To combat climate change, should you stop flying?

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Summer time is travel time, and that’s great for the airline business. But it’s not so great for the planet. Jet aircraft contribute 2% of all greenhouse gases. And, it’s increasing.  “The International Civil Aviation Organization is estimating that by 2050 we’ll see upward of 700 %growth in air travel volume compared to 2005,” Umair Irfan of said. As to a single journey, “A round trip on a trans-Atlantic flight emits enough CO2 to melt 30 square feet of Arctic ice.”  

So, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Kim Cobb at the Georgia Institute of Technology has started taking air travel seriously. “I started doing a carbon inventory of my own life and I had these massive spreadsheets that are pretty simple but they’re been going on for quite a while now and what I quickly realized was that flying was about 80 to 90%of my personal carbon budget.” Instead of flying to events overseas, she has replaced face-to-face meetings with video conferencing.  That has reduced her “personal carbon budget” by 75%. “We can all of us cut down much, much of the travel that we do, which in some cases really doesn’t bring much value,” she said.

Of course, it will take more than individual choices to make a real difference.  Governments around the world are falling behind, and the Trump administration denies the validity of climate science. “It’s not going to happen fast enough unless we really roll up our sleeves and get it done at whatever scale we can achieve,” said Cobb. Alternatives to flying include travel by sea, which has tradeoffs of a different kind, and by rail, which requires massive infrastructure. Cobb said she stays home a lot more than she used to. “I want to live in concert with my values and I want to envision a world where my four children are able to see climate stability on the horizon not climate catastrophe. So I really have to start walking the walk personally.”




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody