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.
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.
by John Stewart
John Stewart, author of Why Noise Matters, has been a transport and environmental activist for the past 30 years. He chaired the coalition of organizations that defeated plans for a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport. In 2008, The Sunday Independent dubbed him “the UK’s most effective environmentalist.”
Consider this: One person’s round trip from London to Miami has the same climate-damaging effect as one year’s driving around in a regular gas-powered car. In other words, 12 hours in the air equals 365 days on the ground. You can recycle, compost, buy local and organic, and use public transit, but in terms of carbon emissions, if you are a frequent flier, all your efforts to live green get cancelled out.
Not flying, or at least cutting down on how often one flies, is a matter of environmental and social justice. Here’s why.
The level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has risen drastically in recent years due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes. Scientists across the world are saying this cannot continue. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord recommended that the increase in the average global temperature must be held below 2 degrees centigrade. To hold our climate steady, CO2 emissions have to be reduced by around 80 percent in the rich world and at least halved in poor countries by 2050.
This has big implications for international air travel…
What do you think? Should we stop flying
in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
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