Should We Stop Flying?

On October 1st a respected meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted that after reading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “I just broke down in tears in boarding area at SFO [San Francisco airport] while on phone with my wife. I’ve never cried because of a science report before.”

He then decided he would stop being an airline passenger.

The new IPCC report stated that the evidence that humans have created global warming is a 95% likelihood.  The body expects the rise in world temperatures to range from an awful 1.5 degrees Celsius to a catastrophic 4.5 Celsius.  The IPCC is the foremost climate authority in the world and its findings are only made after hundreds of scientists and government officials agree.

Holthaus calculated that last year he travelled 75,000 miles by plane, mostly for climate projects, but also for vacations.  He used a carbon footprint calculator developed at UC Berkely and he “found that if he stopped flying, his carbon footprint would go from being about double the American average to around 30 percent less than average.”  So he’s going to stop.

Then on Nov. 21 in the midst of the climate conference in Poland, two climate scientists,  Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin who work at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England, spoke on Democracy Now.  They said they haven’t flown in years.  They came by train across Europe to Poland rather than fly.  To go to a conference in China they also went by train, a trip of many days.

The two scientists made the startling claim that it’s too late to maintain the climate by replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy.  They said that would take decades.  They say we only have years to get our act together and “ the only way we can get our emissions down is to actually reduce the level of energy we consume.”

Goodman asked them if train travel was that much better than plane travel in terms of carbon emissions.  They had this very interesting answer:

“Actually, it doesn’t really matter, in terms of the journey, whether it’s better or not, because what happens if you go by train is you don’t go very often. So you immediately curtail about how much you travel.”

Going to the Berkeley carbon calculator and comparing traveling 5,000 miles (NYC to San Francisco and back)   by different means of transport we get these results:  car 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide, plane 2.2 tons, Amtrak rail 1.2 tons  (can’t seem to get it to work for bus).

Hours of travel one way: car 44 hours non-stop, five days more likely, Amtrak 46 hours, plane, 6 hours.

If we don’t fly we may have travel to much less interesting places.  We may never go to Hawaii or Tahiti.   We may have to travel only as nicely and as often as the rich did in the 19th century.  Damn.

But realize what’s at stake.

Final note: Anderson and Bows-Larkin do not argue that reducing consumption alone will solve the problem permanently.  They agree that we also have move to renewable energy within a few decades.

Postscript: Just came across this site of activists who take action to oppose airport expansion.  Will check them out.

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