Flying in the Face of Climate Change

The grass is always greener on the other side, but it’s not very green getting there.

Lydia Loopesko
October 14, 2022
From the perspective of the grass, a plane flying downward from a blue sky

Over the last fifty years, tourism’s share of the global economy has soared, and with it, its share of global carbon emissions. As tourism has become more affordable, it has become more accessible. Tourists have flocked in ever-increasing numbers to the world’s most popular tourist destinations, many of which have been strained by such popularity, popularity that continued until March 2020, when the global tourism industry ground to a halt.

Heard of people walking through the Great Wall of China

This global fermata, as nature breathed a brief sigh of relief, allowed us to take a look at what could be, how nature would thrive, if we all just stayed still. Birdsong was louder, skies were bluer, and tourist sites were quiet. While we were away, nature thrived, and it led governments to reexamine their policies with a new purpose: how to make travel more sustainable.

Travel is one of the largest contributors to climate change. If the global tourism industry were calculated as a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the United States and China. The tourism industry produces 4.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent every year, a little more than 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and almost half of those emissions can be traced to transportation. And the biggest culprit? Flights.

Colorful pie chart showing the carbon footprint of global tourism

Flying, compared to other forms of transportation, is very inefficient. Airplanes consume incredible amounts of energy, and what is more, aviation fuel is largely tax exempt through international agreements aimed at promoting the aviation industry. In total, the aviation industry accounts for 2.1% of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This number may seem insignificant, yet only about 20% of the world’s population can afford to fly.

Aviation does not just produce CO2 emissions. Overall, aviation contributes to 3.5% of global warming, largely from contributions that are not carbon. For example, contrails, those lovely streaks across the sky, introduce more water vapor into the atmosphere, which in turn also traps heat. Flying also emits other particles into the atmosphere including soot and sulfur aerosols.

A sky with the emissions from a plane flying overhead leaving a trail in the sky with a tree in the forefront

What is Being Done?

In 2016, 192 countries signed on to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This agreement does not look to reduce current flight emissions but aims to curb any growth in carbon emissions as of 2020; any increase in emissions after this date will be offset.

CORSIA, however, only applies to international flights. Domestic flights fall under the purview of the Paris Agreement, to which individual nations have agreed. The US has only recently rejoined the Paris Agreement as of January 2021 and released its first ever Aviation Climate Action Plan at the Glasgow COP-26 Conference. This plan aims to capitalize on the improvements in fuel-efficiency that have occurred over the last 30 years. A flight today produces only half of the carbon emissions it did in 1990. By continuing this trend the Aviation Climate Action plan hopes to increase the technology that makes aircrafts, fuels, and operations more energy efficient along with cutting airport emissions.

Making Local Cool Again

Despite the cliché, we are indeed creatures of habit. It is unreasonable to demand that we stop flying. Flying is fuel-inefficient, but it is also incredibly time efficient. It’s just so easy to jump on a flight and immerse yourself in a new place. That is where COVID-19 has given us a mixed blessing; it has allowed us to breathe, take a step back, slow down, and reassess. Forced to stay put, we have begun thinking more locally, exploring the hidden gems that lay within reach.

A business with a sign that says local overtop

International travel is still important for the new and foreign perspective it provides. It has brought nations together, increased trade and development, and spurred globalism. However, going forward, I hope that travel will find a healthier equilibrium, so that we focus on the local with just an occasional taste of the exotic. If we can finally see that the grass is indeed greener on our side, we can help it stay that way.

How Aclymate Plays a Role

With all of this information in mind, it can seem as though the problem is beyond our control. Or even that it is too complicated to know where to begin. These are common feelings toward the topic of climate change and that is why Aclymate was created. Whether you’re a business owner or an individual concerned with climate change, Aclymate was designed to help you. Almost half of all U.S. emissions are generated by small and midsize businesses and around 20% are produced by individuals. With Aclymate, you can measure, reduce, and offset your/your company’s carbon emissions all in one place. Our easy-to-use technology can make anyone a carbon accounting expert. Plus, our team is passionate about the cause and is here to help you every step of the way. 

If you’re ready to start your climate journey click here for our business product or here for our individual product. 

Or, if you want to learn more about climate, check out our Climate Education blog posts.

Lydia Loopesko
October 14, 2022

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