You might think the airlines are doing a good job at reducing emissions. The unfortunate truth is that while many airlines are making an effort to reduce emissions, they’re not helping much. In fact, in most cases, they’re making the situation worse.
If you fly, then you might have been flight shamed. This means you have been made to feel guilty for flying because aviation is responsible for almost 25% of global emissions. Therefore, if you’re flying, you’re harming the environment and contributing to what has been causing large natural disasters.
This all sounds pretty dark and depressing. That being the case, the airlines have come up with plans to make you feel better. Let’s take a quick look before concluding with how this all is likely to play out–it won’t be what you think.
Let’s first take a look at Ryanair, which is probably the best example across the world. Ryanair is known for its fuel-efficient planes. Since their planes are fuel-efficient, more people fly on those planes because it makes them feel better. They think they’re reducing their carbon footprint. These passengers are correct in the short term. And since Ryanair’s planes are almost always full, it also helps reduce their carbon footprint. However, if you look a little deeper, not everything is as it seems.
Since Ryanair has been successful at attracting customers, it has scaled up. In other words, it has increased its fleet. For example, Ryanair had 250 aircraft in 2010. In 2019, it had 450 aircraft. This means increased flights. Therefore, while each flight has a smaller carbon footprint, the impact on the environment is much larger than a decade ago because there are many more flights–each one having a negative impact on the environment. Not many people are aware of this, but Ryanair was one of the Top 10 Most Polluting Companies in 2019.
Then you have airlines like British Airways and Easyjet, both of which allow you to buy offsets. This means that you’re paying a small fee to do something to help offset your carbon footprint.
For British Airways, this might mean tree-planting or avoiding deforestation programs. The tree-planting will have a positive long-term impact, but it’s going to take years, whereas the fuel being released into the atmosphere will have a negative short-term impact. And the avoiding deforestation programs are a positive, but nobody really knows if these programs would have been avoided anyway. If that’s the case, it’s good for the environment, but why pay extra? Another program includes protecting whales. Is it good to protect whales? Of course. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with reducing your carbon footprint.
If you truly want to reduce your carbon footprint, travel by train, which has up to 90% fewer emissions than a plane. However, we all know the unspoken truth: human beings are not going to give up convenience. Flying is much more convenient than traveling by train due to time. If the world didn’t move so quickly, people would realize that traveling by train actually has more value because you get to see the world: that rickety old barn on the farm, that old man speaking to himself on the waterfront, that couple sharing their first kiss in front of a café. You capture life when you travel by train. It’s almost like a form of art for life.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think like that. They think about time and money. It obviously saves time to travel by plane. As far as money goes, airline prices are down 61% since 1998. Let’s exclude the Covid impact of 2020 and airline travel increased 3.3% globally in 2019.
In conclusion, people will continue to fly. This is especially the case if flight shaming is effective and they feel good about flying by purchasing offsets. But if that’s the case, there will be more flights, which then has a more negative impact on emissions. But there is a twist.
Human beings have a tendency to wait until their backs are against the wall to fix a problem. Just like every other challenge in human history, this problem will eventually be solved. Why? Because there is one thing that human beings value over saving time and money, which is life.