Should we stop flying because of the weather? (2023)

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Getty Images/Javier Hirschfeld


Should we stop flying because of the weather? (1)

Von Jocelyn Temperley

February 19, 2020

For those of us who regularly vacation abroad and travel for business, flying accounts for a significant chunk of our carbon footprint, but are there ways to reduce those emissions?

Everything we do, from the food we eat to the products we buy to the way we travel, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and therefore affects the planet's climate. But some activities have a much bigger impact than others.

About 2.4%of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. Along with other gases and theWater vapor trails produced by airplanes, for which the industry is responsiblearound 5%of global warming.

At first glance, it may not seem like a large post. Only a very small percentage of the world flies frequently. Even in richer countries likethe UKjThe United States, about half of people fly every year and only 12-15% are frequent flyers.

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Although there are no exact dates, Dan Rutherford, director of transportation and aviation at the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), a US-based non-profit organization, estimates that only 3% of the world's population flies regularly. In fact, emissions from airplanes would be greatly reduced if everyone in the world took just one long-haul flight a year.exceed all US CO2 emissions, laut ICCT-Analyse.

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (3)

Searching for places to visit closer to home during the holidays can reveal surprising things about places just around the corner (Image credit: Getty Images/Javier Hirschfeld)

For those of us who fly, it's likely that it accounts for a significant portion of our personal carbon footprint. Mile after mile, flying is the most climate-damaging form of travel. (read aboutthe Finns rationing carbon emissions.)

A return flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per person, more thantwicethe emissions produced by a family car in a year, and about half the averagecarbon footprintby someone living in the UK. Even a return flight from London to Berlin emits around 0.6 tonnes of CO2e, three times the emissionssaved recycling a year ago.

And emissions from planes are increasing rapidly:increased by32% between 2013 and 2018. While improvements in fuel efficiency are gradually reducing emissions per passenger, they are not keeping pace with the rapid increase in total passenger numbers that it isprojecteddouble in the next 20 years.

"They've got fuel efficiency improvements on the order of 1% a year, and flights are up 6%," says Rutherford, "not even close."

Other substances, especially water in the form of contrails, but also soot and nitrogen oxides, have the ability to capture additional heat at altitude: Stefan Gössling

And it's not just the CO2 emitted by jet engines that has an impact.

"Other substances, most notably water in the form of contrails, as well as soot and nitrogen oxides, have the ability to trap additional heat at flight altitude," says Stefan Gössling, a professor at Linnaeus University and Lund University in Sweden, who specializes in this sustainable technology Tourism.

However, reducing the number of flights can seem daunting, especially when we have to travel regularly for business or vacations abroad. But there are ways each of us can reduce the impact of our travels and minimize emissions from flying.

Staci Montori was surprised when she discovered the contribution of her own travels to the climate. An integrative medicine practitioner living in Boston, she regularly flew to visit family in California. But after consulting a carbon footprint calculator, he vowed to gofree flightlast year. (Read more aboutWhy is the shame of flying making people switch from planes to trains?.)

"I thought it was very green, but then I realized it flies," he says. “And that is the biggest part of my carbon footprint. I had a little moment of panic. I thought, 'How am I going to see my family if I'm not flying?'

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (4)

Only a small fraction of the world's population uses scheduled flights, resulting in a disproportionately large carbon footprint (CreditGetty Images/Javier Hirschfeld)

But after some research, she found a month-long rail pass that allowed her and her daughter to travel cheaply across the country from Boston to San Francisco. Her trip included two weeks in California, along with stops in Chicago and Colorado.

"It was really good fun," she says. “It didn't feel like a huge sacrifice anymore it was amazing, it's actually a really exciting way to travel. And when I slowed down, I had a lot of time with my daughter."

His experience shows what we may be missing when we choose the speed of flight. And choosing alternative travel options is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint our travel can have.

A single passenger traveling on a UK domestic flight, for example, can have a climate impact.This corresponds to 254 g CO2 per kilometerTravel, according to the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The same calculations estimate that a long-haul flight can release the equivalent of 102g of CO2 per kilometer, a lower average figure per kilometer due to the enormous amount of emissions released during takeoff and landing.

But an intercity train only releases the equivalent of 41 g for every passenger mile. Bus travel emits even less: the equivalent of just 28g of CO2.

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (5)

The CO2 equivalent emissions for each kilometer traveled by a passenger vary depending on flight duration, cruising altitude and weight of the aircraft (Source: BEIS/Defra/BBC)

All of this means that traveling by bus or train, when possible, is likely to be far more climate-friendly than flying.

“Overall, trains and coaches are the lowest-carbon modes of transport, well below planes and cars,” says Milena Buchs, expert in sustainability, economics and low-carbon transitions at the University of Leeds.

Even driving is typically less carbon-intensive than flying, Rutherford says, as long as it can help someone else. Just driving in a mid-size petrol engine causes around 192g of CO2 per kilometer driven, but with passengers who can be shared.

"Even if you don't have a train, riding with someone else is certainly better than a plane in most cases," he says.

Ground transportation can also often be cheaper and faster than air travel for shorter distances, considering the time it takes to get to the airport, check in, queue at ticket office and wait for luggage. sites likeThe man in seat sixty-onecan help plan long-distance bus, train and ferry connections for the cheapest route.

Despite these alternatives, some non-flying trips will be increasingly difficult.

