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The pandemic reduced air traffic massively in 2020 and gave the climate a short breathing space. But if we overcome Covid next year, should we take off again? We say: No! Here’s why:
1. Flights are very bad for your climate footprint.
Taking one long-haul flight can add more to your individual climate footprint than most people in the world produce in a whole year! Buying second-hand clothes, going vegetarian or vegan, driving less: all these things are important – but just one flight can release more emissions than you can save with all of this.
2. Flying is the fastest way to climate breakdown.
Planes are the most climate-damaging means of transport. In 2018, air traffic was responsible for almost 6% of global heating. This is because a flight’s climate impact isn’t limited to CO2. Due to other pollution taking place at altitude, the total impact is on average 3 times the effect of the emitted CO2 alone. So obviously it’s a big problem that before the pandemic air traffic was growing like mad.
3. Air traffic is extremely unjust.
Just one 1% of the world’s population causes more than half of all air traffic emissions. The sad irony is that those who never fly are the first to bear the consequences of the climate crisis. And while there are some good reasons for taking a flight, like visiting your family on another continent from time to time, there are way too many bullshit flights: like the business same-day return flight or the two-day shopping trip to Paris.
4. You can’t truly offset your emissions.
Paying for so-called “carbon offsets” to compensate for your flight emissions is like freeing yourself from sins by buying indulgences – it hasn’t worked for the catholic church and it won’t solve the climate crisis. Most offset projects don’t actually reduce emissions. They are mostly located in Africa, Latin America or South-East Asia, because it’s cheaper there and often cause local conflicts and human rights violations. And in the end, if someone needs to offset their emissions it means they are living over their limits.
5. Climate-neutral flying is an illusion.
The “solutions” promoted by the aviation industry such as electric flying, biofuels and synthetic fuels are a bit like the tobacco industry advertising healthy cigarettes to come in the future. It mostly serves to legitimise their dirty business – but it’s totally unrealistic.
6. The aviation industry is irresponsible.
For decades, it lobbied against appropriate climate rules, which still don’t exist. Through tax privileges such as the lack of a kerosene tax or VAT, every year it gets billions from us, whether we fly or not. Companies like Fraport build new airports all over the world, destroying land and displacing communities – like currently in Vila Nazaré in Brazil. Do you really want to give your money to such an industry?
7. Airlines have exploited the Covid crisis.
During 2020, airlines and airports have received hundreds of billions in taxpayer money from governments around the world – most of it without any social or environmental conditions. But instead of showing their responsibility in return, the industry has pressed for reduced health safety measures to allow flying to continue, lobbied against effective climate action, reinforced their greenwashing, and laid off hundreds of thousands of employees all over the world.
8. Many business flights can easily be replaced.
During the pandemic, we learned that many conferences and meetings can be replaced by video calls. While it might sometimes be necessary to meet in person, very often it’s more convenient to chat online. It’s cheaper and more relaxing than being jet-lagged half of the year. If your employer’s travel policy makes it hard to take alternatives to flying, have a look how to change it.
9. There are better ways to travel.
In order to stop climate breakdown, we must change our ways of living in every area – be it food or transport. The good news is: there are climate friendly alternatives to flying. A train ride can emit up to 70 times less emissions than a flight. Travelling slower takes more time, but you can experience much more, for example on a sailing trip or a two-week bicycle tour.
10. We need to change the whole damned system.
Mobility beyond borders will continue to be important in the future – but flying will have a much smaller part in it. If we want to create a liveable world for all, we must not stop at reducing air traffic. It is just one part of the high-speed economic system that leaves us and the planet without air to breathe. Let’s change this system, slow things down and create a better future for us all. Let’s stay grounded in 2021 and beyond!