You won’t need to “Fly Less” if you take an airship!

When I was small, a relative gave me a big red balloon filled with helium. With that balloon bobbing over my head and its string tied to my wrist, it seemed obvious to me that if the wind blew the right way and if I breathed in deep enough then that balloon could take me places. The right wind didn’t come along, but being lifted off the ground was still something I imagined very possible.

As an adult my head is again filled with imaginings of gaining altitude, but not in the usual way in the belly of a fossil fueled aeroplane. Instead with something lower carbon. An airship that could take me across oceans!

(I’ll wait a second now while you have your Disaster thoughts.)


According to a now decade old Monbiot article, the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research calculated that travelling in an airship, even when it’s powered by fossil fuels, will produce 80% to 90% less CO2 emissions compared with a flight in an aeroplane. Yes it’s slower, even for new design airships, they are only able to travel at an average 130km/hour. But still, this means an airship could theoretically take people from Auckland to Sydney in 15 hours.

Perhaps the feasibility of long distance passenger airships will never stack up for reasons such as safety, comfort or cost. But what about other forms of low carbon oceanic travel such as wind assisted passenger ships where the challenges seem much more manageable?

With climate change bearing down, where are these low carbon mass passenger ships of all sorts? (And I’m not talking about high carbon emitting cruise ships!). Unfortunately in a world that often relies on the Market to make change happen at any scale, we are still waiting for this particular market to appear.

My proposal is that we give it a hand. I’m not a marketer, but it seems reasonable that if we can get 20% of the population excited about low carbon forms of oceanic travel, then maybe these technologies will get the chance to become a commercial reality. There is the Fly Less movement that is growing overseas and that is in its infancy but growing here too. I’d love more people to get in behind this so that we can support low carbon options for overseas travel in the near future.

I’m dreaming of low carbon and still flying high – or at least flowing far! It’s all in the range of the very possible.