ecoholic

Making the most of your not-so-green plane trip


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Q. Is there any way to make flying greener?

A. This time of year it seems half the city is jumping on a plane and heading south for a pina colada or two. Whether we do it for business or pleasure, a staggering 75,000 passenger planes take off each and every day around the globe (not counting private and military flights). Nearly half a million flights sail over our yards every year from Pearson. Throw in Buttonville and you’ve got yourself another 75,000 trips a year.

Bad scene when you consider that over half a pound of carbon dioxide is spewed into the atmosphere per person per mile. Plus, plenty of other smoggy pollutants, like nitrous oxides, are emitted along the way. The industry insists it’s no villain. Yes, it creates a lot of pollution (3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions), but it says that’s nothing compared with the power industry, which chokes out 25 per cent. But air travel is predicted to triple over the next 30 years, making it the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The aviation sector responds that planes should be twice as fuel-efficient by 2020 and already fly 70 per cent cleaner than those from the 60s. They say even the massive new Airbus burns 13 per cent less fuel than old Boeing 747s. And Boeing says its Dreamliner 787 will emit 50 per cent less than the cleanest planes on the market and should be on runways by 2008. (Air Canada just ordered 14.)

Yet overall, an agreement between Transport Canada and the Air Transport Association of Canada signed in 04 encourages its members to improve efficiency by only 1.1 per cent a year and that’s voluntary, not mandatory. And any dream of incorporating airlines in an emissions-trading scheme is certainly on hold in Canada while our new PM decides whether Kyoto suits his fancy.

Suffice it to say that environmentalists aren’t happy. Among the things they’re calling for are targets to reduce short-haul flights . I mean, really, when you factor in the time it takes to drive to and wait around at the airport, it takes up to four hours to get to Montreal by plane but only five if you take the direct train from Union Station.

Greens are also pushing for improved public transport to and from airports . This one’s a doozy, since road traffic around airports is actually the biggest source of pollution. At London’s Heathrow, for instance, three-quarters of emissions come from cars travelling to and from the terminals! (For info on transit to Pearson, check out www. ttc.ca.)

For its part, Pearson says it has a de-icing facility that protects the surrounding ecosystem from antifreeze pollution. It’s also converted a quarter of its vehicles to biodiesel and cut pesticide use from thousands of litres to just 5 kilograms in 03.

In terms of airlines, there’s no list out there rating the greenest. But many are posting eco commitments online. Japan’s JAL Group has adopted a green purchasing policy . Singapore Airlines, Finnair and Scandinavian SAS have ditched disposable cutlery and serving dishes for washable crockery .

Nearly every airline is using the high price of fuel as an excuse to go green and cut back on the amount of weight on board. For instance, Air Canada recently lowered the number and weight of bags you’re allowed to bring without penalty and reduced the amount of newspapers and magazines on board. This isn’t all selfless 1 kilo of weight per flight costs the airline $15,000 a year in extra fuel costs! Do your part by leaving any unnecessary luggage at home .

No matter what, air travel is never green, and many eco heads (especially in Europe) have sworn off it. The one thing you can do to assuage your guilt and ease its impact is buy green tags . They allow you to offset the carbon your flight creates by supporting wind power (see www.greentagsontario. com). Lots of groups even provide carbon flight calculators (see www.greentagsusa.org). British Airways has joined forces with Climate Care, an eco group that offsets carbon by passing out low-emission stoves and such in Africa.

Note: Aruba, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Barbados, Jamaica, India, Australia and and more require routine “disinsection” on inbound flights, often while you’re on board. That means they’re spraying you with pesticides! Some airlines tell you right before they do it, but not all. You’re best to check with the airline before buying your ticket about policies and spraying schedules.

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