Holiday dilemma: fly or drive? (Jul07)

My family are going to stay with friends in the South of France for our summer holiday. But how should we get there?

We’re going by ferry and by car. In theory this is greener than going by plane – that was certainly part of my thinking when I planned the trip. But I’m not so sure.

The reason for my quandary is not because I have any doubt about the significant contribution that flying makes to climate change. In fact I’m rather unimpressed with the disingenuous claims being made by airlines denying this.

Ryanair, who seem to be leading the battle, were recently made to withdraw their claim that they’d halved aircraft emissions over the past 5 years. In fact they conceded that their fuel use had actually increased eight-fold between 1998 and 2006.

What they and the other air lines are very keen to keep quiet is that scientists believe the climate change impacts of aircraft may be far greater than even their fuel consumption would indicate. It’s rather complicated but it’s estimated that if you include aircraft plumes, as well as CO2 and other pollutants from air travel, they’re responsible for between 4 and 9 per cent of the climate change impacts of human activity.

And I have another good reason for not wanting to fly. Airports. I hate them. Hordes of people, queues and hassle, hassle, hassle. And that’s before you’ve considered the ridiculous rules about what you can take and what not – I had my half full bottle of contact lens fluid confiscated because it was 120ml rather than 100ml. And last time I flew from Bristol I had to buy a plastic bag from a vending machine (it cost 50p) to put my toothpaste and moisturiser in.

So you may be asking where’s the doubt about taking the car? It’s quite simple really. If you travel by air you’re increasing the demand for flights and therefore indirectly increasing the number of planes in the air. But if you look at it another way, the plane you actually fly on is not going to stay grounded because you’re not there. And mile for mile planes are more efficient if they’re fully loaded.

But if you’re travelling by car, that’s a journey that definitely wouldn’t be happening if you were not behind the wheel. So you’re directly and immediately increasing your carbon footprint.

I did explore the idea of taking the car on the train. Unfortunately the cost of that was astronomical. But I’m going to keep tabs on the cost and compare that with going by train and hiring a car when I get there. I think that option would come out best in eco-terms – if it’s not vastly different in price, that’s what I’ll be doing next time.

Posted originally on Telegraph Blogs by Julia Hailes 

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