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Flying is the most damaging means of transport for the environment. Therefore it has become a popular topic concerning climate change. The industry is responsible for about 5 % of global GHG emissions. Mostly as flights burn fossil fuels, but also because they leave traces of water vapour. The latter also contributes to global warming. In other words, air transport is an energy- and emission-intense activity.

However, using air transport is generally limited to a small part of the world’s population. Globally, one can consider it an elitist activity since only 1 % of humans are responsible for over half of the emissions from the industry. Another figure shows that about 11 % of the world’s population used air transport in 2018. More so, only 4 % travelled internationally. The travellers were mainly wealthier people from industrialised countries. 

Why is flying bad for the environment?

As previously mentioned, flying with aeroplanes contributes to global warming. For private people, flying or not flying can significantly change one’s carbon footprint. This term describes the number of emissions a person’s lifestyle contributes to. For example, a flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person. The same amount gets released by a family car during a whole year. More so, 5.5 tonnes of CO2 is more than half of the average carbon footprint of the average person in Britain. These numbers show that flying worsens the efforts to fight global warming.

History of flying

Traditionally, travelling has been an activity that takes time. Transport by sea, train or bus has been the norm. Commercial flights slowly began appearing around the 1920s. Although, by then, it was only accessible to the richest part of society. The development grew rapidly. For example, by 1955, more people travelled by air than by train in the United States. More so, by 1957, it was more common to cross the Atlantic by aeroplane than by ship. Yet, commercial flying was significantly limited to populations in industrialised countries. With globalisation, flying for business also grew into the new normal.

Alternatives to flying

Today, it is well known that flying releases emissions. Some businesses and travel agencies consider this by, for instance, creating meetings online rather than in person. But also by allowing time for travelling by train. The changes are a part of business agendas that strive for sustainable development.

More so, in Europe, there is a goal to improve travelling by train. The train network was good on the continent before air travel overtook the sector. Then, it became less prioritised and more complicated. Today, there is an increase in night trains and direct lines between the largest cities in Europe. This change is a positive development, as train travelling is essential for lowering the transport sector’s emissions.

Sources: Lund UniversityWe ForumBBCAir & Space 


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