Fear of (everybody else) flying

Air travel worsens climate crisis – unless passengers are climate activists and wealthy elites

Guest post by Duggan Flanakin

Just over a year ago, newly elected U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) shocked the world by proposing a Green New Deal. One of its more controversial provisions was a proposal to build high-speed rail at a scale that would make air travel unnecessary.

In 2013, Elizabeth Rosenthal told New York Times readers that air travel is the “most serious environmental sin” for many Americans. A single round-trip flight from New York to Europe or San Francisco adds 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per passenger to the atmosphere, she claimed. Air travel emissions are rising, because the volume of air travel is increasing much faster than gains in flight fuel efficiency.

The website Green Choices calls air travel “one of the most greenhouse-gas-rich forms of transport in existence,” and laments that the lack of fuel taxes on aviation fuel is a subsidy that makes air travel “surprisingly” (and unacceptably) cheap. In addition to carbon dioxide, air travel generates nitrogen oxides and water vapor that also contribute to the greenhouse effect. In the view of allegedly Green Choices, aviation industry growth is incompatible with efforts to combat climate change.

The European Union brought aviation into its emission trading system in 2012. However, protests from China, the USA and other countries confined that program to intra-EU flights through 2024. Transport & Environment, which bills itself as “Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group,” claims the aviation sector has a climate impact that “continues to spiral out of control,” with “no sign of abating.”

Over in the United Kingdom, which just left the European Union and supposedly left EU climate doctrines behind, decades-old plans to build a third runway at London’s busy Heathrow Airport ran into yet another roadblock, as the UK’s Court of Appeal ruled that the runway proposal was “illegal” because it did not take into consideration the government’s own climate change commitments.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his environmentalist allies cheered the decision, which Heathrow Airport Holdings (but not the British government) promises to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court. Khan has long condemned the third runway plans, calling them “the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain,” and claiming its construction and the increased number of flights it would allow would be “devastating for air quality across London.”

The much-needed runway would increase airport capacity from 85.5 million passengers a year to 130 million and increase annual total flights from 474,000 to 740,000. It would result in up to $228 billion in economic growth across the United Kingdom and create up to 180,000 new jobs nationwide – all at a cost estimated at under $20 billion.

Even if Heathrow ultimately wins the right to build its third runway, the delays brought about largely by Britain signing the Paris climate agreement will surely raise the price of construction, hugely inconvenience travelers, and postpone much needed revenues from landing fees and commerce.

The Confederation of British Industry in June 2018 had lauded the decision by then-Prime Minister Theresa May and her full cabinet to approve the airport expansion. But current Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not favor it. CBI Deputy Director-General Josh Hardie has said, “Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible.”

Those who hope we can replace jet engines with “clean” energy will be sad to learn that, while there are solar airplanes, they are slow (maximum speed 100 kilometers or 65 miles per hour), unable to carry passengers, and dependent on good weather. They also provide very narrow margins of error for pilots.

As Dan Reed explained in a 2019 Forbes op-ed, applying the Green New Deal just to air travel would devastate the U.S. economy, while addressing only the 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to air travel. Severe cutbacks in air travel would eliminate many of the nation’s 700,000-plus airline jobs (average 2016 salary $86,000), and severely impact industry vendors, airports, cargo hauling companies, hotels, other travel-related companies, and all who rely on goods and services – including I would add flu and COVID test kits, cures and vaccinations for every corner of America and the world.

Such an action by the United States would also threaten U.S. dominance in aircraft manufacturing, advanced aviation and aerospace technology, as well as aircraft design and production, Reed noted.

Meanwhile, UN climate conferences involve thousands of activists, bureaucrats, politicians and reporters, who fly to distant places, stay at 5-star hotels and eat lavishly, while hectoring us average citizens about our travel and emissions, and devising new agreements to rule humanity with an iron fist. (Why do so many have to attend these gabfests, and why can’t they conduct these meetings via videoconference?)

Meanwhile, Prince Charles and his entourage of family, servants and security staff tour the realm and planet by private jetliner, to warn us that climate change and lost biodiversity are “the greatest threats” humanity ever faced. Former President Obama and his family and entourage still enjoy Hawaiian vacations.

Al Gore and Leo DiCaprio are (in)famous for using private jets, SUVs and limousines to get to climate events, where they lecture us lesser mortals on what we must do to protect Planet Earth from catastrophic warming caused by (other) humans (than themselves). Ultra-billionaire Mike Bloomberg tries to justify his use of private jets and helicopters by explaining that they are essential if he is to continue his global quest to eliminate fossil fuels (and fossil fuel jobs) and end the supposed climate crisis.

None of them have any intention of ending their private travel extravagances. They just think we should end our modest and occasional use of commercial travel. They’re not afraid of flying. They’re afraid of everyone else flying. Or more accurately, they don’t think the rest of us deserve the opportunity, joy or necessity of flying for vacation, business or any other matter. They are privileged. We are not.

Instead of airplanes flying overhead through the atmosphere – and landing at airports near urban centers large and small – they want hundreds of new rail lines, with thousands of miles of track slicing through forests, grasslands, farmlands and backyards, put there largely through powers of eminent domain, however much locals might object. (The trains would be electric, of course, powered by “clean, green,” intermittent, unreliable wind and solar power, and requiring vastly more mining, wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and child labor.) The impacts on property rights and biodiversity would be significant.

