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Digital tool for assessing climate change impact when you travel

In recent months terms like ‘Flygskam’, or ‘flight shame’ have entered the common lexicon, suggesting a particular impact on the environment from flying. Notably, Greta Thunberg’s train journey through Europe highlighted the growth of the no-fly movement. This journey culminated with Thunberg, who helped inspire the school climate change strikes and who has been pivotal in inspiring young people with environmental issues, condemning the U.K.’s slow progress over climate change when she an address to the U.K. parliament (as Digital Journal reported).

The growing consumer awareness with the impact of travel is reflected in the pressing need to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (in order to set out what is required under the Paris Agreement, a consensus within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). In order to achieve this, signatory nations (notably, not the U.S.) need to limit carbon dioxide emissions to under two tons per person. To put this into context, a return flight from London to New York alone produces nearly two tons of carbon dioxide, according to the green mobility organization RESET.

How do consumers weigh up the environmental impact of one travel option over another? To assist Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology have developed a new digital tool. Through the website, consumers can obtain an instant and simple calculation of the emissions from different modes of travel for a given journey anywhere in the world.

Commenting on the new tool, Jörgen Larsson, Assistant professor at the university’s Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory, said: “Reaching the 2°C target will require changes in our lifestyle. Maybe if everyone adopted a vegan diet instead, flight emissions would not have to decrease so much. But that would also be a large intervention in our lifestyle.”

In most cases, the digital tool shows that journeys made by train have a far lower impact, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, compared with journeys made by train. This is also reflected with the number of environmental organizations promoting train travel and, in the Swedish context, reflected by the Facebook group ‘Tågsemester’ (train holiday), which has over 80,000 members.

Various research metrics have been used to provide the data for the digital tool. The approach taken is outlined in the Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, in the peer reviewed paper “Measuring greenhouse gas emissions from international air travel of a country’s residents methodological development and application for Sweden.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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