Hello, nearly-graduated college student in Environmental Science here. What are your thoughts on how much air travel impacts global carbon emissions and how individuals and nations should approach the problem? I was reading an article recently about how society has over-romanticized the idea of world travel and how phasing out this idea could be one approach to reducing the number of annual flights. Thanks!
Thanks for following and I like your style.
Well, I don’t do emissions. I work in an entirely different field. Asking me about emissions is like asking a gynecologist about dental health. The gyno might know a bit about brushing and flossing, but - meh - his/her concern is with a different system of the body.
So, I kinda know a bit about emissions, but ultimately - meh - I’m working in a different arena. That said, I know a teeny bity bit.
Air travel CO2 emissions are super minuscule - 2% of global emissions. So, 98% comes from other sources. And, I doubt that 2% figure includes 190+ government, military, and air forces around the world.
It seems to me you’re asking if consumers can influence the least amount of carbon emissions. Why? Why is it up to “consumers” to purchase their way out of climate change, and do so via the least effective options?
If that 2% excludes government and military, we have to also exclude non-personal travel - like freight (think Fedex, UPS, Amazon, USPS, DHL, etc). Freight accounts for about 50% of air travel, so we’re left with only 1% to deal with.
If my back-of-the-napkin math pans out, you’re inquiring about a consumer demand problem among 1% of global emissions (99% from other sources).
Outside of the United States, I can say first hand that all developing countries aim to improve their economies. They want out of poverty. They want education for girls, access to better health care, flush toilets, and air conditioning. And, like it or not, they’re doing this aggressively, to get out of poverty.
Developing countries are increasing the exports of goods, and they’re positioning themselves as clever tourist attractions. Thailand and Japan, where I was last week, have mastered tourism and exports, but imagine the tourism potential of beautiful countries like Myanmar, or Cambodia, or East Timor! These countries are hellbent on developing tourism and exporting more goods. They are not stopping. The money they get from these helps improve the health and well being of their citizens. Governments (well, most of them) are obligated to increase human rights, and the path is through economic development. There is no way around it. All other theories - socialism, anarchy, participatory this, anti-capitalist that, or poly-econ-whatever-flavor of the day - are not viable. They’re not, and idealists will be forever alone (sorry!).
Air travel is increasing, with or without you. For tourism economies, countries are plotting and planning and scheming ways to attract young, “rich,” western, and adventurous folks like you. This is long term strategizing - not next year, or the summer after - but for decades to come. Super long-term plans are in play here. Billions of dollars are being spent to improve countless new country’s tourism sectors.
So, again, dealing with 1% of emissions - it’s just inconceivable for me to understand why someone would choose to not fly. I mean, say that all Americans stop their domestic and business travels today - that’s 800 million flights per year by the way - 800,000,000 just U.S.! The impact on the 1% of global air travel will have zero impact. A sad tear drop dripped into seven oceans. Internationally, air travel is on the upswing, with or with out westerners.
That’s back of the napkin math from someone who is not in the emissions world.
What about flipping the issue around to a regulation question? Maybe the issue to consider is - why is reducing carbon emissions a problem for consumers to resolve? Why does the reduction burden of a pollutant fall on individuals who purchase things? It’s a strange thing to contemplate. Compare it to other pollutants - asbestos, arsenic, DDT, Freon, lead, cyanide, radiation. These pollutants were once freely available for consumers to purchase. Now, with advancements in science, we know that these things are terrible for human health and consumption. But, were they reduced from the market place because some one felt guilty? Were these pollutants reduced because people banded together to anti-shop for DDT-free organic pest control products?
Or perhaps these products were banned by governments via voters, legislation, and litigation?
So, no hard feelings - I quite like you and how you think - I respectfully disagree with the premise of your question. Controlling carbon emissions doesn’t seem to me to be a consumer problem; it’s a government regulation problem - and, therefore, a voter-initiative issue… “Vote” is my ultimate response for change. You gotta vote. Better still, get in the game and run for office. Harness that idealism and write your own bills (and yes, you can write and submit draft policies and legislation to your local and state government!)…