No, Flying Doesn’t Have the Worst Carbon Footprint
War, what is it good for?
Given my extensive travelling it may not surprise you that I am often accused of having the world’s biggest climate footprint. It is presumably caused by the misinformation that flying is the worst thing a person can do towards the climate. And the accusation isn’t even quantified. “Flying is the worst,” I am often told. Full stop.
Some people are less bombastic, but still claim that reducing flights is the most effective thing a person can do.
Well, it can be. But as with anything else, it depends on the extent we are talking about. One flight doesn’t cause much damage, although one long-distance flight will obviously cause more pollution than a short-haul one. I got so much abuse over my flying that I eventually looked into figures. A lot of figures. The aim was to get a perspective. And to understand the full picture, or at least as full of a picture as possible.
What does that mean? Well, the airline industry isn’t actually very bad – on its own. Even if every airline in the world was grounded immediately, that wouldn’t contribute much to ending the global climate crisis we are currently in the midst of. Let me run a few examples. Buying and driving a electrical Tesla or Jaguar (with a huge battery) or a small sized petrol or diesel powered car for a year (average milage) pollutes as much as 27 average flights. And will continue to do so throughout its life span (which is, on average, 16 years). While feeding factory made pet food to an average dog (22 kilos) for a year equals 20 average flights.
Worse yet, is building an average house from concrete and/or bricks (with the steel that is needed for it). That will set your climate budget back by 450 average flights. And let me not even get into the yearly climate footprint of having a kid, per parent (alright then, it translates into over 500 average flights).
It might in other words make more sense to ditch the dog or to crash the car if your goal is to reduce emissions substantially, compared to avoiding a few flights here and there.
Do also keep in mind that not all flights are average. It goes without saying that flying from New York to Singapore in a big plane pollutes much much more than flying from Oslo to Førde (look it up) in a propeller plane, but most of us board a number of different flights a year, so to use an average isn’t all that far-fetched (although if you only fly long-distance, you should up that number quite a bit).
Most of us in the western world can cut down on our flying, and probably should. But flying a few times less than planned won’t do the trick. The challenge is regardless that we need to cut down on emissions for all industries, including flying. That means fewer cars, fewer kilometers in them, buying less clothing and building houses from wood rather than from concrete and steel.
Let us compare numbers.
A pair of jeans = 33 kilos CO2.
One average flight per passenger = 110 kilos CO2.
Tumbler dryer usage per person per year = 200 kilos CO2.
Going from a vegetarian diet to a “normal” one per year = 800 kilos CO2.
A cruise ship holiday per passenger = 820 kilos CO2.
Pet food to an average dog per year = 2,200 kilos CO2.
Large electrical car or small petrol/diesel powered car per year = 3,000 kilos CO2.
Large petrol/diesel powered car per year = 6,000 kilos CO2.
Building a brick/concrete house = 50,000 kilos CO2.
Having a kid, per parent per year = 58,600 kilos CO2.
Military actions = surrounded by secrecy (but very high)
Sources, and more: Comments From a Climate Culprit