I fly a lot.
Before you get excited about learning “15 Must-Have Packing Tips” or “7 Ways to Cheat TSA into Letting You Bring Peanut Butter Even Though It’s Apparently a Gel” just let that statement sit there for a minute. As the headline of this post may have clued you on to, this is not that kind of post.
This fall, I got an e-mail from my low-cost airline of choice that equally pleased and horrified me.
This may need a basic translation, but it essentially says:
“Congratulations, Laerke! You can now choose your new reward! With your 12 registered flights in the past 12 months you can now choose between extra CashPoints, free seat selection, free luggage* and free FastTrack.”
For a minute, I was excited. Finally my “Up in the Air” ambitions were coming true. I was entering the exclusive club for people who like standing in line and exposing themselves to excessive amounts of radiation. However, it wasn’t very long until I started thinking about the implications.
Flying, though luxurious in all its low-fare glory, is really, really bad for the environment. According to an article in the Guardian, CO2 emissions hang around in the atmosphere acting like a down jacket in June while vapour trails and other harmfuls essentially have the short-term effect of flash-frying the planet. Just last week, scientists presented the Climate Conference in Bonn with the disheartening results that carbon emmissions have risen by 2.6% for the first time in four years. With this knowledge weighing heavily on my mind, I immediately entered the stage of Denial and furiously logged into my account to see this madness for myself. I knew that my sister had booked flights for herself and friends through my account so I logically concluded that, really, I hadn’t caused all the damage.
The result was not good.
Even after discounting the flights that I had not physically been on, I still reached the grand total of 13 flights in 12 months. Add two more return flights London-Copenhagen-London and one single London-Copenhagen that are still up in the air (if you’ll excuse the pun) before the end of 2017, and my grand total for this calendar year alone comes to a staggering 18 flights.
Denial not having worked, I did the next natural thing and tried to bargain. What about those Carbon offsetting schemes? Could I maybe just pay my way out of a guilty conscience? However, a quick Google search told me that not only is the world of Carbon offsetting confusing, it’s misleading. As the Guardian writes, while the thought is good, the effect of these schemes is hard to measure and the effects are good, but not great.
After some more intensive Googling, however, I finally found that there is a way. A hideously complicated way, which I will try my best to explain in human terms.
The European Union has a transnational system of quotas. If you are a company that emits CO2 you must apply to be registered on the EU ETS (Emissions Trade System). What that means is explained in detail in this video but TL;DR (TL;DW?) this is essentially a CO2 Quota stock market. The ETS awards companies CO2 quotas, but there are only so many to go around. If you have excesses, you can sell them, and if you are emitting too much CO2, you must buy more or find a more sustainable way to run your business.
Brilliant, I thought. Let me get onto this stock market and buy myself some of those carbon quotas. I had found an easy way to ease my conscience. That is, until I tried to find out how to get onto the market. This process is so extravagantly complicated that I will not even attempt a full explanation (mostly because, despite my best efforts, I totally don’t get it). It involves knowing someone who has a company on the ETS register, getting them to nominate you, qualifying to be on the market and then getting a broker to do the actual brokering for you. Then comes a system of auctioning that I, as a financially dyslexic, generally rather thick individual, completely gave up trying to understand.
I was disheartened. Here I was trying to fix this bottomless hole I had dug for myself through my stupid lifestyle choices. Why, I wondered, did I have to choose a school 1,000 km away from home? Would I have to get the Eurostar Ebbsfleet-Brussels-Amsterdam-Somewhere in Germany-Copenhagen from now on to ease my conscience? Would I have to stop coming home for Christmas or Easter or maybe at all? Why was this bothering me so much when, in the grand scheme of things, my measly collection of air miles probably wasn’t going to bring the plane(t) down?
After spending a few days marinating in guilt, the horrible e-mail was eventually pushed to the back of my mind. I am deeply ashamed to say that I have, as of today, done nothing at all. Like many people I do genuinely care about the environment and try to reflect that in my lifestyle choices. However, I also value my family and being there for important events like Christmas, Easter, round birthdays, 60-year-wedding anniversaries etc. I value seeing my friends who are spread everywhere from Montreal to Amsterdam to Copenhagen to Singapore. Leaving a vapor trail of death seems like an equally unfortunate and unavoidable part of the life I have chosen for myself.
I write this thrilling saga of desperation not for the sympathy vote, but to showcase how hard it actually is to walk the walk on issues like climate change. I have tried. I have tried and failed and realized that trying is not enough. Turning off the lights, taking colder showers and buying environmentally friendly food will not minimize the massive carbon footprint I leave. Decisive action is needed, but with it come sacrifices that I am not willing to make.
So, thus far, all I have done is chosen my Reward. I chose the extra CashPoints, because, like the pile of laundry on my office chair, my shameful statistic of flights will continue to grow. I figure I might as well get a couple of free tickets so I can sit in an uncomfortable low-cost seat and nurse my bad conscience.