My decision, my choice

I’m headed to DC and Baltimore in a few days. Here’s why I’m traveling on Amtrak, and not flying.

Flying is bad for our planet. For far too long, I ignored the facts. But the disconnect between my climate advocacy and my personal actions became unbearable. (I had serious misgivings about flying to Glasgow to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US.)

Lora arrested in Washington, DC in August 2011 protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Center for Biological Diversity notes: “If the aviation industry were a country, it would place sixth in emissions, between Japan and Germany. Left unchecked global aviation will generate an estimated 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, constituting almost 5% of the global emissions allowable to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, aircraft are one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions: Emissions from domestic aviation alone have increased 17% since 1990, to account for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Flights departing from airports in the United States and its territories are responsible for almost one-quarter of global passenger transport-related carbon emissions, the majority of which come from domestic flights.”

Flying is an obscene privilege. Thankfully, most people in the world cannot fly. We’d already be toast if everyone had the same carbon flight-print that Americans have. In 2019, the Guardian shared some aviation statistics that might shock you. Or might not. (See here).

“According to figures from German nonprofit Atmosfair, flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in a whole year – from Burundi in Africa to Paraguay in South America.”

Check your carbon flight-print with this handy calculator. Whether it’s absolutely accurate or not, is not the issue. In order of magnitude, it clearly demonstrates that Americans and other air travelers from developed countries are responsible for rising CO2 measurements. If I flew from Minneapolis to Washington DC and back, I would be generating about 250 kg CO2. There are 19 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year.

Thinking long-term.  Many travelers and fossil fuel industry lobbyists minimize the impact of aviation by highlighting the fact that – in terms of decreasing or increasing surface temperatures – other things have a greater impact than aviation, such as fossil fuel production and distribution, followed by agriculture, waste management, residential and commercial, fossil fuel combustion for energy, biofuel use for residential and commercial, land transportation, open biomass burning, industry, and shipping. That may be true in the short-term, the next ten years. After 100 years, however, aviation’s impact is on par with that of other sectors, largely because the effects of CO2 on climate change tend to endure.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has been warning us for years about the impacts of aviation. (See here and here) But it’s not all bad news. I read recently that Delta Airlines and Airbus have signed an MOU to research and develop the first zero emissions commercial aircraft that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, by 2035 if all goes according to plans. Can you imagine?

Window is closing. In April 2022, the IPCC also warned us that the window is closing rapidly — the window that looks onto the future we say we want to leave our children.

We already knew the science in terms of the key things that we need to do: emissions must peak by 2025 and reduce by 43% by 2030. Our carbon “budget” to keep within 1.5C of global warming and therefore avoid the worst effects of climate change, equated to the amount we emitted in the last 10 years.

The good news is the rate of increase of emissions has decreased – we’re increasing at roughly 1.3% each year and in the previous decade it was around double that. So, we are almost reaching that peak but it needs to be achieved by 2025 and we need to reduce emissions by 45 to 50% by 2030. The bad news – our current policies, pledges and actions are not enough to avoid a catastrophic future. There’s a tremendous gap between where we need to be and where we’re headed. (IPCC report)

My decision, my choice. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about whether to fly or not. As for me, during these critical years (2022 – 2025) when our global CO2 emissions must peak, I’m going to be riding the train and avoiding air travel.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “My decision, my choice

  1. lgmoscarella

    Thanks Lora, this was a helpful reminder of just how bad flying is for
    our planet.  The train works for inter US travel, but not so much
    globally.  I’m replying to the email because I had a problem with
    leaving a comment last time I tried.   I had established my credentials,
    but no more. Enjoy the train!   Linda

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