Climate change: Can giving up air travel bring joy?

A former teacher who now runs a climate organization from Burlington, Vermont, Dan Castrigano says he had always enjoyed traveling, but eventually became worried about his carbon footprint.

At first, he tried buying carbon offsets. But eventually, he decided to simply stop flying altogether.

Why We Wrote This

A small but growing number of people have given up flying because of climate concerns. What surprised them, they say, is the joy they gained from the journey.

“There was this cognitive dissonance when I would fly,” he says. “I was teaching about climate to seventh and eighth graders, and I just kind of became embarrassed that I was flying to Europe for vacation.”

With more people recognizing the climate impact of the aviation industry, and more people interested in lowering their own carbon footprints, a new ethos of “slow,” climate-friendly travel is taking hold. And those at the forefront of this movement – travelers like Mr. Castrigano who have pledged to go “flight free” for a year or more – claim that their new approach from getting here to there is surprisingly fun.

Waking up on a sleeper train to an Indiana sunrise en route to Chicago is just better than fighting the crowds at O’Hare International Airport, Mr. Castrigano says.

“It’s extremely joyful not to fly,” he says. “It’s liberating.”

The last time Jack Hansen took an airplane, he was a junior at the University of Vermont. To return from a semester abroad in Copenhagen, he flew from Denmark, stopped in Iceland, and landed in New York.

But the next term, one of his professors asked students to calculate their individual energy usage. And when Mr. Hansen did the math, he realized that just one leg of that international flight accounted for more energy, and more greenhouse gas emissions, than all the other things he had done that year combined – the driving and heating and lighting and eating and everything else.

He was taken aback.

Why We Wrote This

A small but growing number of people have given up flying because of climate concerns. What surprised them, they say, is the joy they gained from the journey.

“I just could not justify it,” he says. “It really is an extreme. It’s an extreme amount of energy, an extreme amount of pollution. ”

So Mr. Hansen decided to stop flying. That was in 2015. Since then, he has traveled by train and bike and car, and has even written a song about the trials of getting home to Chicago on an overnight bus. But he has not been on an airplane.

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