The concentration of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere is well over 400 parts per million, higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years, and it is increasing.
As a result of this, global temperatures are predicted to increase by several more degrees, yet the consensus is that temperature rises of just 1.5°C will cause dangerous warming of the planet. The stability of our world’s climate hinges on whether we can keep this small rise in global temperatures in check.
This is the decade that counts.
Commensurate with the climate emergency is the nature emergency. Worldwide, one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction due to the intensification of agriculture and forestry, resource extraction, hunting, invasive species, urban sprawl, pollution, and climate change.
Yet this is not just about the disappearance of remote rainforests or polar bears at the extremities of the planet – habitat and biodiversity loss are happening on a colossal scale in the UK, to our hedgerows and forests, our garden birds and the fish in our seas. Over 15% of all wildlife in the UK is threatened with extinction.
So, how can we continue to travel given the climate and nature emergencies?
Being a green traveller is not about making grand, one-off gestures, it is a state of mind, an ongoing attitude to conscious adventure that influences all aspects of how we holiday, including what we pack in our luggage and how we travel out to destinations, as well as the choice of hotels and activities we take part in while we’re there.
The good news is it’s becoming much easier and cheaper to plan and book a green holiday, from packing plastic-free alternatives to finding and booking eco-friendly hotels and local guides, using public transport, eating local seasonal food, and taking part in a huge range of low-impact outdoor adventures.
As the world makes the transition to cheaper, alternative energy, low carbon mass transit as well as electric car journeys are fast becoming competitively priced for short to medium distances. Furthermore, the modernization of cross-channel ferry services and the renaissance of rail, including the revitalization of night trains across Europe, means long-distance overland travel is becoming ever more practical and attractive.
Here are my top tips for how to plan a greener holiday.
1. Pack Smarter
Travelling light is the greenest way to go – it reduces the chances of having to dispose of items; it makes it much easier to travel around, especially on foot, by bike or on public transport; and it’s more fuel efficient – especially noticeable if you’re travelling in an electric car.
A useful device for packing economically is to consider the three Rs: reduce (what can you get away with not taking, and are there items that can double up for several uses?); reuse (what can you take that you can reuse again, such as water bottles, coffee cups, food and toiletry containers, and a shopping bag?); recycle (what can you take that can be recycled once you’ve finished using it?).
City to Sea has produced a handy app (refill.org.uk) to help you locate over 400 local refill schemes across the UK, as well as places with discounts if you bring your own cup, and shops selling refills of groceries and toiletries.
2. Take the train
Travelling by train in the UK is likely to emit about four times less carbon than one driver in a small, efficient petrol car, and about five times less carbon than flying. The best thing about train travel is you can use the time to do something other than stare at the miles of road ahead. You can play cards, read the newspaper or a book, catch up on emails and texts, watch a film, enjoy a meal, or just gaze out of the window and enjoy the views of the countryside.
Thanks to the connection of Eurostar with the modern, high-speed rail networks of Europe, it is possible to travel comfortably by train to all corners of Europe and beyond – so many great European cities can be reached overland within hours from the UK, including Paris, Lille, Brussels, Nantes, Amsterdam, Avignon, Toulouse, and Geneva.
Train tickets may at first glance appear more expensive than flying, but when you factor in the travel to and from the airport, the long stay parking fees, as well as the cost of taking hold luggage (especially for families with young children), the cost adds up significantly.
Train tickets are often released two or three months ahead of travel. If you want to snap up the cheapest tickets when they become available, Thetrainline.com and RailEurope.com both offer free email alert services, letting you know as soon as bookings open for your chosen route.
3. Find green places to stay
It’s becoming easier to find these green-minded businesses thanks to online sites, such as Booking.com and Google, which now flag up eco-certified hotels in their search results. Several accommodation websites now group green businesses in collections, such as ‘Eco Stays’ (hostunusual.com), ‘Eco’ (i-escape.com), ‘Eco-Houses’ (oneoffplaces.co.uk), and ‘Eco Friendly’ (coolstays.com). Some provide filters for green facilities, such as ‘electric vehicle charging station’ (booking.com), ‘accessible by public transport’ (sawdays.co.uk), and ‘vegetarian friendly’ (goodhotelguide.com).
4. Buy local food and drink
Feasting on local, seasonal food, washed down with the local tipple, conveys a sense of place better than any travel brochure. It’s also one of the most effective ways to keep your carbon emissions down. There can be a surprising number of hidden emissions embedded within the provenance of food and drink, especially when it is shipped, or worse, flown in from overseas.
Whether it’s freshly-baked bread for breakfast, salad from the kitchen garden for lunch, or the catch of the day for dinner – choosing local isn’t just good for the planet, it’s also enjoyable, and a great way to put money into the local community.
5. Fly greener (it is actually possible)
There are concerted efforts to decarbonize air travel using alternative fuels and methods of propulsion (such as via electricity and hydrogen), but even the most optimistic predictions support that this change is years away for most airlines.
While planes continue to burn huge amounts of fossil fuel, it is hard to see how they can be framed as ‘green’, but there is quite a large disparity between aircraft and the operating procedures of airlines, with some being more carbon-efficient than others, so choosing your flight carefully can make a difference.
You can find flights with lower-than-average carbon emissions by looking for the ‘Greener Choices’ label on the search results provided by the flight search engine skyscanner.net.
The Green Traveller by Richard Hammond is published by Pavilion Books on May 5, 2022 (£18.99, hardback).
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