Worries and wanderlust: Do students’ concerns for the environment affect their plans to travel?
Climate-conscious students worry about air travel’s 5% contribution to global warming
In a recent survey I conducted, 74% of students disclosed that they plan to go travelling after completing their degree, and 87% said that they believe travelling will be an important experience in shaping their identity. Though it may be a cliché that people go travelling to “find themselves”, for many travellers, this really is the case. In another survey, more than 60% of students reported experiencing an identity crisis. Life in the early twenties can often feel overwhelming; we’re at a stage in our lives where there are so many options for the future which can leave us feeling lacking in direction. For many students, travelling can be a way to begin to overcome these feelings; it can allow us to step out our comfort zone and live unbound, leaving behind our constructed identities through opening up to new experiences and trying on different versions of ourselves. In an interview with student Ioanna, she noted how being in education for most of her life had pushed her to go travelling, to gain ‘more life experiences and understand better what I want from life’.
Ioanna’s attitudes to the importance of travelling in identity construction are shared by many others. In a LinkedIn article, Douglas Soh Juin Hung discussed his experiences of identity formation whilst travelling:
‘the more I indulge myself in new environments, the more I learn about what makes me “myself” by being able to experience, feel, and consciously selecting my identity and expression that makes me feel most connected’
Staying within our comfort zones, for example, our hometown or a steady job, may provide us with a content life, but might not give us the opportunity to truly explore ourselves within. Through travel, as Hung says, we allow ourselves to be fully immersed in an unfamiliar environment, connecting with people, places and cultures which can infiltrate our own personalities. In his article for The Atlantic, Crane divulges the scientific research on the benefits of travel:
‘what a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self’
It’s evident that travel has many benefits, not just for our identity, but also for society, through sharing cultures and celebrating differences. However, whilst the effects on selfhood are valuable, the effects on the environment are detrimental.
Catastrophically, air travel is responsible for 5% of global warming. Our climate is currently in an emergency, with only a few years until we surpass the 1.5C temperature rise limit, leading to irreversible damage to our planet. Transport and Environment, Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, stated that ‘if unmitigated, aviation emissions are expected to double or triple by 2050 and in doing so consume up to one-quarter of the global carbon budget’. Therefore, ‘the global aviation industry has agreed to try to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050’, says Ellerback for WEF.
The net-zero emissions goal entails the introduction of new fuels and technologies which don’t produce emissions, and the offset of any unavoidable emissions. The UK government is committed to the cause, ‘exploring a SAF [sustainable aviation fuels] mandate and is supporting the UK SAF industry with £180 million of funding over the next 3 years’, according to Gov.UK.
In my survey, 100% of participants stated that they care about our environment. However, due to travelling being such a significant part of life for many students, I wondered if the impacts of air travel on the climate would affect their plans to travel. Ioanna emphasised that she understood the ‘impact on the environment and of course the future of our climate’ but that it wouldn’t stop her from going travelling. Instead, she plans to use ‘coaches and trains wherever I can on my travels and volunteering for beach clean ups and for animal conservation’ in order to reduce her carbon footprint in other ways.
I interviewed sustainable aviation expert Dan Jackson to find out more about the future of sustainable travel. Jackson disclosed that he couldn’t give an affirmative answer when asked if the net-zero goal was likely to be met by 2050, but that he was hopeful that ‘by then the goal would’ve been reached’. However, the number of people flying each year is increasing by 5% YoY, and I wanted to find out if the goal could still be achieved with this increase.
Q: Is there going to have to be measures put in place to decrease the number of people that are flying per year in order to reach the goal?
A: Yeah, I think we'll probably end up seeing that through the price rises. One of the ways that they'll try and reduce emissions overall will probably be to increase taxes and travel. So the ticket price will go up.
Q: When we start to see the new technologies and fuels being used, will that further push ticket prices up?
A: Yes, that will happen, because obviously, these things cost a lot of money - millions of pounds is going into it so this is not a small investment to make. And usually airlines put these investments in place to save money, and this is really the opposite this time. So they’ll have to recover that money in other ways, aka through flight fares.
Though ticket price increases will have a huge impact on the ability of people to travel, it is a necessary step to take in the attempt to save our planet. So what effect will the price rise have on students’ plans to travel? Ioanna disclosed that she would ‘definitely pay to fly more sustainably’, but if the increases were significant, it would inhibit her from travelling at all.
The future of travel is in an uncertain state, with the guarantee that prices will go up, but little indication of how significant the price rises will be. There may come a point in the not-too-distant future where ordinary people will no longer be able to travel by air, increasing the disparity between the extremely wealthy and average earners. The value of travel in identity formation is indisputable, but people may have to turn to other approaches in self-exploration, such as meditating, keeping a journal or trying out new hobbies. It is imperative that drastic changes are made to save our planet, and making flying green is fundamental.