“Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.” [Laudato Si’# 164]

Laudato Si’ Week, celebrated beginning this week, May 16-24, 2020, honors the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for our common home. The theme for the week is “Everything is Connected.”

As part of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s commitment to care for Earth, SCNs have pledged to “scrutinize carefully our own lifestyle and our environmental practices and policies in each culture in which we live.” [2000 Earth Statement] In addition, 2018 GA Directive 4B asks SCNs to “intensify efforts across the Congregation to address the destruction of natural resources and the ecological and environmental crisis.” SCNs took another step in their commitment in 2019 when the Executive Committee approved a vision and goals to further define Directive 4B. 

In the spirit of the anniversary’s theme and the SCNs’ commitments, we are looking at air travel: how greenhouse gas emissions from air travel add to climate change and how we might change our travel choices to reduce our impact on Earth. The Executive Committee opted to do a pilot study to check the greenhouse gas emissions from air travel by the Central Leadership Team and the Province Leadership Teams in 2019.

Air travel is a significant contributor to climate change. Pre-pandemic, air travel accounted for 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions; one study found that it could account for 25% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. The International Civil Aviation Organization projects that emissions from air travel will increase 300-700% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The reason for this growth is an increase in smaller less expensive airlines and a rising middle class. 

Aviation technology is not changing rapidly enough to reduce air travel emissions or to offset the growth in air travel. Completely decarbonizing aircrafts will likely require technologies that are decades away. In the meantime, reducing the number of flights is the only guaranteed way of reducing emissions.

Emissions are dependent on many factors, including the length of the flight, the number of take-offs and landings, the type of plane, how full the plane is, and the weight of the cargo and luggage. To calculate your emissions, go to https://www.atmosfair.de/en/offset/flight and plug in your flight information.

How to Reduce Air Travel Emissions

One of the silver linings of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has taught us that there are alternatives to getting on a plane and flying to see someone. Videoconferencing and video phone calls have allowed us to continue to meet for work and visit with family and friends. While second best to meeting in person, we have learned that it is possible.  

SCN leadership have made efforts to reduce the amount of air travel over the years by employing video conferencing to accommodate committee meetings. The challenge for the leadership is to stay connected as an international Congregation while finding ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

Another way to reduce air travel is by choosing alternative forms of transportation. When traveling within the country, especially for shorter trips, consider taking the train, bus, or car. Short flights emit the most emissions per mile because takeoffs use so much fuel. For short distances, taking alternative transportation will not use significantly more time, but will save considerably on emissions. If you take the car, try to carpool. Each person added cuts the emissions significantly.  

When You Have to Fly

If you do need to travel by plane, direct flights have fewer emissions because of reduced takeoffs and landings and traveling fewer miles. There can also be a big difference in emissions between airlines. To compare emissions, go to https://www.atmosfair.de/en/offset/flight and enter departure and arrival information, flight class, flight type, and whether it is a round-trip or one-way trip. When you click on “calculate,” you will see a list of different airlines that offer that route and their emissions. Some routes do not offer a comparison, but most do.

Another way to reduce your emissions is by packing light. Individual travelers can make a difference in fuel consumption by reducing baggage weight. According to Delta Airlines, if all of their passengers packed one less pair of shoes, or roughly 2 pounds less, the annual environmental impact from reduced fuel consumption is equivalent to removing 10,500 cars from the road for an entire year.

Investing in Greenhouse Gas Emission Offset Projects

Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions is another way of remaining “carbon neutral” while continuing to fly. Travelers pay an organization to support a project that sequesters or reduces emissions. The project should meet certain standards: the reductions must be permanent, additional, verifiable, enforceable, and real. There are third party verifiers that help by certifying whether projects meet all of these standards. Projects may include methane capture, avoided deforestation or reforestation, energy efficiency, and more.  

The Executive Committee will continue to intensify the Congregation’s efforts to offset air travel emissions while being intentional about travel options.

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