This is an ongoing compilation about the connection between aviation and the clear, present, accelerating EMERGENCY of global heating and climate breakdown / disruption / destabilization. Below is a nutshell summary and 6 brief, collected article / blog post excerpts (bold added for emphasis by climateye), followed by a list of essential resources.
By far the least environmental mode of transportation per passenger (in 2007, more than 600 million tons of CO2 per year — almost as much as the continent of Africa expels on an annual basis — and soon to more than double), the rapid increase in the use of “toxic flying machines” is “the worst impact a single person can exert on the fragile environment“. (Source: Globetrotting boomers fly in face of carbon reality, Adele Horin, SMH)
One flight overseas and back is equivalent to between 1 and 2 years of a person’s global averaged individual annual carbon emissions quota — more than all other sources — or efforts to reduce them — combined!
A radiative force ratio of 2.7 times that of ground level greenhouse gases occurs from the water vapour produced in the upper troposhpere and forms ice crystals / vapour trails (contrails) / cirrus clouds that multiply the 2 to 4% of total annual emissions from air travel to 12 or 13%.
Tourism is the world’s #1 employer and, as of 2007, a $7 TRILLION industry ($1.4 trillion from aviation), which amounts to 10% of global GDP (as high as 8% from aviation). (Source: All about planes, Rachel Oliver, CNN)
More than 2 BILLION people fly each year. With the anticipated growth of China, India and Russia, that could triple by 2025 and would force a huge increase in the number of planes produced / airports constructed.
“…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… Per passenger mile … flying turns out to be on average 50 times worse than driving…” (Source: The complex truth about planes and climate change, Duncan Clark, The Guardian)
Intensified use of biofuels (which would require more arable land than is available on the planet) allocates more crops to the production of fuel instead of food to feed people in dire need, raises food prices / volatility, and causes greater rainforest destruction from heightened palm oil demand. (Source: Controversial biofuel-powered flights, William McLennen, Ecologist)
Along with the massive, unconstrained growth / short-term economic benefit that the aviation industry provides, moral / psychological dissonance and a wrong-headed sense of privilege / birthright comes into play when even those of us who understand the consequences and who want to live responsible, conscientious lives continue to fly (wealthiest 10% responsible for 75% of flights) regardless of its impacts — on air quality, on climate balance, and on the poorest / least culpable / most vulnerable people (and species) who already DIE by the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS / suffer and are displaced by the MILLIONS each year. (Source: Climate Change Human Impact Report 2009)
While other sources of global emissions have great potential to be reduced or replaced, there is NO REASONABLE MEANS with which to sustain long distance, high-speed travel by flight on a mass scale that does not lead to worse outcomes. (Source: Flying KILLS, George Monbiot, Monbiot.com)
Info on the specific contribution of military aviation is yet to be added to this compilation, as well as details about how most governments DO NOT account for emissions from aviation in their national carbon reduction plans and targets (left unchecked, the destructive effects of air travel will overwhelm all efforts to cut back elsewhere, and the EMERGENCY action necessary to prevent this is NOT reconcilable with the desire for continued short-term growth and profit).
Ditto the betrayal of Life that is the UN international climate negotiation process(!)
…It’s not just that aviation represents the world’s fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions. The burning of aircraft fuel has a “radiative forcing ratio” of around 2.7. What this means is that the total warming effect of aircraft emissions is 2.7 times as great as the effect of the carbon dioxide alone. The water vapour they produce forms ice crystals in the upper troposphere (vapour trails and cirrus clouds) which trap the earth’s heat … if you added the two effects together … aviation’s emissions alone would exceed the (UK) government’s (2006) target for the country’s entire output of greenhouse gases in 2050 by around 134% . The government has an effective means of dealing with this. It excludes international aircraft emissions from the target.
It won’t engage in honest debate because there is simply no means of reconciling its plans with its claims about sustainability. …every other source of global warming can be reduced or replaced to that degree without a serious reduction in our freedoms. But there is no means of sustaining long-distance, high-speed travel…
…The airline companies keep talking about hydrogen planes, but if ever the technological problems were overcome, they would be an even bigger disaster than the current models. “Switching from kerosene to hydrogen,” the Royal Commission says, “would replace carbon dioxide from aircraft with a three-fold increase in emissions of water vapour.” Biofuels for aeroplanes would need more arable land than the planet possesses. The British government admits that “there is no viable alternative currently visible to kerosene as an aviation fuel.”
