Flying to Save the World

by Mascha Schädlich (November 2015)

Mascha

Photo by Joan Osterberg (cc) via Flickr

Flying with an airplane is the worst you can do for your ecological footprint. It ruins your statistic to a high degree. I calculated my ecological footprint with the Footprint Calculator from WWF taking in my flights to Kenya this spring and my flight to Barcelona last week. Adding my diet, my housing and my shopping habits gives me a result of using 1.88 times the resources of what would be sustainable. If I lie and take away these flights, it reduces the outcome of the calculation to 1.5 planets that we would need if everyone would live my lifestyle.

I just made these measurements to show how much flying has an impact on your ecological footprint. This is the one thing. The other is the aim of my flight to Barcelona. I went to the Youth Program of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to hold a session with the Youth Future Project about the nexus between peace and sustainability. So my aim was to do good; to contribute to a better world by discussing peace issues with young people from all over the planet and listen to the Nobel Peace Laureates.

Isn’t that kind of mutually exclusive? On the one hand I want to live sustainably and try to implement that in my everyday life, but on the other hand I get the chance to go to a conference in Barcelona and I fly there. To my defense I have to say that I really tried. I checked all the possible modes of transport to go to Barcelona on the ground. Trains are the second more comfortable, but the most expensive. Taking the bus takes you longer, but it is cheaper and hitch-hiking would be indeed very cheap, but would take a very long time. So the crux is also that flying is not only the worst for the climate, but also the cheapest and fastest way to get around. This is a structural problem and it can weaken your decision to live sustainably sometimes.

The only thing you can do is ask yourself every time you consider to fly somewhere: Is this really necessary? For example, when I got the chance to visit my sister in Kenya, I decided that this is worth it, that getting to know the country my sister lived in for one year was worth the impact this action has on the climate. Quite selfish. But when I decided to go to Kosovo for my studies, I took the time to go there by hitch-hiking. Of course, that took me much more time and energy, but I also gained a lot from slow traveling. I met people, visited cities on the way and saw the landscape changing. The summer I spend very sustainable sitting on my desk and writing my bachelor thesis, but when I had to make the choice of how to go to Barcelona, again I chose the air plane.

What are you experiences with this dilemma? Do you usually think about the impact of your flight or is this new to you? I would like to discuss this problem. Join in, if you like.


Mascha Schädlich is a 25 year old Political Management student. Currently she works for AfricAvenir in Berlin. As a member of the YFP she enjoys to work with her colleagues and plan events where they can all come together and discuss how things can be changed to the better. If she is not busy with projects you can find her in Yoga class or travelling Europe.