It’s the Best Way to Get your Neighbour’s Attention that you are Serious about Climate Change! He or she will think you have lost your marbles. That could be good, or bad…
And why is that?
First, Credibility. Your neighbour recognizes that giving up flying is a big deal, it is a huge sacrifice [to most people], so it means that you are serious, deadly serious, about the dangers of climate change. As a IPCC climate science writer said:
“As an average person that follows this issue and write about it a lot for his job, if I don’t do something that the IPCC recommends, why would anyone else?”
Second, nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. Cancel a couple longish flights, and you can halve your carbon footprint.
Third, tourism is now one of the world’s largest industries: The World Travel and Tourism Council in its 2017 assessment found that travel and tourism accounted for 10.1% of global GDP, and growing. For the seventh consecutive year, the Travel & Tourism sector has outperformed the global economy, which grew at 3% during 2017, while being the fastest growing broad economic sector globally, outperforming the likes of manufacturing, retail and wholesale, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and financial services. Most people think this is good news, but I am not among them. Did you know that in 2017, at any given time, there were 1,270,406 people in the air flying? The International Civil Aviation Organization estimated there were 3.5 billion (yes BILLION) plane passengers in 2015!
Fourth, yes, I know that the CO2 from jets “only” account of 2% of the GHGs [by comparison, meat production accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s total GHGs]¸ however its impacts, in the short term, are actually much higher as explained here:
The wrinkle, always vaguely understood by climate geeks but finally explored in depth in a recent scientific paper, is that the relative impact of different types of travel depends not just on practical factors such as engine efficiency and occupancy rates, but also on something altogether more abstract: the time frame you care about. The reason this is so crucial is that the effects of different greenhouse gases play out in the atmosphere at a different speeds. CO2, released by all fuel-burning vehicles, can remain in the air for centuries, causing a gentle warming effect. By contrast, most other gases and impacts – such as the vapour trails and tropospheric ozone produced by planes at altitude – cause much more potent but shorter-lived bursts of warming. If you’ll forgive an extension to the “frying the planet” metaphor, generating global warming with CO2 is equivalent to slow-cooking the earth in a cast-iron skillet, whereas cooking the planet with vapour trails would be more like flash-frying it in an extra-hot wok.
In order to tot up these differently paced warming impacts into a single carbon footprint number for a flight or any other activity, it’s necessary to decide what time frame you’re talking about. Conventional wisdom is to add up the total warming impact of all the different greenhouse gases over the period of a century to create a nice, round but ultimately arbitrary number. If, by contrast, we shifted the focus to a much shorter time period – which arguably would make more sense, given that the next decade or so could turn out to be make-or-break in terms of avoiding climate tipping points – then the impact of vapour trails and other short-lived impacts look massively more significant. At risk of over-stretching the frying-pans analogy, the flash-fry wok may be more likely to cause a disastrous kitchen fire than the slow-cook skillet, even if they both use the same amount of heat overall.
The new paper, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, finally pins some numbers on all this theory by examining the impact over different time periods of various different modes of transport. The results are illuminating. According to the paper, if we focus just on the impact over the next five years, then planes currently account for more global warming than all the cars on the world’s roads – a stark reversal of the usual comparison. Per passenger mile, things are even more marked: flying turns out to be on average 50 times worse than driving in terms of a five-year warming impact. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/sep/09/carbon-emissions-planes-shipping
So if you are not yet convinced that this is actually the easiest [as most flights are optional] tool in your toolkit to combat global warming how about crunching the numbers? Use this online calculator to figure out your carbon footprint for your next flight: https://co2.myclimate.org/en/flight_calculators/new Here’s a simple way to put the numbers in perspective: a flight from Los Angeles to Casablanca (with a layover in Paris) emits about 8,400 pounds of carbon dioxide, while the average meat loving American generates about 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year through eating beef. If you think I am ‘extreme’ try reading this angry rant: http://hot-topic.co.nz/what-are-we-waiting-for-the-fantasy-of-carbon-neutral-growth-of-aviation-emissions/#more-15250
The most poetic article I read on how your quality of life improves if you stop flying has this quote:
Which story would you prefer tell?
- A) We got a flight from London to Morocco.
- B) We hitchhiked from London to Dover and got a ferry to Calais. From Calais we spent a week travelling through the French wine country before some overlanders in a van gave us a lift through the Pyrenees into Spain. In Spain we hiked through the Northern mountains, travelled to Seville, learned some salsa, hitchhiked to Gibraltar and then got a ferry to Morocco.
If you go with A then this is probably not the blog for you.
Finally, as an armchair philosopher, I think a major problem is that most people still think the grass is greener on the other side. Or perhaps they just are not content. Or they are bored. Or perhaps they are just fundamentally unhappy and believe that a change of scenery will do the trick. I for one am content and grateful to live in Canada, where so many people are desperate to emigrate to, and if it snows a bit, so be it.
Next Week: Alternatives to Flying
p.s. Yes, I have stopped flying, my last flight was in 2000.