airplane
Environmental Issues,  Sustainability

Flight Shame

The term “flight shame” is a recent concept which has been more commonly used in the current atmosphere of environmental concern. 

The main precept about flight shame is that of CO2 emissions. In a world where everything contributes to CO2 emissions, are the emissions from flying really so high?

The International Council on Clean Transportation gives an estimate that commercial aviation activities are responsible for approximately 2,4% of carbon emissions from fossil fuel use. In their 2018 study, ICCT states that 918 MMT (million metric tonnes) of co2 emissions from commercial aviation (including freight). 

That sounds like a lot. If 2,4% is 918 MMT, what was the total CO2 from fossil fuel use in 2018? The total CO2 emissions for fossil fuel use in 2018 is 37,1 gigatonnes, according to the World Resources Institute.

The basis behind flight shame is to motivate travellers to consider alternative methods of transportation. For example; If the traveller has taken many domestic flights for example, business, for the traveller to consider the option of travel by rail if the destination is quite nearby. The general comparison of carbon emissions is approximately 0,3% by rail vs. approximately 2% – 2,4% by air.  (Carbon  Brief) When considering this comparison, please do understand that rail travel emissions vary greatly depending upon the type of train being utilised. Electric trains, though gaining in popularity, are not always an option. In many places in the world, older forms of rail transport are utilised frequently.

What are the airlines doing about it?

Frequent fliers should not fret however, as news from airline companies comes in a continuous stream about the advancements being made in the field of electric aeroplanes as well as a plethora of emissions cutting programmes! Airlines around the world signed the 2016 Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation and have been working hard to find ingenious ways of offsetting their carbon emissions. Many have focused their efforts into new biofuels and aircraft, waste reduction investing in renewable energy sources or even nature preserves. 

Airline companies are also making environmental efforts beyond modifying their fleets, by investing in environmental organisations, launching tree-planting initiatives, funding renewable energy projects and as well as a long list of additional environment-focused projects. With this kind of concentrated focus from the airline industry, flight shame should soon be a thing of the past.

What can I do?

As a traveller, you do have control over some decisions which can help airlines to offset their carbon emissions. Reducing the number of flights taken, by selecting direct flights as opposed to multiple connecting flights, will help to save fuel. Another way of saving fuel is to reduce the weight of your luggage by only packing the necessary items. Necessary items meaning toiletries, versatile clothing which is suitable for a variety of happenings and the necessary work materials (if any). 

One such effort is that of helping to reduce waste. Disposable items are a constant on aircrafts. Although the common offering for snacks or meal service on flights is in most cases accompanied by plastic tableware, as a sustainable traveller you do have the option to save and reuse the same plastic cup as opposed disposing of it and then taking many new ones during the same flight. Another option is to eat before flying, or bring your own snack in a washable and reusable container and refusing the food offers of the airline.  

There are some airlines that eagerly share information about their carbon offsetting activities, so that transparency makes it easier for the traveller to make educated purchasing decisions regarding their flight tickets. It is always possible to select an airline which one feels is making the best efforts in the field of sustainability. 

As an educated ecotourist, it is advisable to do a bit of online research before making travel decisions. You can take some comfort in knowing that there are actions being taken by both airlines and passengers to offset the carbon emissions. However you decide to travel; Be it by aeroplane, train, bus, automobile, bicycle, boat or by walking; Trust in your own decisions and enjoy your travels!

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