Over the last few years aviation has been in the news a lot. It’s become so cheap and commonplace that now it’s a huge polluter. Between 1990 and 2000 UK aviation emissions from CO2 doubled, while carbon from other sources dropped by 9%.
To make matters worse, the impact of CO2 released at heights of 30,000 feet is significantly greater than if it was released at ground level. It more than doubles the damage done, and makes aviation responsible for a staggering 11% of our climate problems in this country. Averaged out, each of us is responsible for 1.3 tonnes of carbon each year from our air travel – that’s a phenomenally high figure.
A big part of the problem lies with the vast increase in short-haul flights, often within the UK itself or to the Continent, with very low fares. That makes air travel extremely attractive, and with the opening of new airports and increased service at others its desirability has only grown.
But this all adds to the carbon footprint of air travel, which is predicted to double again by 2030. It’s one of the major reasons we’re unlikely to meet our emission goals for 2050.
Much of the criticism levelled at air travel has been about CO2, but it’s not the only thing emitted by planes. Water vapour (those vapour trails you see in the sky) also contributes to global warming and the increase in temperature. Indeed, taking into account nitrous oxide, another gas that’s emitted, the overall warming effect of planes, according to one study is more than two-and-a-half times that of CO2 alone.
What Can You Do About It?
The first thing to do is to see just how much of an impact your air travel has. There are a number of sites that can show the carbon footprint of your journey.
Once you’ve established that, the next question is how you can make that carbon footprint smaller. The simplest way, of course, is to cut down or completely eliminate the number of flights you make.
For businessmen who travel a lot, the latter alternative simply isn’t possible, but the former might. For short haul, within the UK and the Continent, trains can be viable, and possibly even faster, given that you need to arrive at the airport well in advance of your flight, and the length of travel times to and from airports. Rail travel emits far less carbon that air travel.
Cheap air fares have spurred foreign holidays, and it’s not uncommon for people to jet abroad two or even three times a year. All too often those trips are relatively short, just an hour or two in the air (short-haul flights are the worst carbon offenders). Consider cutting out one of the breaks, or maybe combining holiday time into a longer trip farther away, where at least a long-haul flight offers a relatively lower carbon footprint (emphasis on relatively). You could also consider another means of transport, such as a ferry.
Ideally, we’d eliminate flights as much as possible. Certainly increased aviation fuel taxes can help a little, if they’re used to offset emissions. But for now, at least, we can all do more to reduce our aviation carbon footprint.