Flying Home for the Holidays…

Having recently returned from inter-semester break, I am wholly aware of the pressures to return home for the holidays. Still, one aspect many of us do not take into account is the amount of carbon we produce when flying to and from university. The real question here boils down to this: how does one reconcile their desires to see their family with the real life carbon effects of their travel plans?

Until recently, I hadn’t even thought of the impact of my traveling. Other factors, such as price and time spent in airports during layovers were much more of a concern for a journey that is already fraught with difficulties. My personal trip, from New York to Edinburgh, releases 2.23 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for each round trip journey. Assuming that I travel home four times each academic year, that’s 4.46 tonnes of carbon added to my annual footprint. Of course, it is hard to get around this, as coming to and from St Andrews is inevitable. Beyond the obligatory to-and-from flight, it is hard to escape holiday flights or spring break journeys – as much as one might want to avoid airports during Christmas-time. It seems then, that the costs, both monetary and environmental, run high for international students at St Andrews.

While some students travel home for every break – including some Americans during Thanksgiving – other stay in St Andrews during the holidays, with varying degrees of success. The university, to its merit, has created programs and schemes for those who stay and Transition itself has been part of that effort.

Given that we have such a high number of international students – around 30% at last count – this issue is one that many students face, whether they know it or not. But how realistic is it to ask students to forgo seeing their families in the pursuit of carbon efficiency? Realistically, it would be a non-starter for most students (including myself), especially given that home offers the perks of family, free food and most importantly, free heating. As international students, maybe the way towards lowering our carbon footprints is through eliminating the more unnecessary flights that we go on throughout the year.

By ‘unnecessary’ I mainly mean holiday flights. The cheap airfare that is offered through the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet to continental Europe is incredibly enticing, especially for an American such as myself who has never had such an opportunity to travel. Still, there is so much to do in Scotland, where you don’t need to fly and where one will spend less money in the process. Of course, the pressure to see Europe’s capitals, by family or our own desires is not ignorable. If your parents are asking “Where are you going for reading week?” you probably don’t want to tell them Glenrothes. But there is so much to be done in the UK, accessible by the more carbon conscious rail and other public transportation options. Even hill walking vacations, like those organized by the Breakaway Society, are a great way to get out without flying. So while some flights might be unavoidable, some are more expendable and could be removed to reduce our personal carbon footprints. Check out the transition website for more local holiday ideas: http://transitionuniversityofstandrews.com/local-holidaying/.