Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Air Travel

The single most -expensive thing that most people will do commonly do it to fly.  The carbon per passenger mile for air travel (or air freight for that matter) is higher than any other means of transport, short of space travel.  Does this mean stop flying?  Not necessarily.  But those serious about ‘walking the walk’ and reducing their carbon footprint significantly would do well to consider this aspect of their lives.

Let’s consider this area as a complex of interlocking discernments and decisions.  First, of course, would be simply stopping to consider is this trip necessary.  There is not formula that can be offered for this determination.  It is an individual matter.  But even to stop a moment before planning a trip to consider, “Is this flight necessary” is a metaparadigm that most of us side step.

The second consideration is “why fly?”  Quite often there are other modes of transport available, such as bus or train, but these have long ago been rejected out of hand (once the ‘preference’ for air travel over ground transport has been made is becomes a seldom challenged paradigm).  The rationale might be that flying is faster.  In the climate of competition between airlines in a changing world, often it is actually cheaper to fly than to take the train.  This is where we must stop!

The cost of air tranport at present does not reflect the REAL cost, it only reflects the monetary costs.  “But isn’t that the ‘real cost’?” you ask.  No!  The real cost includes the cost to the ecosphere of the planet of the massive CO2 emissions per passenger mile for the flight.  For a brief period longer this ‘externalized cost’ will remain an impediment to our addressing the climate crisis full on; brief since even now the world is in the throes of recognizing the the carbon emissions of human activities must be priced into those activities or we are doomed to changing the planet in ways that we may not be able to cope with near term or long term.

Even if confronted with a more expensive, and longer train trip for several hundred kilometers or miles, we need to at least assert our will to question and interrupt our paradigms.  And the decision to choose the more costly or slower means of transport is a conscious decision to preserve the planet for our children, and for all life on Earth.

And when you must choose air travel, until the carbon-expense of flying is integrated into the price of a ticket, we must individually ‘ante up’ toward our personal commitment to ‘make a difference’, and purchase voluntary carbon offsets equal (or exceeding) the carbon impact of our journey.

For the Earth – (S)

5 Responses to Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Air Travel

  1. Boris Carlitov says:

    Wait – is this true? When i do a google search i find that carbon emissions/mile are quite low for air travel:

    I don’t really know if the web site is trustworthy or not. But how are you coming to this conclusion? What’s the methodology? Do you have some numbers or references?

    But it seems to be better then bus for example and way better then driving (if you’re by yourself).

  2. stuartgaia says:


    I am basing my statement on the carbon calculators that are out there. Google ‘carbon footprint calculator’. Pick one. Play with it. See what the carbon cost of increasing your commute to work are. Then see what the cost of an extra round trip vacation flight are. Generally speaking, all the improvements you can make around the house are dwarfed by the addition of one volitional trip.

    On another level, it seems to me to be a ‘no brainer’ that lifting people, baggage, and tons of metal, fuel, rubber and plastic into the air would have to be a more wasteful means of transport than rolling on wheels for long distances at a slower rate of speed.

    And I in turn question the objectivity of the source you cite. Is it a site sponsored by those interested in encouraging air travel? Additionally, air traffic puts the gasses up in the stratosphere and thus the impact is much quicker. Ozone destruction is much stronger.

    I would rather not fight statistics with other statistics. The bottom line is people must learn to reduce their volitional travel. In a day and age where one can have video calls to family, does one need to travel back home for all holidays? If the fate of the world depends on it, we must change our habits.


  3. stuartgaia says:


    Further, by Googling ‘CO2 per passenger mile’ here is the first link I get…

    This website tells a different story than the one you found. So I suspect there are some ‘variables’ by which one can condition one’s results.


  4. Sebastian says:

    The air industry has for a while been quoting fuel consumption or carbon footprint figures that take air travel close to other modes of transport. But that is a misrepresentation. There are other climate gases than CO2, and other bad effects of fuel gases, the destruction of the ozone layer being the most important other issue for air travel. (Some people even confuse the ozone layer problem with the greenhouse problem, but that’s another story.) The thing about air travel is that emitting the gases at a height of around 10km makes the effects stronger, so just comparing amounts is wrong. Because of the effect on the ozone layer, air travel has been criticised by environmentalists before the greenhouse effect became the dominant issue that it is today. To point to other issues is important to me because I have a history of campaigning against car traffic since the early to mid 1980s, and the issues that “drove” me were not the greenhouse effect but the destruction of urban life by noise, space requirements, road deaths, and toxic effects of air pollution (not climate-changing ones, they only “joined” the debate in the 1990s). I’d find it regrettable if those reasons tend to be forgotten.

    • stuartgaia says:

      Right on, Sebastian. And even if flying from London to Paris by a full airplane is comparable measured in CO2 emissions per passenger/mile for driving in an single-occupant automobile, and were the stratospheric emission vs/ ground level emission of that CO2 not another consideration, there is yet another point to be made. Traveling by a fully occupied train would greatly reduce the absolute level of CO2 emissions. We should be thinking about these radical reductions in emissions, and the behaviors and transportation systems that will enable and facilitate them, and not arguing about whether it is better to fly or hop in the car and drive. And by the way, building and improving train transport, and tearing out the roads in the city centers of the world, would not only improve emissions levels, but create pedestrian friendly cities, over the horrific trend of auto-friendly cities that has dominated the 20th and 21st centuries so far… better air quality, fewer pedestrian deaths, and (oh my gosh!) the ability, no the necessity of walking or riding a bicycle to the store or to work. What a Utopian world are we imagining there!

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