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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, since flights burn fossil fuels, but also for less known reasons such as leaving traces of water vapour. The latter also contributes to global warming. In other words, air transport is a high energy- and emission intense activity.

However, using air transport is generally limited to a small part of the world’s population. From a global perspective, it can even be seen as an elitist activity. This 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 are mostly wealthier people from industrialised countries. This is why flying can be seen as an activity that is limited to richer nations.

Why is flying bad for the environment?

As previously mentioned, flying is directly linked to global warming. For private people, the choice of flying or not flying can significantly change one’s carbon footprint. The latter refers to how much emissions one is responsible for. For example, a flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person. The same amount is released by a family car that is used for 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, in a time of global warming, significantly worsens the situation.

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 very 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 ships. 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, the emissions related to flying are well known. Businesses and travel agencies have begun to consider this. For instance, by creating meetings online rather than in person. But also by allowing time for travelling by train. This is a slow change but can be seen in the agendas of businesses that want to lower their carbon footprint.

More so, in for example Europe there is a goal to improve travelling by train. As air travelling became more popular in the past, train travelling was not prioritised and became more difficult. Today, more and more night trains and direct lines are being created between the largest cities in Europe. This is a positive development. Train travelling is increasingly seen as an important part of lowering emissions for the transport sector.

Sources: Lund University, We Forum, BBC, Air & Space 


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