The Green Lecturer: The True Cost of Flying

Team Green OfficeGeen categorie

On the 7th of February, associate professor at NHTV University Breda, Paul Peeters, did a lecture on the carbon footprint of tourism & aviation at the Green Office. Our member Jaan (23) discusses what he learned here, and points out why our flying behavior is like a cow grazing in super speed.

 ,,Spring is around the corner and we all know what that means… It’s almost summer break! I don’t know about you, but I’m already thinking about my summer destination. Reykjavik, New York, or maybe backpacking in Australia? The further the better. But have you ever stopped to think about the impact of your travels on the climate? I mean, we all know – or heard, at the very least – about the effects of global warming: 300.000 deaths annually, 95 percent of the glaciers have disappeared and more and more mammal species are dying out. Yet it’s not the first thing to come to mind when booking a holiday. Therefore, after this blog, I hope you will consider how costly a (cheap) plane ticket can turn out to be in terms of climate change.

First it should be clear that most activities (flying to Australia, driving a certain distance, etc.) have a so-called carbon footprint (CF), representing the level of carbon emissions produced. This means that a larger CF equates to a bigger impact on the climate. Or, to simplify, you can also imagine this concept as a cow grazing a small plot of land. What happens if the cow were to graze faster than the grass grows back? That’s right, it won’t be able to sustain itself. So, in order to be climatically sustainable, you keep the grazing speed of the cow, that is the CF, within the limits of what the plot of grass, that is the atmosphere, can take. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. For example, if you were to fly from The Netherlands to Australia, the cow would be grazing at a ridiculously fast pace. Even faster than if you were to go there by car, which – of course – is not possible. The only way to slow the cow down in this case is either more efficient planes, or a decrease in demand for air travel. Unfortunately, the latter seems highly unlikely because flying is (often) cheaper and faster than other travel methods and offers access to places unreachable by land travel. In fact, worse still, the opposite is happening; the amount of flights is growing every year, with an estimated doubling in demand by 2035.

So, we then need very efficient planes? Well, yes, but the problem with that is that planes – or the aviation industry as a whole for that matter – are already unsurprisingly efficient. It’s, after all, in their best interest to be efficient; more efficiency equals more profit. See also, in that regard, the pledge to carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards, as stated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Ok. To sum up, we’re looking at an increasing demand for air travel and an aviation industry unable to effectively lower its carbon emissions, which, mind you, could still only be considered as a damage control measure. Is this fine? Let me go ahead and answer that question for you: No, it’s not. We need “deep and stringent emission reductions” – right now – because, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said many a times, “we’re running out of time”.  Heck, we might even already be too late for damage control and need negative emissions, meaning that we take out more carbon from the air than we put in. This, however, would involve enormous investments into technology that “sucks carbon out of the air and stores it underground somehow” or enables the ocean to capture more carbon. Realistic? Hard to say.

Perhaps the best solution for now and the easiest to adhere to is simply booking differently, as suggested by Paul Peeters. Because did you know that you can make a difference of up to 50 percent of the normal CF by simply booking a different route, airline and/or aircraft combination? Check out Carmacal and bookdifferent for the know-how and start booking accommodations and activities in the most climatically sustainable way!