To Fly or Not to Fly? The Environmental Cost of Air Travel
By Arthur Sullivan
When was the last time you traveled by plane? Various researchers say as little as between 5 and 10 percent of the global population fly in a given year.
But things are changing. According to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates, there were 3.7 billion global air passengers in 2016 — and every year since 2009 has been a new record-breaker.
By 2035, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts a rise to 7.2 billion. Like the planes themselves, the numbers just keep going up. And given the damage flying does to the planet, that is food for thought.
Not Just the CO2
Many estimates put aviation's share of global CO2 emissions at just above 2 percent. That's the figure the industry itself generally accepts.
But according to Stefan Gössling, a professor at Sweden's Lund and Linnaeus universities and co-editor of the book Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, "That's only half the truth."
Other aviation emissions such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), water vapor, particulates, contrails and cirrus changes have additional warming effects.
"The sector makes a contribution to global warming that is at least twice the effect of CO2 alone," Gössling told DW, settling on an overall contribution of 5 percent "at minimum."
But IATA spokesperson Chris Goater told DW the science behind this so-called 'radiative forcing' is "unproven."
Even if we accept the 2 percent emissions figure as final, if only 3 percent of the world's population flew last year, that relatively small group still accounted for a disproportionate chunk of global emissions.
A few years ago, environmental group Germanwatch estimated that a single person taking one roundtrip flight from Germany to the Caribbean produces the same amount of damaging emissions as 80 average residents of Tanzania do in an entire year: around four metric tons of CO2.
"On an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation, because it is so energy-intensive," Gössling explained.
The WWF carbon footprint calculator is instructive in this regard. Even a serious environmentalist who eats vegan, heats using solar power and rides a bike to work, but who still take the occasional flight, wouldn't look very green at all.
Just two hypothetical short-haul return flights and one long-haul round-trip in a given year would outweigh otherwise exemplary behavior.
New Tech Can't Solve Everything
As awareness of the need to reduce our individual and collective carbon footprints in order to prevent climate catastrophe grows, several industries have come under sustained pressure to find clean solutions.
The aviation sector made its own promises — in October 2016, 191 nations agreed a UN accord which aims to cut global aviation carbon emissions to 2020 levels by 2035. Another ambitious target of that agreement is for the aviation industry to achieve a 50 percent carbon emission reduction by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.
Goater says there are four ways in which the aviation industry intends to achieve these things: through carbon offsetting in the short-term, the continued development of more efficient planes, deeper investment in sustainable fuels — such as biofuels — and through better route efficiency.
"Basically air traffic control is very inefficient," he explained. "It creates unnecessary fuel burns and more efficient use would create a 10 percent reduction in emissions."
He also highlights the fact that a number — albeit very few — of commercial flights are now powered with sustainable fuels every day, despite the fact that the first such flight took off less than a decade ago.
"That was something that happened much faster than anyone was expecting," he says. The key now, in his view, is for the industry to prioritize investment in the area and for governments to commit in the same way they have to e-mobility in the automobile sector.
But Gössling and many of his peers remain unconvinced.
"I think that essentially we need price hikes," he said. "We did interviews with industry leaders a few months ago and many of them agreed, secretly — they were anonymous interviews — that if we don't have a major price hike for fossil fuels, then there is no way alternative fuels could ever make it."
Daniel Mittler, political director of environmental NGO Greenpeace, agrees that fossil fuels need to be more expensive. "The first step is to end all fossil fuel subsidies, including those going to aviation and to properly tax the aviation industry," he told DW.
For Goater, that is not realistic. "Fuel is already a significant proportion of an airline's costs," he said. "Believe me, if we could fly without oil we would."
The hard truth?
So what's to be done? Gössling, who has devoted more than 20 years of research to the subject, sees only one solution.
"Do we really need to fly as much as we do, or is the amount we fly induced by the industry?" he asked. In addition to artificially low airplane ticket prices, the industry also promotes a lifestyle, he argued.
"Airline campaigns project an image where you can become part of a group of people who are young, urban frequent flyers, visiting another city every few weeks for very low costs," he said.
Yet for Goater, the idea of dictating who can fly and when is as unrealistic as it is outdated.
"Reducing emissions needs to be balanced with allowing people the opportunity to fly — I believe that's a settled consensus amongst the mainstream for many years," he said. "It's not up to people in one part of the world to take it on themselves to deny people in other parts of the world those opportunities."
For Mittler, it comes down to individual choice as much as anything else and he believes that while efficiency gains are vital, the first step is to reduce the amount we fly.
"We need to move towards a more sharing and caring way of living on this planet," he said, adding that doing without the weekend shop in New York might be one of the least painful ways of contributing to that.
"We need a prosperity that is based on community and based on real wealth of collective vision, rather than one that is based on relentless consumption. Aviation is a symbol of the kind of consumption that we need to leave behind."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- Flight Plight: Why I Chose to Fly to an Environmental Journalism ... ›
- EPA Says It Will Limit Truck Pollution - EcoWatch ›
- JetBlue to Be First Carbon Neutral Airline in U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Aviation Accounts for 3.5% of Global Warming Caused by Humans, New Research Says - EcoWatch ›
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›