Simon Calder: Want a no-impact break? Holiday at home

South Africa, Lapland, Morocco: three of the destinations featured in today's Independent Traveller, along with plenty of advice about cheap air fares. This newspaper has always had an awkward tension between its environmental credentials and the fact that, every Saturday, it is accompanied by a travel section about inspiring journeys across the world.

Like Responsibletravel.com, until recently we encouraged readers to assuage their consciences and limit the damage to the environment by offsetting emissions from aviation. We recommended the "reduce my footprint" scheme endorsed by Abta, the travel association. But earlier this year we stopped. Carbon offsetting seemed too imperfect a science.

An example: the citizens of Honduras, one of the more benighted corners of Central America, are among the beneficiaries of a scheme to allow householders to run their stoves with a lower output of CO2. But philosophically, the "fly to Tegucigalpa and pay us [a very precise] £21.19" does not work for me. The aircraft is going to the Honduran capital's scruffy airport anyway: buying a ticket today is driving future supply regardless of any offset. Airlines predict future demand on past experience, so the only effective way to moderate the number of flights is to stop flying.

Arithmetically, I find it difficult to accept that more efficient cooking of rice and beans by the seven million Hondurans, even over the long term, can begin to compensate for the flights of the same number of passengers who fly to or from Heathrow airport in a month. And if air travellers should pay, surely ferry and cruise passengers, and even Eurostar day-trippers, must make a modest contribution? Yet the respected Climate Care organisation does not cater for such travellers on its website.

This year we have shifted emphasis from faraway destinations to the UK (see today's "48 Hours in Cambridge", for example), but this has more to do with the feeble British economy than reducing our readers' carbon emissions.

The Independent's travel desk is focusing on promoting the most efficient forms of air travel, which generally means flying non-stop, in economy class, on modern aircraft with a high "load factor": easyJet and Ryanair now fill an average of nine out of 10 seats on each flight. Where rail is a reasonable alternative, we champion it. The only true no-impact holiday is to walk or cycle in your local area, staying at a youth hostel or B&B. Good for the planet, less rewarding for you, and for those in places such as Honduras who need your tourist dollars.

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