I took an eagerly anticipated flight across the Atlantic a few months back. Destinations: Poland, Sweden, the UK. Guilt about flying: higher than expected.
Prior to takeoff, I investigated the transportation options. My plan was to fly directly to Gdansk, Poland, and then figure out how to get to Stockholm and then back to London for my flight home.
Ideally, I wanted a ferry from Gdansk to Stockholm for a reasonable price, but the best thing I could find was a ferry to Karlskrona, Sweden, for $120 500 unacceptable kilometres off target.
Faced with so many hours of travel and potential screw-ups, the idea of paying Ireland-based RyanAir $60 to get to Stockholm was too tempting. Even though this discount outfit would probably stuff people under seats if it were legal, I had no seatmates. The guilt meter rose slightly.
After a week of wandering around the global capital of cheap, trendy furniture (Ikea) and clothing (H&M), I went the easy way again. I could have taken rail from Stockholm a harrowing 24-hour dash involving trains to Copenhagen, Cologne, Brussels, headache and finally London but went with a comfy two-hour British Airways flight for $100. Again, no elbow-jousting neighbours.
Vacation complete, I jetted out of London on an Air Canada Boeing 777. I could have taken a seven-to-13-day freighter trip from Liverpool to Montreal (over $1,000 one way). But at least Boeing claims it's 11 per cent more efficient than the Airbus 340 that flew me to Europe, and produces fewer hydrocarbons and less carbon monoxide, smoke and nitrogen oxide than its rival.
So, overall, I felt okay about my little excursion. I was used to thinking that driving alone in a car was how the Devil travelled. I was wrong. When I got home, I punched my trip stats into one of those carbon emission calculators available all over the Net.
It turns out my flights equalled 400 fridges operating for a year, or driving a sedan for 24,000 kilometres. My jet-setting pumped 4,050 kilos of CO2 into the air. If the world's population were fairly allotted an annual amount of acceptable CO2 emissions, my share would be 3,000 kilos. I'm way over. Sorry, everyone.
Of course, I could have stayed home, taken some books out of the library on the cities of Europe or asked a travelling friend to hook up a webcam near an old museum but for actually being there, it's take a plane or abstain.
Now, according to the calculations, I owe Mother Nature $126 for carbon offsets, to be invested in orgs planting trees or retrofitting buildings. It's kind of an easy penance. But my 4 tonnes aren't actually coming back.
Paying up will make me feel a little better. But let's face it, it's the kind of "better" you'd feel drinking a health shake after downing a half-dozen Big Macs. Not really better at all.