Out of the blue

I inhale deeply as I step into the plane. Kerosene and cof­fee, the friend­ly smile of the KLM stew­ardess; it already feels a bit like com­ing home. We sit down and I take my book out. It’s a Dutch book by Babette Porceli­jn. The title trans­lates as: The hid­den impact — every­thing for an eco-pos­i­tive life. We got it for Christ­mas. The cen­tral mes­sage of the book is sum­ma­rized in the graph below. Babette has clas­si­fied the things that we do or buy on a reg­u­lar basis into ten cat­e­gories. For each cat­e­go­ry, sci­en­tists have cal­cu­lat­ed how much impact the aver­age Dutch per­son has on the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment, both direct­ly and indi­rect­ly. This cov­ers things like green­house gas emis­sions, envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and deforestation.

Grafiek Impact Top-10

To my great sat­is­fac­tion, I imme­di­ate­ly notice that eat­ing meat is the sec­ond biggest cul­prit, after buy­ing stuff. With my veg­an diet I elim­i­nate all this neg­a­tive impact, plus that of dairy and eggs. Ha, good. The fact that ani­mal hus­bandry puts a heavy bur­den on the envi­ron­ment is not the rea­son that I am a veg­an, but it is a nice bonus. I also buy vir­tu­al­ly all my clothes in char­i­ty shops. While the air­craft roars over the run­way, I con­tin­ue brows­ing with enthu­si­asm. This book is the ide­al Christ­mas present — it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Until I reach the chap­ter about transport.

The graph places the cat­e­go­ry fly­ing at a mod­est sixth place. But, just like car use, the impact from this cat­e­go­ry is very scal­able, and can eas­i­ly get very high. In the book, Babette takes a trip to Bali as an exam­ple. Guilti­ly, I shuf­fle in my chair when I real­ize that this year we flew back and forth to Chile. After that, we made three trips from Aberdeen (where we cur­rent­ly live) to the Nether­lands. Each time we decid­ed to fly because we did not have the time and ener­gy to spend four days in bus­es and trains.

All in all, I have almost com­plete­ly undone the pos­i­tive effect of my veg­an diet through my air trav­el this year: see the yel­low bar in the chart.

Graph Impact Top-10

Peo­ple are fly­ing more and more, because it is get­ting cheap­er. After meat, it is the cheap­est way to pol­lute the envi­ron­ment (impact per euro). I think that this is still true if you com­pen­sate your CO2 emis­sions by plant­i­ng trees. This Christ­mas, we did that for € 8 per per­son at Trees for All.

TreesPlant­i­ng trees should not become a license to con­tin­ue pol­lut­ing. Most com­pen­sa­tion trees are plant­ed in devel­op­ing coun­tries. The peo­ple there, who con­tribute the least to green­house gas emis­sions, have to make way for our ‘debt forests’. When Staats­bos­be­heer pro­posed to plant 100,000 hectares of for­est in the Nether­lands, there was a lot of protest from the agri­cul­tur­al sector.

Until now I always felt guilti­er about trips with­in Europe than about our big trip to Chile. After all, there is always an alter­na­tive with­in Europe. Long dis­tance trav­el seemed a kind of fixed fact in my life. It comes with the times: the world has become a vil­lage. But with this chart on my lap I real­ize that these flights have a huge impact on the well-being of our plan­et. From now on, I strong­ly intend to avoid long dis­tance trav­el as much as possible.

4 aardesIn the end it is not an exchange game, some­thing like: some peo­ple eat meat every day but don’t fly; oth­ers are veg­an but trav­el all over the world. Babette’s graph shows the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. If every­one on earth lived like that, we would need 4 plan­ets. So in order to live with­in eco­log­i­cal lim­its (sus­tain­ably), the total impact must be reduced by ¾. The book pro­vides prac­ti­cal tools to find the cat­e­gories where you can reduce the most impact. You can also do this online.

In any case, I have my found first point of improve­ment. If I come across any more, I will cer­tain­ly share them on Ronde Maan. An eco-pos­i­tive 2018, let’s do it!