How Guilty Should You Feel About Flying?


Excerpt from this New York Times story:

But should most Americans really be ashamed of getting on a plane to see grandma this holiday season?

The short answer: Probably not. If your flights are purely a luxury, though, that’s another matter.

A small group of frequent fliers, 12 percent of Americans who make more than six round trips by air a year, are responsible for two-thirds of all air travel and, by extension, two-thirds of aviation emissions, according to a new analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit research group.

Each of these travelers, on average, emits more than 3 tons of carbon dioxide per year, a substantial amount, particularly by global standards. And the most frequent fliers, those who take more than 9 round trips per year, emit the highest share.

One note: because so many Americans don’t fly, the United States per capita emissions rank much lower, in 11th place, after other high-income countries like Singapore, Finland and Iceland. And some of the fastest growth has been in developing countries, like China and India, where incomes, and a middle class that is more likely to fly, are rising.

Airline emissions could also be lowered with more fuel-efficient planes, of course. Plane manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus have competed to drive down fuel use in their models.

The problem is that air travel is growing many times faster than fuel efficiency gains, which more than cancels out the improvements in fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, the adoption of lower-carbon fuels that can reduce emissions, like biofuels, has been slow.

How Guilty Should You Feel About Flying?