-month road trip: 15 trees please (or 200£, the equivalent of the price for a return air ticket). So, don't just knock road trips outright. With a little bit of planning, a good deal of Greta's entirely appropriate 'Flygskam', a little more train travel and less stays in those god-awful and plastic hotel resorts, we could just about continue to engage in our passion for travel. And yes, please check out that carbon footprint website: