Apr 5, 2008

On Not Flying

I miss my parents. A lot. It's been 18 months since I've seen them because I've been trying not to fly. I'm from Georgia but I live in San Francisco. My sister and best friend from high school both live here, and I've acquired other family out here. But my parents still live in Georgia with several of my animals.

We all know that flying emits a lot of carbon. The first year that we started the Compact, I did my ecological footprint and came out as an average American because of my flying habit. I graduated college that year (2006), so I did more traveling than I ever had before. But I was still surprised that I was average in carbon consumption given that I don't use cars, don't shop, am vegetarian, have a heatless apartment, etc.

So I haven't been to Georgia since October of 2006. My folks and I have a great relationship. They flew the coop from Missouri to Georgia when my dad was 19. I was 19 when I moved out here. So we all understand long distance family communication and such. I'm a freak for letters and stuff and we do pretty well with phone calls.

But I've never gone this long without hugging my mom and dad. I hate it. I have to consider whether it's sustainable for me to live so far from them. My sister's here though, so that complicates matters. We have totally tried to get them to move out here but the reality is that they couldn't afford a home in California. We all complain about the exchange rate from the US to Europe, but there's also a big difference in dollar value between the South and the West or North.

Today my dad sent me great letter and locks of hair from all of my critters. It was so thoughtful, and all his idea. Now I miss them more! And no doubt, I miss Georgia. I just watched "Man from Plains", and I was totally homesick seein' that red clay and pine landscape.

But I'm not flying home. I'm going to drive to Georgia this summer. Blake's coming too and we'll probably do some rideshares along the way. It's better for the environment this way. It takes longer and will probably be more expensive since we don't have a car, but whatever. I want to rent a hybrid but haven't looked into it yet. I'm not a purist or a saint though. I'm going to have to fly to get across the pond for grad school. So I'm saving the emissions for that big flight.


Helene said...

I've been very moved by your article: we don't have this kind of problem in France because the distance is not that big compare to yours...
I remember 20 years ago -I was 20- my best friend (she now lives in S.F.) and I we bought an airplane ticket for 200 dollars and we could fly as much as we wanted for 2 months in the States (they forgot to stamp it, and it worked out for 3 months...)It was fun and sometimes, we would fly Est-West (or the other way?) just to sleep in the flight and spare a hotel room... What a waste when I think of it! Like you, I could never do that again! But we also travelled with Greyhound for days, just for fun, because it was so exotic to us to cross the country that way... and we met far more people in buses!
I also had that bus experience in India and China: not as much confortable but with so much more boundings with people! If you have enough time, you should give it a try!
Another tip: can you take a car (thru an agency) and drive it to where you want to go, and even might get paid for that, because the owner took the plane and didn't want to drive?
Good luck and say hi to your folks from France!
Helene http://compact.over-blog.com/

Beth! said...

hey, when are you thinking of going to GA? I'm going to be out on a research cruise all of July and part of August, and won't be needing my car - you can borrow it . call me.

Megan Lynch said...

How is driving to GA better for carbon emissions? I'm perplexed. My impression is that flying is another (albeit more wasteful) form of public transportation. The flights will be going whether you're on them or not. At least when you fly, you're sharing the carbon emissions with loads of people on the same flight.

But when you drive, it's just you. And your SO, I guess. And many many miles and tanks of gas. If you use a hybrid, great, that'll cut down on smog let loose in your immediate environs at the time, but they run on electricity and most electric plants create emissions. Unless it's hydro-electric or wind, it's just displacing where the emissions are put out.

I'd say fly or take Amtrak. Or rideshare with people who are going anyway.

I know what you mean about the distance, though. I only live 500 mi. from my parents but I have come to hate flying post-9/11 due to the TSA BS. And driving is so expensive and wasteful. If only I were 18 again so I'd be in good enough shape to bicycle down there. If I ever achieve my dream to move to Europe, that will be even worse. I think as we come down on the other side of peak oil, we'll have to look at travel much more like it was in the 19th century. Sail, rail, horse, bike...

I'm glad your dad sent you such a thoughtful letter. Even if it does make you miss them more...

rachel said...

Actually, Megan, driving across the country is more efficient than flying. Flying is not mass transit in the air. Jet fuel is incredibly polluting and it takes a whole lot of it to defy gravity. Amtrak would be better, but we're going to ride share to fill the car and still hope to rent a hybrid (or borrow beth's!)
Here's one chart on this. http://driving.drive-alive.co.uk/relative_carbon_emissions.htm
Or you can check out one of the many carbon calculators out there to get a better understanding of this.

I wish flying were better. Actually, beth! was the first person to bring this to my attention. As soon as she said it, I knew it was true, but I was surprised that so few folks were talking about it. That was a few years ago and it's a pretty big deal now.

I really recommend the Plane Stupid group as an orientation to the issue of planes and carbon. Good sense of humor with the facts.

Megan Lynch said...

I'll take a look. However, it seems to me that the only way not taking the plane would help would be if your not taking the plane meant that particular flight couldn't take off. But it's going to take off anyway. The bankruptcies of various airlines due to fare wars will do more to curtail airline fuel usage than one single person driving a car across the country will.

Don't get me wrong - I think there are tons of things we can and should do even though our individual efforts seem infinitesimally small. But flying will be going on whether we're on the plane or not until such time as gasoline gets so expensive that the general public can't afford to fly.

Blue Yonder said...

Rachel is right about driving versus flying. I've personally crunched the numbers, and on a per-passenger basis, flying emits more CO2 than driving a conventional economy-size car, unless you are driving solo.

Also, it's NOT true that the planes will fly whether you're on them or not, and that individuals choosing not to fly will make little difference. Jet fuel prices ARE rising dramatically (together with oil) and, combined with other factors, this is really putting the squeeze on the airline industry. Consequently, flights aren't profitable unless they're packed full, so a few less passengers could very well mean one less plane in the sky - and less CO2. As for "gasoline getting so expensive that the general public can't afford to fly" - well, we're not there yet, but the current trend is in that direction. News headlines predict a coming air travel slump due to fare hikes to cover higher fuel costs.

About hybrid cars, the previous commenter was off the mark. According to Co-op America: "[Electric vehicles] charged with coal power still produce about 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. [Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles] charged on the current grid mix would produce 42 percent fewer emissions."