I’m currently away travelling in North America for 6 months and got there by travelling on a cargo ship from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia (see here for a sister post describing the voyage)
I was motivated to choose this mode by considering my personal impact on climate change. Was this a misguided idea given that they’re powered by bunker fuel, or a smart low-carbon choice? I’ll explain how me and my partner came up with this decision below.
The Context: Travel and Aviation
With apologies for sporadic referencing of the ideas informing my thinking, here’s my rationale for questioning long-haul flights for personal travel in 3 steps…
1: I know from many (enjoyably geeky) years of looking into the numbers of my personal impact on climate change that taking a long-haul flight means taking responsibility for emitting a great deal of carbon dioxide. For example, a return flight from London to the west coast of America would mean more than 2 tonnes of CO2 on my balance sheet. (Try out a carbon calculator for your whole lifestyle or just for flights if you’re curious.) This compares to the UK average carbon footprint of around 9 tonnes a year (more if you consider the impact of overseas manufacturing for products consumed here).
2: To have the best chance of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5° to avoid some of the worst impacts of a changing climate, we need to be getting down to something like 1-3 tonnes per year, the faster the better. Now, that carbon budget is for everything – heating our homes, travelling to work, food, consumer goods, so that’s not an easy ask! Some areas of life, like generating energy and urban mobility, have technological solutions that are going mainstream (like solar PV, bikeshare schemes, electric vehicles) that offer us good cause to hope to decarbonise. But for rapid long-haul aviation for the mass market it doesn’t look like there’s a techno-fix on the horizon – my understanding is that it’s likely to get more efficient and a small number of flights might sustainably(?) use biofuel, but most flights would still engender a large carbon footprint.
Read more Why choose a slow way to cross the Atlantic? Or ‘How we ended up on a cargo ship for a week’