Travel Responsibly Or Don't Travel At All: Airlines And The Environment

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A U.S. Airways Airbus A320 airplane takes off from a runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, September 23, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
A U.S. Airways Airbus A320 airplane takes off from a runway at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, September 23, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Take your pick: plane, car or boat. They’re all bad for the planet. Does that mean we should all stay home?


Andy Newman, reporter for The New York Times who has covered New York City and vicinity since 1997. (@andylocal)

Nives Dolšak, professor and incoming director of of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle. (@NivesDolsak)

Richard Aboulafia, longtime aviation analyst and vice president for the Teal Group Corporation. (@TealGroup)

From The Reading List

The New York Times: "If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home?" — "The glaciers are melting, the coral reefs are dying, Miami Beach is slowly going under.

"Quick, says a voice in your head, go see them before they disappear! You are evil, says another voice. For you are hastening their destruction.

"To a lot of people who like to travel, these are morally bewildering times. Something that seemed like pure escape and adventure has become double-edged, harmful, the epitome of selfish consumption. Going someplace far away, we now know, is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change. One seat on a flight from New York to Los Angeles effectively adds months worth of human-generated carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

"And yet we fly more and more.

"The number of airline passengers worldwide has more than doubled since 2003, and unlike with some other pollution sources, there’s not a ton that can be done right now to make flying significantly greener — electrified jets are not coming to an airport near you anytime soon."

Forbes: "Flight Shaming Threatens To Take Air Travel Industry Down Tobacco Road" — "Every summer, the aviation world gathers alternately at Paris or Farnborough for the annual major airshow, to talk about new products and gauge the industry’s health. June’s Paris show wasn’t completely happy given the troubles with Boeing’s 737 MAX and other concerns, but at least the long-term trends are very positive: people like to fly. But one non-attendee cast a long shadow: a 16-year-old girl from Sweden named Greta Thunberg.

"Ms. Thunberg leads a youthful movement aimed at combating global warming through “flight shaming,” a rather sudden concept that now has words in German (Flugscham), Dutch (Vliegschaamte) and other languages. The objective is simply to get people to not fly, taking the bus or train instead, or to forgo travel completely.

"So far, this movement has had no measurable impact on aggregate travel demand. The industry has enjoyed above trend growth numbers for over five years. The past few months have seen some sudden weakness, but last year there was a very healthy 6.5% jump over 2017 in revenue passenger kilometers, according to the International Air Transport Association. That follows 7.6% growth in 2017. The long-term sustainable trend has been pegged at around 5%. Again, people want to fly.

"But it’s concerning how quickly flight shaming is gaining traction, at least in public debate. Judging by my conversations in Paris, it's impossible to speak with an airline or industry executive without the subject coming up. Astonishingly, KLM this week posted this advice on its website as part of a campaign targeted at travelers concerned about the environment: 'Explore other travel options. In some cases, railway or other modes of transportation can be more sustainable than flying, especially for short distances such as within Europe.' And, 'Consider making video calls instead of meeting face to face.' "

Vox: "Air travel is surging. That’s a huge problem for the climate." — "Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States appear to be on the rise again after years of decline. The Rhodium Group recently released preliminary estimates showing carbon dioxide emissions overall surged 3.4 percent in 2018, with the transportation sector leading the way as the largest source of emissions for the third year in a row.

"Interestingly, the bump in transportation emissions didn’t come from cars. Car travel increased compared to 2017, but gasoline consumption decreased. That’s in part because overall fuel economy in passenger cars is improving as engines become more efficient and electric cars become more popular.

"Instead, emissions from trucking and air travel helped contribute to the overall increase: Demand for both diesel and jet fuel increased about 3 percent in 2018."

The New York Times: "I Am Part of the Climate-Change Problem. That’s Why I Wrote About It." — "I have written thousands of articles for The New York Times. Only one, so far, has cast me as a planet-destroying villain.

"This adventure began when my editor on the Metro desk here at The Times took a new job running the Travel section and invited me to write an article for her sometime.

"Thanks, I said, but the only travel story I want to do is one questioning the moral defensibility of long-distance leisure travel in the age of climate change."

Allison Pohle produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on July 15, 2019.



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