On a wing and a prayer

Airlines are forever telling us that aviation is just a teeny weeny contributor to greenhouse gases, nothing to be bothered about really. The figure of 2% of total emissions being attributable to flying is frequently quoted in defence of our collective ‘right’ to fly as often – and as far – as we like.

These protestations of innocence have always been controversial. For starters, the fact that airlines dump their CO2 into the upper atmosphere means that in effect its impact, ton for ton, is twice that of carbon emitted at ground level.

Now, new data makes for even more serious reading. An unpublished study has now indicated that airlines are pumping 20% more CO2 into the atmosphere than previously estimated, with total emissions set to reach up to 1.5 billion tonnes annually by 2025. Its current level is around 670 million tons a year.

“Growth of CO2 emissions on this scale will comfortably outstrip any gains made by improved technology and ensure aviation is an even larger contributor to global warming by 2025 than previously thought”, said a spokesman for the Aviation Environment Federation.

“Governments must take action to put a cap on air transport’s unrestrained growth”, he added. Whatever about governments, fuel costs are finally starting to bite the airline industry (despite the ludicrous free ride it enjoys in paying virtually zero tax on aviation fuel).

Bet you didn’t know that aviation is “a benchmark of environmental responsibility for others to follow.” Well that’s how the good folk at The International Air Transport Association, representing 240 airlines, put it. They claim to be working towards producing ‘binding targets’ to reduce CO2 emissions.

“With fuel costs doubling in the last year, airlines already have an incentive to work towards greater efficiency,” a spokesman said. “There has been a 70 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency in the last four decades”.

What they naturally neglect to mention is that whatever modest progress has been made in reducing per-mile emissions has been offset many times over by the huge global upsurge in air travel and transportation.

Technology tweaks take little from the fact that it takes massive amounts of (oil-powered) energy and produces masses of CO2 pollution to blast a jet up to 35,000 feet and power it along at 500 miles per hour.

Fifty years ago, when our then national carrier, Aer Lingus began scheduled flights to the US, flying was a real luxury, restricted to the seriously well heeled. What goes around, comes around. Twenty or perhaps even ten years from now, will the era of cheap air travel already have been consigned to history?

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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3 Responses to On a wing and a prayer

  1. david walsh says:

    Is there any group of politicians anywhere working to address the issue of tax on aviation fuel? I have sought answers but have not found any. Clearly this matter has to be tackled on a supra national basis to have any chance of success. I would welcome any contacts or suggestions on the level of the EU on a way to proceed.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Interesting posting, Aldo. If as you suggest, Peak Oil is already 3 years in the past, well it’s going to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride from here on, especially once this becomes an accepted reality and ‘consumer’ confidence worldwide takes its hardest hit since WWII. The aviation industry is not very well going to vote itself out of existence, so yes, I agree that they’ll keep flying till the bitter end.

    What to me is quite extraordinary is how the many people who know well what’s coming are still clinging to business-as-usual. Maybe they think that as long as we all keep on doing what we’re doing, things will somehow be OK. No doubt there are volumes of psychology to explain this profoundly illogical way we cling to behaviours that are entirely self-destructive. John G.

  3. Ripper says:

    Arent we in the process of building a whopping new terminal (or 2?) out in dublin airport, and how about the “city” they’re also planning to build out there? Does this sound like the kind of things a government that had the slightest interest in reining in this crazy boom in cheap flying would be doing? Pardon my cynicism for a minute – if you put billions into building gigantic terminals and huge infrastructure, they’re hardly going to let Eamonn Ryan out planting organic carrots and parsnips on the runway, now are they?

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