I was on holidays in Botswana with my family a few months back reading Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers. To set the scene fully, I was in a camp on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It was an absolutely beautiful place and the world felt wonderful. Unfortunately the more I read, the more I realised the magnitude of the climate change problem, and the less wonderful the world began to feel.

Flannery talks specifically of the impacts of aviation – an industry that contributes above its weight to global warming because of a strange science to do with emissions, altitude and contrails (contrails are those fluffy trails a plane leaves behind it).

I did a quick calculation and worked out in the 12 months previous I had done about 350,000 kilometres in planes – yep – around the world about ten times. All by myself I’d probably caused half an El Nino! Add to that the fact that I am the co-founder of a company that actively encourages people to get into planes and travel half way across the world just so they can have a good time, and I was starting to look like an environmental vandal of the first order.

This year Intrepid will carry 50,000 travellers and on average each will fly about 17,000 kilometres to and from their destination. That’s about 850 million kilometres. If you go to the Climatecare website LINK it also works out to about 135,000 tons of CO2. Youch.

It was time to pull my head out of the sand – fitting, as Botswana is a country made of sand – and do something. Shortly after getting back I went to a conference on environmental philanthropy (where Tim Flannery spoke, coincidentally enough) and briefed our management group.

As happens with tipping points, Al Gore’s movie was about to be launched and so went to a preview screening of that. I walked out and thought, “Well, if I do nothing else, at least I can encourage people to see that film. That alone will help to change behaviours and start to make a difference.” So we offered to refund the ticket price if people sent us their movie ticket stubs. So far about 1,500 people have – but I’m hoping a lot more will.

The inconvenient truth for Intrepid is that we still haven’t actually done anything constructive to reduce our carbon emissions or that of our travellers. Yes, we buy green energy and we now encourage travellers to carbon offset – but in reality that is just the tip of the fast melting iceberg. Ultimately we can’t actually reduce emissions without stopping people travelling and going out of business as a result. Not a very attractive option.

But we can reduce emissions and importantly we can buy carbon offsets that balances the damage we do. So we just have to work out how we pay for 135,000 tons of carbon offsets. That would cost about $2 million – something we don’t really have. But where there is a will there is a way – and I’m planning for Intrepid to become a carbon neutral travel company in the next three years. Call that an epiphany? No, just common sense and self-interest: if we want people to travel, we have to do something to ensure there is a world worth travelling in.

Peter Fray

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