climate change lifestyle sustainability technology transport

I demand action on aviation emissions (from someone else)

British air travellers are worried about climate change, according to recent research – but not enough to actually stop flying. 74% of respondents to a Yougov poll said they were concerned about climate change and air and noise pollution, but only 22% said they would fly less as a result.

Flight numbers bear this out. Virgin Atlantic reported a 7.6% increase in passenger numbers of the summer, and Easyjet continues to report growth. Airlines that have gone bankrupt have done so from high fuel prices rather than falling ticket sales. As demand continues to rise, airports need to expand, and in October the government gave the green light to extra capacity at Stansted, something that sent climate change campaigners into apoplexy. “Allowing 10 million more people to fly from Stansted each year shows the Government’s climate change strategy is a complete shambles” said Friends of the Earth’s Transport Campaigner Tony Bosworth.

Unfortunately, passengers are less concerned. 54% were not worried by the proposed third runway at Heathrow, or other airport expansions. 41% believe that more capacity is required.

So how do we reconcile these two opposing beliefs to ourselves – that climate change is real and requires action, and that no change of behaviour is required from either us or the airports? The simple answer is that we have put our faith in technology. 77% of respondents in the survey said they would feel better about flying if the airlines were investing in greener fuels and planes. “The majority of the UK population is evidently concerned about the environment,” said Danny Chaphal, CEO of Camcon, who commissioned the Yougov poll. “Rather than altering their travelling habits, people expect airline operators and aircraft manufacturers to reduce aviation’s environmental impact.”

This will be music to the ears of Camcon, who are working on quieter jet engines. To environmentalists, it is eivdence that the message hasn’t got through. Even if a genuinely environmentally neutral plane were invented tomorrow, it will be decades before planes in current use are due to be retired. It is simply impossible to deliver environmentally friendly aviation, not in any kind of scale to be significant. If we are concerned about climate change, we need to fly less, and question whether we need to fly at all.

  • Picture shows a detail of Chris Jordan‘s representation of US air travel, part of his ‘Running the numbers’ project.
  • For more on aviation see AirportWatch.


  1. Yes a great post.

    It seems that too many people have that attitude – not just in regards to aviation travel, but also in many other areas of life.

  2. Seems like a good post, except you missed out one thing: Tell me, how is aircraft flight connected to climate change? Certainly not by CO2 emmissions? That old hat has been cleaned uplong ago. If anything: fliying will reduce climate change, by emitting particles that will bind water droplets, which will create clouds hence block sunrays => Stop/reduce the warming of a certain area.

  3. Sorry, CO2 emissions were cleared up long ago? I missed that news story. Last I heard aviation emptied 83 million barrels of oil into the sky every day in the form of carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, soot, sulphate particles, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and sulphur oxides. Which of those makes flying good for the environment?

    It certainly has little to do with clouds, because planes create contrails, which are high-level cirrus clouds. Sunlight passes straight through those.
    Even if planes did help create dense low-level clouds, these block heat in the day, but trap heat in the night, keeping it within the earth’s atmosphere. So on balance, cloud would have little effect either way.

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