Air Travel and “Sunrise over the North Pole”

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Regular visitors here may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a little while. Apologies for that. I have just returned from a 2-week trip to the US, taking part in speaking engagements at high schools and universities across the country. With the help of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, I’ve been speaking about environmental issues in China, trying to get students to connect to my stories and relate them to what issues are affecting their local communities.

As I zig-zagged across America, travelling mostly by plane, my mind started to wander onto the impact our air travel has on our planet. As a working photographer and videographer, my assignments normally require me to travel quickly from place to place, mostly by plane. My work focuses mainly on issues affecting the environment, so I try to live my life with those environmental issues in mind and the impact that I, as an individual, am having. Flying however is one the issues I most struggle with, made worse by the fact I find it a very enjoyable way to travel.

When you start to delve into the latest statistics about air travel and CO2 emissions, you quickly discover some frightening numbers. Some predictions point out that by 2025, airlines worldwide could be spewing out 1.5 billion tons of CO2 per year, that’s half of the EU’s current total CO2 output. In 2009, total CO2 output from EU carriers did reportedly decline however it seems this only correlated with a decrease in the number of passengers flying. Some airlines do seem to be making active, positive steps towards change however, by testing biofuels. Airlines such as United Airlines for example, who flew the first flight by US commercial airline using natural gas synthetic jet fuel this year.

Sometimes though, you have to just sit back and just admire the marvel of flight. As I sat on my United Airlines flight from Washington DC to Beijing last week, my mind was wandering again on the above issues when I was distracted by what unfolded infront of me. Cruising half way between the US and China, we passed directly over the North Pole, just as dawn was breaking. It was one of the most spectacular and beautiful sunrises I have ever seen and I decided to try to record enough of it to show in a short video. It’s not everyday you see the sunrise over the North Pole. I hope you can enjoy reliving it with me, as I saw it.

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