…we will simply have to stop travelling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.
This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behaviour. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening.
…75% of those who use budget airlines are in social classes A, B and C. People with second homes abroad take an average of six return flights a year, while people in classes D and E hardly fly at all: because they can’t afford the holidays, they are responsible for just 6% of flights. Most of the growth, the government envisages, will take place among the wealthiest 10%. But the people who are being hit first and will be hit hardest by climate change are among the poorest on earth...
…Flying kills. We all know it, and we all do it. And we won’t stop doing it until the (UK) government reverses its policy and starts closing the runways.
…The habit of flying, I have discovered … is about the worst impact a single person can exert on the fragile environment. A jet is not the brilliant means of transporting us quickly to pleasurable destinations. It is a toxic flying machine.
…planes allow us to travel so many kilometres in one journey, thus producing so much more pollution per passenger than driving a car does in a year.
For example, a return flight from Sydney to London emits the equivalent of nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger, David Spratt, the co-author of Climate Code Red, told me. That is double the amount the world population on average produces each year through eating, driving and heating and cooling their home. In other words, two years’ worth of our individual quota of CO2 emissions is gobbled up in one trip to Europe and back…
Wearing a hair shirt, turning the thermostat down and eschewing the car are easy sacrifices compared with abandoning the dream of international travel. Whether it is the “love miles” that are cut back – the visiting of far-flung relatives – or the international conferences, putting the passport in the bottom drawer would really hurt the people who probably care most about global warming. Those who have seen the world are likely to have not only a pile of frequent-flyer points but an affinity with the inhabitants of countries most imperilled by global warming.
It is no longer possible to pretend I’m not part of the problem: I have been stashing money into super and lining up the Lonely Planets. But the climate crisis is forcing us to rethink everything, even what we thought was our birthright.
…airplanes pumping out more than 600 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year … nearly as much CO2 as the African continent annually expels.
…Once radiative forcing has been factored in, the total contribution of aviation to greenhouse gas emissions looks more like 12 to 13%…
…Today (2007), there are around 17,700 commercial airplanes in operation … In the next 20 years … another 25,600 could have arrived on the scene — mainly in India, China and Russia. It could be more. Boeing predicts that … by 2019, another 31,750 planes will have come into operation…
…Today (2007), around 2.2 billion of us fly each year… In 15 years time, according to FoE, that number will have doubled.
…governments around the world are continuing to invest heavily in the aviation industry’s growth and development … we are going to see … 1,300 new international airports by 2050, being built at a rate of two a month.
…Tourism … is one of the world’s most profitable industries, if not its most profitable (it’s certainly the world’s No. 1 employer) … global tourism will generate around $7 trillion this year (2007); keep 230 million people in jobs; and contribute 10% of global GDP.
One of the things that keeps tourism in its position as such a great money generator is flying … the aviation industry directly and indirectly employs 28 million people, and generates at least $1.4 trillion. According to The Economist, aviation alone could be contributing as much as 8% of global GDP.
…As our recent Q&A explained, the problem is not just that planes burn a lot of fuel and therefore kick out plenty of CO2 per passenger. Just as important are a host of other high-altitude impacts, including vapour trails and ozone production, that are usually estimated to cause as much warming as the CO2 itself…
…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 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…
…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…
…According to the new paper, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Sept. 2010), 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…
…the new paper is a useful reminder that carbon footprints are more multi-dimensional than is usually understood. If we want to buy ourselves as much time as possible to avoid climate-tipping points, it may not just be how much warming something generates that matters, but when that warmth kicks in…
…aviation’s demand for biofuels will increase the expansion of oil palm in the tropics, leading to destruction of rainforest in countries like Indonesia and Cameroon. While the UN says paying for the production of crops like oil palm or jatropha for biofuels removes the availability of land for food crops and puts increasing pressure on food prices…
…Friends of the Earth biofuels campaigner Robbie Blake says airlines such as BA are using the switch to renewable fuels and the associated publicity as a ‘smokescreen’ allowing it to avoid making the genuine emission reductions needed.
“Palm oil and jatropha are currently part of the mix – they’re in the Commission’s and Lufthansa’s future plans. They definitely don’t come from Europe, but they do come with a lot of excess baggage – environmental and social devastation,” he says.