And there are other advantages to traveling by train: They usually connect city centers directly and are not outside of the city like many airports are. also offer themthe opportunity to see and explore new destinations. It's also easier to get up and leave on a train and of course there's the view.

However, there is still work to be done to offer better low-carbon travel options. The railroad is already widespread in Europe, where thenight train networkesjump. But trains can bemore expensive than flyingon some routes and tend to last longer.

China, on the other hand, is fastunder constructionits high-speed rail network during constructionHundreds of new airports. The United States lacks high-speed rail and has less overall rail infrastructure than Europe, combined with long distances between its cities. But it also has growing political influence.Movementto build high-speed rail lines as part of the Green New Deal.

"We need public demand for these things, and then hopefully over time governments and businesses will respond," Buchs says.

Despite these alternatives, some non-flying trips will be increasingly difficult. So how do you decide if a flight is necessary?

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (6)

Some people are opting for "flight diets" to reduce the amount of air travel (Credit: Getty Images/Javier Hirschfeld)

Gössling's research has shown wide disparities in how important people are when evaluating different flights. In onelearn, asked 29 international students in his class to rate how important the various flights were to them: only 58 percent of the flights were rated “very important” or “important”.

"I think that gives us a hint that not all flights are really important from the perspective of the travelers themselves," he says.

Buchs recommends considering whether it might not be possible to do something similar, only without flying. "Is there anything closer that allows me to do something really similar, have a quiet time, have fun, have fun, etc.?" she says.

But flying doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Betsy Thagard, a preschool teacher from Berkeley, California, says she's on a "flight diet," cutting her number of flights in half from four to two a year.

"I can still visit my family if I need to," he says. “But during these holidays I don't have to fly anymore. There are so many wonderful things to do closer to where I live or take the train. Staying close to home and traveling slowly can make your vacation more relaxed and less stressful.”

On average, a first-class ticket on a long-haul flight emits four times more than an economy seat

Businesses also have a role to play by reducing flight requirements for their employees. Prioritize the use of conferencing or video calling by allowing or allowing employees to combine business travel with vacationsadditional vacation timeTaking the train can help.

Finally, it can be helpful to tell others about your flight reduction decisions. "If you let it be known that you are someone who has stopped flying due to the weather, it can have a statistically significant impact on how many people are flying around you," says Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF). , an environmental agency non-profit. profit.

But while reducing the number of flights you take is the most effective way to reduce your air travel footprint, there are also steps you can take if you do need to fly.

Rutherford developed onefour step processwhich he recommends to reduce emissions per flight.

First, decide to fly with an airline that uses the latest aircraft for your route. They tend to be more efficient than older models and therefore produce fewer emissions. Atmosfair, a German non-profit organization, has an index that enables peopleCheck which airlines cause less CO2 emissionsfor certain routes.

It is also better to book a budget ticket instead of going Business Class or First Class. A first-class ticket on a long-haul flight emits, on average, four times more than an economy seat on the same plane, as shown in the chart below.

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (7)

The amount of CO2 equivalent produced per kilometer traveled by a passenger varies greatly depending on the cabin class in which they fly (Source: BEIS/Defra/BBC)

This is because the more expensive seats on the plane take up more space and weight. First Class and Business Class also tend to have more empty seats.

Reducing the amount of stuff you take with you also has an impact on emissions. The more you pack, the heavier your bags become, and this increases fuel economy. "Anything that reduces the payload of an aircraft reduces fuel consumption," says Rutherford.

Third, Rutherford says, avoid flying very small or very large airplanes. "Very small regional jets or very large four-engine airplanes are less fuel efficient than typical single-aisle or small double-aisle airplanes," he says.

Fourth, choose non-stop direct flights. “Going through the hubs creates a lot of emissions on your flight, and if you can avoid it, it will go a long way towards reducing your emissions,” Gössling says.

You can also consider offsetting your flight emissions by purchasing a carbon offset.

Rutherford estimates that these tricks generally reduce the carbon emissions of its flightsone20% bis 45%, depending on the route. He views these tips as a "short-term gimmick" but argues that airlines should clearly disclose per-flight emissions to customers.

You can also consider offsetting your flight emissions by purchasing a carbon offset. However, it's hard to be sure that an offset will permanently "soak up" the emissions your flight creates. Trees, for example, take years to grow big enough to absorb your flight's carbon again, and it's hard to guarantee they'll stay awake long enough to offset your flight's emissions. In addition, it is often difficult to ensure that compensation payments, such as B. Renewable energy projects, are "add-on" - that is, they support projects that would not otherwise have been realized.

If you decide to balance, keep an eye on the UNgold standardCertification, says Gössling. “This implies that they also generate a positive benefit for development.

Should we stop flying because of the weather? (8)

Trains often bring passengers closer to the city center than planes, meaning they can be more convenient (Credit: Getty Images/Javier Hirschfeld)

Investing in a good carbon footprint "will probably help do some good somewhere in the world," Hewitt adds, but it won't make your flight emissions go away. "Compensation just can't be a long-term solution," she says. Many people oppose offsetting because it means the wealthiest people can continue to contribute to climate change without changing their behavior.

While giving up flying may seem like an option to limit your own freedom to travel and experience other cultures, the increasing role of climate change is putting many of us in distressmost valuable environments at risk.

But if we choose to change our thinking, we may find the joys ofslow driveand discovering what we've been missing on our own doorstep might be worth the sacrifice.

* Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance reporter on climate change. You can find her on Twitter @jloistf.


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