As young adults, like many, Mr and Mrs PFH both travelled. Unfortunately, those fond memories are now tinged with a growing sense of guilt, having watched the climate crisis continue to escalate.
Growing up, things were very different. 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, Mr PFH flew just twice and MRs PFH’s childhood was similar. We have chosen to continue that same tradition with our own boys, five and seven.
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.
What about the environmental cost and benefit then?
Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation, and the industry is said 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.
Using a well-known online carbon calculator we worked out that the return car journey for our recent family holiday in South Wales generated 0.159 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Had we instead opted for a popular overseas destination like say Tenerife, we’d have racked up 4 tonnes of CO2 between us – our share of the plane’s total emissions.
It’s 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.
To put that in perspective, we could take our boys on holiday to South Wales annually throughout the entirety of their childhoods and still have CO2 to spare versus a single return trip to the Canary Islands. That single trip would also increase an average person in the UK’s carbon footprint by around 10%.
By contrast, a car journey covering the same distance would chalk up under 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 sulphur aerosols can also serve to trap heat and their impact is worse when released at high altitude.
The above is why 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 together and if we do decide to take the boys to Europe, it will be by train.
The simple point is, do we really need to fly or to travel long distances in search of the perfect holiday, or do we risk overlooking everything that our own country has to offer, to our own detriment?
If we can’t go cold turkey, can we seek to fly shorter distances and less often?
Ultimately, given the climate emergency facing us, is this one significant and relatively easy change that we can all consider making now?
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