The majority of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – a startling 27 per cent – come from transport, a number that’s hardly budged in 30 years, even as other sectors have decreased. Despite this stagnation, more British travellers are now starting to recognise the environmental perils of flying – with some even subscribing to the Swedish-led flygskam, or “flight shame”, movement and opting to prioritise flight-free travel.
“We need to fly less until sustainable aviation fuels are available, which I’m confident will come in the not-too-distant future,” says Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, a Brighton-based “activist” travel agency. “We’ve been arguing for some time that when we do choose to fly, we need to stay for longer so that our money truly benefits local communities and conservation initiatives. By taking fewer but longer trips, we will also reduce transport emissions.”
So, if planes are out of the picture, what is the most environmentally friendly way to travel?
The answer, as with so many environmental conundrums, is: it depends. Walking, cycling and other forms of human-powered transport are the obvious choices with the smallest carbon footprint, but two legs or two wheels can only take you so far.
“Taking a train, bus or coach is definitely more environmentally friendly than flying, and accelerating the adoption of zero-emission buses and trains will further shift the balance in favour of these two modes of transport,” says Alice Ridley, head of media and communications at Campaign for Better Transport, which has been advocating for more sustainable public transport in the UK since the 1970s. “Rail is more environmentally friendly than bus, but which one you choose will probably depend on the length of the trip you need to take. Both have a lower carbon footprint than flying or driving.”
Train or bus: which is best?
Drilling down into the numbers, it gets complicated quickly. There are numerous factors involved when determining which offers the lowest emissions, including how full the bus and train services are, whether the coaches and train engines run on diesel or electricity, and how that electricity is generated. Some argue that the calculation should even stretch all the way back into how the roads and rails were constructed.
This is an excerpt from an article by Lauren Keith, originally published by the Independent.