The Pursuit of Carbon Neutrality – how to travel more efficiently in the age of climate change

It seems to be an inalienable right for people to be able to travel as much as they wish. This habit will be a hard habit to break or moderate but we can reduce our carbon emissions by making adjustments, often quite small ones, to the way we travel.


In light of the Netherlands having recently reduced its speed limit from 81mph to 62 mph in an emission-reducing measure, it’s important to reflect on the most carbon-efficient manner in which to drive. So, after a bit of research and thanks to the AA, here are a few suggestions we have come up with:

1. Transmission Change up earlier: keeping at lower revs when in gear before a change is markedly more efficient than performing this change above  2000-2500 rpm.

2. Keep moving Coming to a stationary stop and acclerating away is much less efficient than preserving momentum by breaking earlier. Try to break before traffic or lights to continue rolling, and avoid these thirsty stop-start scenarios.

3. Discipline and speed limits Driving at 80mph uses 25 percent more fuel than driving at 70mph: tell that to the M4 morning commuters. Reducing your speed from 70mph to the more orthodox 60 mph would save you 9 percent, and to the more pedestrian 50 mph, 15 percent would be saved.

4. Avoid erratic acceleration and deceleration Accelerating and decelerating smoothly is significantly more efficient than erratic bursts of speed and harsh breaking.


Flying, like no other form of transport, is increasingly creating friction between the desire for personal freedom and the disconcerting knowledge of the need to fulfil our moral obligation to the planet. Indeed in Scandanavia, linguistics has absorbed a new word produced from our current agitation, ‘flygskam’ meaning flight shame.

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is one way to mitigate the implications of our domestic and international flights. Investing in one of the many organisations offering a level of this offsetting  vanquishes our personal disquiet regarding that latest holiday! Said ventures allow you to invest for example, in emission neutralising measures such as reforestation, or providing African societies with more efficient stoves and cookers.

However, there has been concern that some projects have not offsetted their carbon pledges successfully so it is important to verify accreditation. Names to look out for to ensure credibility and efficacy of your investment include the the Swiss organisation Gold Standard, as well as the American Carbon registry, Climate Action Reserve and Verified Carbon Standard. ClimateCare is an inspiring and impactful organisation, which since its inception has cut 35 million tonnes of Co2 from our atmosphere.

Some airlines have incorporated carbon offsetting into their business model. This, however, is not to say it seems a priority for them. To access Virgin’s carbon offsetting program run in concordance with ClimateCare, the customer must scroll to the bottom of the ticket purchasing page and click the sustainability tab. The tab then offers a simple calculator, formulating how much to pay into the scheme dependent on the carbon footprint of your flight.

If you are going to fly – and it seems unlikely that we will immediately step back from decades of tantalising and exotic long distance travel – there are some emission-reducing measures that you yourself can engage in.

1. Pack light Put simply, the heavier the plane the more fuel is needed, hence having a direct result on emissions produced. Think about whether you are packing excessively for that long weekend away, that perhaps requires a single t shirt rather than 4!

2. Fly direct to your destination Planes use the most fuel when taking off and landing. If you are able to fly directly to your destination, you will significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

3. Fly economy Flying in first or business class is the equivalent of tripling your carbon footprint. Flying economy means seating of a smaller size, allowing more people to be flown with the same amount of fuel.

4. Research your airline Some airlines produce more emissions than others and seem to take emissions more seriously than their competitors. Virgin seems predominant in leading the desire for lighter aircraft, and the resultant lower emissions.  As this article implies and is readily obvious in society, flying may not be the first transport industry that springs to mind when considering low carbon emissions. However, in this era of increasingly tangible public and government concern, other airlines seem to be be taking notice. EasyJet has made the admirable, yet dubious, claim that all emissions from their flights will now be offsetted. This will occur via investment in projects such as tree planting and anti deforestation initiatives. Qantas has pledged to cap net emissions by 2020, and to achieve carbon emission neutrality by 2050.

5. Be intelligent with your choice of airport Driving to an airport situated much further away than is necessary produces unnecessary emissions. Where you can, take the train.

6. Book with an airline whose carbon offsetting initiatives you trust.

None of these measures will solve the climate-change problem, not even if everyone did all of them for every trip. However, every little helps. Perhaps more importantly, thinking about as many of these issues as one can when planning your trip helps to normalise this aspect of our decision-making.


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