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Tuesday 8 October 2019


Can we travel and not ruin the planet?

We explored this question at a recent ThinkIn. Here’s a summary of the discussion, along with our thoughts on where we’ll head next

By Merope Mills

The second in our ‘How to Live Well’ series of ThinkIns, in association with our partner Fora, asked a blunt yet increasingly urgent question: “Can we travel and not ruin the planet?”

For those who love seeing the world, this is an area of deep internal conflict and – yes, let’s be honest – frequent hypocrisy.

Of course, we want to travel well and in a way that respects the environment, but practical issues – e.g. limited days off work, the higher cost of alternative modes of transport – mean that we often find ourselves reaching for the most polluting option possible: plane travel.

Of course, we need to make fair judgements about what is necessary and unnecessary travel. Our European audience members understandably didn’t see travelling to be with their family as a luxury.

But does seeing the world always need to involve getting on a plane? Several people who spoke were open to the idea of Virtual Reality tourism. Gawp at the Mona Lisa without the crowds!

It sounds laughable, but maybe that’s a version of future travel – particularly as generational differences are now coming through. Where once jet-setting was seen as the ultimate luxury, it’s now a dirty word.

Even when jets are involved, we heard that there are small, positive choices that can be made. For example, choosing not to travel first-class; or, even better, choosing not to fly on planes that have a first-class section. After all, those plush seats at the front take up more space than those crammed in at the back, so the emissions are higher per passenger.

As for where Tortoise’s own travels will take us next:

  • Carbon offsetting has been seen as a way for high polluters to compensate. But is it really the answer? Some studies have questioned the worth of offsetting. I’d like us to examine that further.
  • I’m interested in how effective electric or – more realistically – hybrid planes can be in the near future. Our guest entrepreneur, Neil Cloughley, suggested that we’d be flying in his hybrid planes from London to Manchester by 2025 for £50. The secret is in making the most emitting part of the flight (the takeoff) less greedy for fuel.
  • Finally, the role of government is key. Although the consumer is bearing the brunt of the guilt for their travel, we need to remember the producer is the polluter. How can the government incentivise greener travel? Is it with taxes or subsidies? Or a combination of both? Either way, there was a sense our politicians are too slow to act. We must compel them to do so before it’s too late. The huge numbers who took to the streets the day after our ThinkIn are playing their part in highlighting the real emergency we are facing.

This was part of our ‘How to Live Well’ series. ‘Can we invest well and not ruin the planet?’ will be on Tuesday 12 November. You can book a place here.

Illustration by Nathalie Lees

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