Last week, I read a piece in The Telegraph by TV personality and writer Victoria Coren Mitchell, on “the joy of proper British holidays,” and it got me thinking.
In the same way that last year it felt so good to watch more and more people rediscovering and embracing nature, this year it has been fantastic to see so many families returning from an enjoyable week or two away in the UK.
The UK travel industry has reported record levels of demand for “staycations” in 2021 – a phrase I really dislike by the way, as it arguably implies that holidaying here in the UK is somehow a lesser alternative to venturing abroad.
Growing up, our family holidays were largely spent in South Wales, separated by the occasional trip to Scotland or the Isle of Wight. And it was brilliant. As a child, I flew just twice. We have continued that same tradition with our own children, four and seven, and have enjoyed many memorable holidays in South Wales in recent years.
As Brits, our sights are so often fixed on overseas destinations, and our minds on “escaping”, that we risk overlooking everything that this country has to offer, to our own detriment.
According to independent think tank, the Resolution Foundation, in pre-pandemic times the UK’s “tourism trade deficit” (the amount we were spending on overseas holidays versus the amount spent by tourists visiting the UK) equated to an incredible £30.5bn.
The economic benefit of staying and spending here in the UK is impossible to ignore then. And that is before you consider that the country’s debt pile is at a level last seen during World War II, 1.6 million people are unemployed (with the end of the Furlough Scheme approaching) and many businesses are still struggling to survive the impact of the past 18 months.
So, what about the environmental cost of overseas holidays?
Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation, and the industry is thought to be responsible for around 5% of global warming by the European Federation for Transport and Environment. Yet only half of us in the UK fly annually, and just 3% of the global population flies regularly.
Prior to the pandemic, airline passenger numbers were projected to double in the next 20 years. It remains to be seen what longer term impact Covid-19 will have on international travel but despite the ongoing situation, European air traffic has already returned to around 60% of normal levels and nigh on doubled versus last year.
I have never been a big flyer but I have been very fortunate to visit several wonderful countries – often typically gravitating towards those where nature lies at their heart. Costa Rica, today one of the most biodiverse places on Earth having returned from the brink of environmental disaster just decades earlier, is the most incredible place I have been. It should be viewed as an example of what can be achieved by world leaders on a global scale. Its Government even abolished the country’s army in the late 1940s – a lesson for another day.
Unfortunately, for me those fond memories are now tinged with a growing sense of guilt, having watched the climate crisis continue to escalate in the decade since.
We currently have no plans to fly again as a family – as Peter Pan once said: “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” Our next big adventure will be to explore Scotland in a couple of years’ time and if we do decide to take the boys to Europe, it will be by train.
Here’s why… The Canary Islands, around 3,500 miles or a four hour flight from the UK, are among the most popular holiday destinations for British travellers.
For a single person, return flights from London will equate to 1 tonne of CO2 (that person’s share of the planes’ total emissions) – around 10% of the total emissions the average British person generates annually.
For a family of four, that figure is of course 4 tonnes. To put that in perspective, according to Global Carbon Atlas, 4 tonnes is just short of the worldwide average (4.7 tonnes) CO2 emissions generated per person during an entire year. It is worth noting that if you are flying business class or first class, your emissions are calculated to be up to four times higher than if flying economy.
By contrast, a family car journey covering the same distance would chalk up 2 tonnes of CO2 – a reduction of over half. Taking the train would reduce your emissions by just over half again.
And, like cars, it isn’t just CO2 that planes are churning out. Other emissions, including Methane, nitrous oxides, water vapour, soot and sulfur aerosols can also serve to trap heat and their impact is worse when released at high altitude.
Of course, if choosing to holiday here in the UK, we won’t be driving anywhere near that far – equivalent to travelling up and down the UK twice over. Our recent family holiday to South Wales will have resulted in around 0.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions – 20 times lower than if we’d hopped on a plane to somewhere like Gran Canaria. It means that we could take our boys to Wales every year of their childhood from birth and still not quite match up to that single overseas trip.
The simple point is, do we really need to fly or travel long distances in search of the perfect holiday? Or, given the climate emergency that faces us, is this one significant and relatively easy change that we can all make now?
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