Bilde mangler beskrivelse

In Peru. Photo: Private

A self-examination of a climate advisor who recently decided to fly to the other side of the world

I recently got back from a big trip to South America. A long trans-Atlantic flight took me from a cold, dark and wet Norwegian November to the opposite in Colombia.

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I spent three months exploring the natural and cultural wonders of South America before I headed home. As a climate advisor, I am very aware of the impact aviation has on the climate and that extensive flying can have a very high influence on individuals’ carbon footprint. Nevertheless, the cognitive dissonance hit me hard when I got back and was asked to write an essay on my own travel practices in the Flywell project. This challenge sent me out on a different kind of journey. I embarked on an introspective backlogging of my international flights to calculate my climate impact related to that. I humbly present my international flying history and numbers. 

Bilde mangler beskrivelse

Photo: Private

I have travelled abroad my whole life. Family holidays were usually spent in Norway or sometimes Denmark, but I have also had my share of trips to typical European tourist destinations as a child and youth. At one point my family got engaged in an organization called CISV – Childrens International Summer Villages, an international peace organization which main goal is to create friendships between children from different cultures and countries. I have been on summer camps in Germany, Lebanon, Canada as a child as well as Brazil as an adult leader, all formative, fun and memorable for so many reasons. As an adult I have had an internal drive to explore the world and been on some longer trips to other continents as well as European destinations. I have almost never travelled abroad due to work, so when I travel, I travel for personal reasons. 

One of the good things about international travel is that it creates memories and stories. The excitement of something new, be it people, culture, surroundings, or landscapes can be thrilling and immersive experiences which keep on living inside me and the people I have met and travelled together with. I therefore figured I would be able to recollect all my international travels, starting with my first trip to France as a 1-year-old (scarce memories from that one, to say the least), until my latest flight from Buenos Aires via Amsterdam to Oslo. Although fewer in number, my domestic flights through the years seem more like a blur and it would be a harder exercise to include these trips in my quantitative self-examination. I therefore decided to only include international flights and any domestic flight connected to international travel. The distance (including connecting flights) and associated climate impact has been estimated using the climate calculator from myclimate.org1. The results show that: 

  • Throughout my life, I have travelled a total distance of approximately 250 000 km – which corresponds to 6.2 times around the earth. 

  • My longer travels include four trips to Asia, three trips to South America and three trips to North America. 

  • The estimated climate impact of my international air travel is 53 tons of co₂-equivalents. This includes an estimation of the increased greenhouse gas effect from contrails. 

  • Throughout my life, I have on average travelled abroad with plane once every year. The estimated annual average climate impact is 1.7 tons of co₂-equivalents. 

  • I have spent around 500 days abroad throughout my life. This means that the flight-related climate impact can be estimated to be 110 kg co₂e per day spent abroad. 

  • On my latest travel to south America, my flight related emissions were equivalent to 6.3 tonnes of co₂. 

Bilde mangler beskrivelse

Photo: Private

Even before making the list and calculating the results, my feeling was that I had travelled a lot. Seeing the numbers for the first time was still an eye-opener. If everyone flew like me, we would have an even bigger challenge of mitigating climate change. The results are also harsh because I feel I have a lot of awareness on the topic and reflect on how I travel. I strive to limit my flights and take the train on domestic or shorter trips abroad. My last trip abroad will however diminish a lot of my efforts to limit my carbon footprint. 

Would I be the same person I am today without or with very limited air travel abroad? Most definitely not. Could I still have lived a happy life with high degree of wellbeing. Most probably, yes. But personally, I feel my experiences through travelling abroad in my childhood, adolescence and adulthood have had a huge impact on my values and who I am today, and I wouldn’t be without it. But now, after my latest exercise, I am more aware of how much it has contributed to greenhouse gas emissions and my own carbon footprint. 

It is therefore very exciting to embark on the FLYWELL project. Is there a way forward where reduced air travel does not decrease wellbeing?