As well as the environmental impact, the UN warned earlier this month that biofuel production was making food prices increasingly volatile – hitting poor families in less industrialised countries. It called on regulators, like the EU, to stop promoting biofuels and remove subsidies that support growing plants for fuel in place of food crops.
…in recent years I’ve learned to tell an increasing number of the people who ask me to speak (about ten a day, most days) that the only way I can “be” there is via Skype video. I sit in my kitchen, turn on my Macbook Pro, line up the camera, and when the moment comes I talk. In this way I am able to say “Yes.” to speaking to a multiple of the people I could speak to if our only option was being physically present.
…And much is gained by example — you’re demonstrating the world we need to live in, where more and more travel is accomplished by mouse instead of jet.
…the technology is improving all the time… The social custom will change over time too, until it becomes more common to have a speaker-and maybe even an audience-working from home.
Difficult as it is to communicate, absorb and process, let alone accept, and as shrill / alarmist as it may sound…
Our shared atmosphere is on an accelerating course to reach a state of potentially unsurvivable, global climate extremes during the lives of today’s children and teens. (Compilation: +4°C by 2060s or sooner catastrophic / incompatible with organized civilization.)
The projected rate of temperature change for THIS century is greater — and at least 10 times faster — than that of any extended global heating period over the past 65 million years, when somewhere between 75 and 95 per cent of all species alive at the time were rendered extinct.
We are in the midst — and primary cause — of the 6th great mass extinction event. 150-200 species die-off every 24 hours, up to 140,000 per year, which is at least 1,000, maybe even 10,000, times the average background rate.
The 2014 Living Planet Report estimated that global wildlife populations have fallen by an average of 52% between 1970 and 2010, halved over 40 years from the impacts of exploitation, habitat degradation and climate change. Freshwater species, 76%. Land and ocean creatures, 39%. (Also see: Compilation: Mass bee die-off.)
Oceans are at their most acidic levels in 65 million years / most rapid (and accelerating) rate of increase in what may be 300 million years. It has been suggested that an outcome of our current, carbon-intensive trajectory could be the potential collapse of marine life — and the foundational base organisms that are an indespensible necessity for ALL LIFE to exist — within decades.
Sea levels could rise by metres this century and may be committed to catastrophic tens of metres long-term.
Clear, present impacts ALREADY displace / KILL millions each year, and compromise the lives of billions RIGHT NOW.
With several key regulatory systems in advanced stages of breakdown / disruption / destabilization, the risks / threats / catastrophic implications of sudden / abrupt / unpredictable / irreversible shifts / tips / flips that can occur over time frames as brief as a few years are ALREADY upon us.
Another aspect of this includes economic / energy / power / transport / distribution system disruption from extreme / more frequent / prolonged weather events — heat waves, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, floods, the potential flood / meltdown of one or more nuclear power plants, a nuclear exchange (whether intentional or accidental) as the result of political / social unrest / chaos, extended blackouts (grocery stores only have 3 days of food beyond which we would all become rather desperate), a sudden, widespread disease outbreak / plague, a potential stock market shock or crash in reaction to any individual or combination of the above.
Most of these things have ALREADY occurred on large scales, are more probable to occur in the future, or are in actual progress in multiple regions RIGHT NOW. (See: Compilation: The threat of sudden / abrupt system shifts / tips / flips.)
Given the DIRE EMERGENCY of the climate (energy / population / democracy / justice) crisis and the severe impacts already observed / suffered by the most vulnerable / least culpable peoples and species, a rapid return to a less than +0.85-degree Celsius (our current, already out of energy balance) world is what is required to (somehow) attempt to restore the more stable climate that enabled humanity to evolve / civilization to develop.
If this umbrella peril is not tackled fast, the consequences — already grave compromises to fresh water availability / quality (more here), food / agriculture production / supply / security and multi-regional insecurity / instability (as a threat multiplier) — will make it impossible for us to address ALL other global issues and causes, let alone to thrive or survive.
And if the governments of the world continue to allow themselves to be guided and limited as they always have by the cautious, conservative, flawed, lowest common denominator and, in large part, out-dated by the time of publication IPCC conclusions; if they refuse to leap beyond the delusional / suicidal frame of the supposed, long-pervasive, incorrect, political / economic, arbitrarily chosen, profit and delay-motivated +2°C (+3.6°F) ‘danger threshold’ (far too high) / nonsensical ‘carbon budget‘ mentality…
global catastrophe will soon be locked in and assured to ensue over the next few decades.
