Eco-Holidays: Fly Less, Stay Longer

Carbon emissions, energy consumption, climate change... Travel in the 21st-century is fraught with dilemmas. Rough Guides' publisher Mark Ellingham considers the issues
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The Independent Travel

Like most people, I had registered the basic facts of climate change over the current decade, but I had been late in realising just how damaging a part flights play in CO2 emissions. In fact, it was only last year, when the publication of one of our own books, Duncan Clark's Rough Guide to Ethical Living, brought the salient points home, spelling out how consumers create their carbon footprint. My own footprint, I realised, was made up largely of flights.

This kind of realisation has quite a range of effects on people. There are those who feel that action against climate change is not a personal issue: governments must legislate and tax; individuals have marginal impact. And there are people like the travel writer and broadcaster Nick Crane who feel action is a moral imperative. Nick took his last flight in 1997, and none of his three children has been on a plane. And just last month, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, declared that flying off on holiday and not caring for the climate consequences is "a symptom of sin".

My own reaction lies somewhere between these poles. I have always believed strongly in the positive aspects of travel. Our political leaders may strive to give the opposite impression, but we in Britain and the West are, I am convinced, more caring, more tolerant, perhaps better people, from our contact with other cultures. And it is hard to see how a country like Greece, or Kenya, or Costa Rica (where they have turned over a third of the country to natural reserves - protecting large swaths of natural environment), could thrive without tourism. Britain, too, would find its economy battered without a tourist industry. And yet flying produces so much more CO2 than any other area of our lives. There is an immorality in our generation flying casually, and leaving the next with the consequences.

At Rough Guides we feel at the heart of this contradiction, but oddly well placed to increase awareness of it. So, at the start of the year, I got together with Tony Wheeler, who set up Lonely Planet, and we put out a joint press release to publicise the issue of flights and emissions and to encourage people to use carbon offset schemes. We also came up with an unlikely slogan for two travel guide publishers, but one that we believe must stand at the heart of all responsible travel: "Fly less and stay longer".

The carbon offset part of the equation is one that has attracted fierce comment. New Internationalist ran an issue devoted to exposing this "con", and it is self-evidently true that it is better not to fly and generate emissions than to fly and attempt to neutralise their effect. But the offset companies know this well and the two that I have experience of - Climate Care (climatecare.org) and Carbon Neutral (carbonneutral.com) - are well run, underpinned by good science, and deliver what they claim. They also prompt thought: anyone who makes an offset payment becomes more aware of the subject. So at Rough Guides we now offset all staff and author travel, and we have persuaded our parent company, Penguin, to do the same. You will find in our books and on every page of our website a link to Climate Care so that you can do the same.

We felt that we could also do more at Rough Guides. The new edition of our Rough Guide to Ethical Living devotes half of its pages to how to lighten your "carbon footprint". And we have published a Rough Guide to Climate Change covering the science and political issues, the state of the planet and its "canary" indicators, and again giving some guidance as to what we can do as individuals, what our governments can do, and what scientific solutions might contribute. We publish nearly 400 Rough Guides, but I sense this book - by Robert Henson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research - is the one that stands above all others in importance.

The question I get asked most, when talking about travel and climate change, is how much have I changed my behaviour. Not enough, I confess: I am, after all, a recovering travel writer. I've made one long-haul trip this year, to Costa Rica, and I went on a family trip to Greece, as well as Pembrokeshire, and went to Andalucia to see an author. But I have declined the publishers' jaunt to Frankfurt and other business trips. It could have been worse: it is frightening how casual flying can be. We must all fly less, stay longer.

Mark Ellingham is Rough Guides' publisher. He set up Rough Guides in 1982, writing a guide to Greece

Ten ways to a lighter carbon footprint

1. Don't fly in Europe; take the train, right. The special six-hour, non-stop London-Avignon trip is a snip at £114 return. The website seat61.com is a fine one-stop resource for all things train.

2. When you fly, choose an airline with a young fleet, likely to be less polluting. See the website airfleets.net for details.

3. Avoid night-time and winter flights - flights in daylight are much less polluting.

4. Offset all flights (and train travel) through climatecare.org or carbonneutral.com.

5. Fly to countries that really need your tourist money - and spend as much as you can at local businesses.

6. Buy flights from northsouthtravel.co.uk, where all profits are given to development projects.

7. Buy holidays checked and vetted by responsibletravel.com.

8. Use air-conditioning as little as possible, drink tap water, not bottled, and don't launder clothes unnecessarily.

9. Buy local food and drink, visit locally owned establishments and avoid imported goods.

10. Hire bicycles for short visits. If you hire a car, be sure it is full.

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