Up in the Air over Flying


There’s no getting around it – flying is the single most carbon intensive activity an individual can undertake. The global aviation industry is responsible for nearly 5 percent of all emissions. So what’s to be done? Should we all stop flying and keep our feet on the ground? British activist John Stewart says choosing not to fly, or at least cutting back on it, is a matter of environmental and social justice. Jeff Greenwald, a travel writer and founder of Ethical Traveler, argues that air travel promotes understanding across cultures and focusing on it as the bad boy of climate change is misguided.

Get Comfortable on the Horns of this Dilemma

by Jeff Greenwald

Jeff Greenwald is executive director of Ethical Traveler, an Earth Island-sponsored project that seeks to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment. His travel writings have appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Outside, among other publications. He is the author of six books, including The Size of the World.

As Executive Director of Ethical Traveler, the air travel issue has placed me on the horns of a dilemma.

The development of air travel has created some of the greatest opportunities – and responsibilities – of our age. Visiting distant countries (and parts of our own) overturns preconceptions, shatters ignorance, and promotes cross-cultural understanding. “Don’t tell me how educated you are,” Mohammed declared, “tell me how much you have traveled.” The equation balances, even today. Few endeavors provide the wisdom and insight of mindful travel.

I won’t contest the facts and figures used by Mr. Stewart, nor his observations that airports invite a certain level of nuisance noise and cause measurable harm to the environment. My observations on the issue are these: Globalization is an unstoppable and likely irreversible process; and humans are going to continue to fly. We will fly not only for business and for pleasure, but to dispatch mail and medical supplies, deliver consumer products, pursue military objectives, support diplomacy, attend conferences, and ferry sports teams.

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What do you think? Should we stop flying
in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

small excerpt of a poll page

Vote and Be Counted.

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