You bet it does.
Aircraft burn hydrocarbons derived from fossil-fuel to power flight. Burning fossil fuel re-releases carbon that, over millions of years, had been removed from the atmosphere.
This is bad.
And we aren’t even sure how bad because climate science is relatively new, hasn’t been studied particularly long, and climate is a variable thing.
If you want to, you can. Maja Rosén did. She started a movement called We Stay On The Ground (“Vi håller oss på jorden”) to help spread awareness about the impact flying has on climate.
There are plenty of other ways to get around.
But we know that is a big thing to ask. Why should you stop flying or try to log fewer miles in the air?
We go through at least around 575 million liters of jet fuel every day.
The United Nations aviation body forecasts that 2018 aircraft emissions of carbon dioxide hit just over 900 million metric tons and will triple by 2050.
That could be a low-ball figure.
Fuel economy in aircraft is a measure of how much fuel an aircraft needs to operate in relation to a service provided and the distance between points of travel.
Let’s say you have two nearly identical jets. One has 100 fully booked economy class seats. The other has 80 economy class seats and 10 business class seats. The people in business class are responsible for a larger share of the total carbon emissions of that flight.
We hate to say it, but economy seats are also economical when it comes to fuel, and if you have to fly, you should suck it up and fly coach.
Some day we may have planes that fly on electricity. Many are predicting that we are at the cusp of a change in air travel right now. More work needs to be done to push this technology forward.
And let’s not forget, on average, an aircraft is operable for about 30 years before it has to be retired. That’s a long time and a lot of flying - roughly 135,000 to 165,000 flight hours.
There are things you can do today.
It certainly can help.
Simply put, a carbon offset is something you create that absorbs greenhouse gasses in an equal amount to what you released. It’s like eating a cupcake and then running for 2 hours on a treadmill.
Carbon offsets are a way of keeping the economy stable while still improving sustainability. One example of a carbon offset is planting a tree. The exact amount of carbon dioxide one single tree offsets depends a bit on how you calculate, but one figure that seems fairly common in the literature is that one tree offsets 0.16 tonnes CO2.
To get the right kind of offset you need to calculate the carbon emitted. For example, if you go to the Delta Airlines website you can find their “Carbon Calculator." You can then purchase the correct size offset from a company that sells them.
It’s not perfect but, it’s a start.
Analysis by The Guardian found that the majority of those emissions can be attributed to a relatively small number of people.
The figures highlight the disproportionate carbon footprint of those who can afford to fly, with even a short-haul return flight from London to Edinburgh contributing more CO2 than the mean annual emissions of a person in Uganda or Somalia. [source]
They have also provided a calculator to estimate and compare that emission difference.
Combine that with the UN report cited above, and things look dire indeed.
Why do people do anything? There are countless reasons why people travel by air.
It’s amazing that aircraft can transport things long distances quickly. In emergencies, first responders can use helicopters to bring help and move supplies to where they are most needed. Jets allow people to travel the world and expand horizons.
Be a conscious flyer.
There are a lot of very good reasons to fly. But, a lot of frivolous reasons too.
If we could stop flying, we would. But we’re not going to just quit cold turkey. And you can also do things to mitigate - though not eliminate - your contribution to climate change when you fly.
Make your decision to fly a conscious one.