No less than the fate of all generations of all peoples and most species hangs in the balance TODAY. And only emergency international action at emergency (world war-time) speed FAST *may be* proportional enough to confront the scale, scope and urgency of what is ALREADY the greatest crime against humanity, most life and most future life EVER. (Compilation: Betrayal of Life.)
To deny this is to deny reality. But regardless of odds or potential outcomes (our choices / strength of character / what we stand for / our legacies should be based on principles of common sense, compassion, fairness / equity / equality / justice, wellness, survival, NOT the likelihood of success or failure), we ALL — especially those of us with greater privilege, opportunity, voice than so many others — have the power and moral responsibility to ACT, get informed, step up AND out, volunteer, participate, contribute, advocate / spread the word, protest, entertain / embrace considered risk at times, try to help however possible and, in doing so, INSPIRE others to do the same.
Because if we take the decision / path to see AND face the true — indeed, the existential — wickedness of our now-shared, undeniable, inescapable predicament, there will at least be possibilities. Perhaps even some we haven’t imagined — yet.
Get informed. Get inspired. Get involved and help to motivate bold, new, transformative approaches and ‘just’, resilient, EMERGENCY RESPONSES to the climate crisis FAST.
FLIGHT’S KILL. DO. NOT. FLY.
- Action – Don’t fly!
- Action – Inform others about the dangers / impacts / encourage them NOT to fly
- Action – What you can do, AirportWatch.org (Umbrella movement, London, UK)
- Action – CommunityAir.org (Against Island Airport expansion, Toronto, Canada)
- Action – NoJetsTO.ca (Toronto, Canada)
- Action – NoJetsTO.ca – Sign petition (Toronto, Canada)
Articles, posts, graphics
- Post – Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat, C. Aschwanden, Grist
- Post – Travel by mouse instead of jet? Bill McKibben, Huffington Post
- Post – Aviation industry on trial, Kelly Rigg, HuffPost
- Article – Controversial biofuel-powered flights, W. McLennen, Ecologist
- Article – Contrails warm world more than aviation emissions, M. Marshall, NS
- Blog – Airplane contrails “may be causing more climate warming today than all the carbon dioxide emitted by aircraft since the start of aviation.” Climate Progress
- Blog – The busy skies, Andrew Revkin, NY Times
- Blog – The complex truth about planes and climate change, D. Clark, Guardian
- Post – Ignoring the elephant with wings, Barry Saxifrage, Saxifrage.org
- Graphic – Personal carbon impact from flying, Barry Saxifrage, Saxifrage.org
- Article – Globetrotting boomers fly in face of carbon reality, A. Horin, SMH
- Article – Airline emissions ‘far higher than previous estimates’, The Independent
- Article – The plane truth about flying, Toronto Star
- Article – Outrage over airlines’ empty ‘ghost flights’, J. Brown, The Independent
- Article – Travellers ignore pleas to curb air travel amid growing stampede for long-haul mini-breaks, Eoghan Williams, The Independent
- Article – All about planes, Rachel Oliver, CNN
- Article – U.S., China agree to double flights, A.E. Cha, D.Q. Wilber, WP
- Article – Air traffic out of control, George Monbiot, The Guardian
- Article – We are all killers (until we stop flying), George Monbiot, Monbiot.com
- Summary – Chapter 3, Love miles, Heat, George Monbiot, JustEarth.net
Websites, reports, Q & As, Wikipedia
- Website – Aviation Environment Federation (London, UK)
- Website – Airport Watch (Umbrella site, London, UK)
- Website – Plane Stupid (Against new runways, London, UK)
- Website – Cheat Neutral (Why carbon offsetting is BS, London,UK)
- Website – Community Air (Against Toronto Island Airport expansion, Canada)
- Report – Aviation and global climate change, FoE UK, (7 pgs PDF)
- Web page – The problem with aviation, Greenpeace.org.uk
- Q & A – Aviation: Frequently asked questions, Greenpeace.org.uk
- Q & A – impact of flying on the environment, D. Clark, The Guardian
- Wikipedia – Environmental impact of aviation
- Wikipedia – Aviation
- Wikipedia – Biofuels
- Wikipedia – Carbon offset
- Wikipedia – Contrail
- Wikipedia – Cirrus cloud
- Wikipedia – Cirrus cloud – contrails
- Wikipedia – Radiative forcing
- Wikipedia – Troposhpere
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