Meanwhile, in 2018 China announced plans to build 216 new airports by 2035, almost doubling the number of airports in that country today, to meet “the growing demands for air travel.” China had 552 million air passengers in 2017 and wants to connect its far-flung cities and people more quickly and efficiently. COVID-19 may have delayed those plans, but it will be fixed and will not “derail” the plans.

India has launched a truly ambitious plan to build 100 new airports by 2024, to spur economic growth. The plan will also double the domestic aircraft fleet and upgrade existing runways, many of which date to World War II. Just four years ago, only 75 of India’s 450 runways were operational.

These are important issues. But will air travel bans and a Green New Deal benefit people and planet?

As my CFACT colleague Paul Driessen has pointed out (here, here and here) the GND would require mining on massive, unprecedented scales. It would blanket hundreds of millions of acres of cropland, scenic areas and wildlife habitats with wind turbines and solar panels. The impacts on wildlife, biodiversity, living standards and human rights would be monumental and catastrophic.

For the USA to shutter its airline industry is highly unlikely. However, 67 Members of Congress cosponsored the Green New Deal plan, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders later introduced his own (slightly scaled-down) GND to transform America – away from modernity and prosperity and back to the pre-reliable-electricity “good old days” when living standards were a fraction of today’s.

Meanwhile, climate and extreme weather patterns will continue doing what they always have: change. In fact, the worst of all possible outcomes would be a cooler planet, with less atmospheric carbon dioxide, combined with organic and subsistence farming. Biodiversity loss and starvation would be rampant.

Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on energy, environmental and climate issues.

46 thoughts on “Fear of (everybody else) flying

  1. “Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group claims the aviation sector has a climate impact that continues to spiral out of control with no sign of abating”

    The climate impact argument is based on the assumption that atmospheric composition is responsive to fossil fuel emissions. This essential relationship is not found in the data. And without that relationship we don’t have a case against fossil fuel emissions whether from aircraft of from the many other uses of hydrocarbons.

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2018/12/19/co2responsiveness/

    • Converting domestic flights to High Speed Rail could possibly work
      IF
      The Trains ran from Airport to Airport with no stops between
      The Trains ran as often between airports as current flights do
      The Trains traveled at 600mph and could traverse the airport to airport distance as fast as or quicker than airplanes (including tarmac taxi time)
      The Trains weren’t required to slow down when traversing a city with no terminal stops

      But it wouldn’t function for intercontinental flights. It is difficult and far too costly to build a railway across the Pacific or Atlantic oceans Especially to Hawaii, New Zealand or Antarctica

      Blaine is a pain

      • And railroads can keep animals off the rail, including birds,
        And railroads can endure bad weather along the path, instead of just at points of arrival and departure,
        And railroads can endure earth movements along the path, instead of just the points of arrival and departure,
        And railroads can lower the air friction and air pressure along the path to lower the total energy required.
        In short, this is a plan for people that don’t think about the TOTALITY of all the issues that will determine whether this is a good idea or not. In short those that like it because it makes them feel virtuous, not because it will work well.

  2. Some years ago, 2008 after the GFC IIRC, BBC’s TV show Top Gear (The ONLY good thing to come out of the BBC, well maybe Dr Who and Blue Peter a close 2nd and 3rd) toured Spain, I don’t recall where. Many ghost towns and a ghost airport. All the computer systems were on. This is what these people what for us. A total ban on freedom of movement by whatever means if its powered by fossil fuels.

  3. Aviation is a big fat non problem. Modern jet planes are very efficient and can fly in straight lines between destinations in almost any weather. No roads for ALL routes, anywhere, except for 1 mile at either end. Unlike surface transport planes can move in 3 dimensions thus avoiding all the complexity (and misery) of getting millions of surface vehicles to cross paths. The surface area and extra distance required makes up a large part of any modern city and reduce efficiency enormously.
    As far as how much pollution aviation produces, it appears that any old activist can say whatever they like and no one in media or politics questions or challenges them.
    This is what an Independent newspaper journalist had to say about aviation back in 1998 which is the point I started to pay attention:
    John Rentoul suggests that “air travel is the most energy- hungry thing most people can do ….. You can drive a car up and down the length of the UK for years…… before you burn up as much petrol as your share of a single plane trip”.

    • Everything the hysterical Chicken Littles screech about is a non-problem. They don’t want to address real problems, because that would mean getting their hands dirty.

      The best way to shut up a climate alarmist is to ask what they, personally, have already sacrificed for the environment. The answer is almost always nothing. They aren’t willing to sacrifice anything themselves. They just think everyone else should.

      • I respectfully disagree Matthew. My experimentation on the best way to shut up a climate alarmist is to ask them what climate sensitivity is to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. After a couple of seconds or more of blank looks, it dawns on them that they have no clue what I’m talking about, and neither do the voices in their heads that they’re rapidly consulting with.

        It’s a very strange source of amusement for me, one I actually wish would go away sooner rather than later.

        • Heh, that works too, Phil. Also, ask them what the ideal level, in ppm, of CO2 is in the atmosphere.

        • The way I shut them up is to ask them ” What is the ideal average global temperature and what is the ideal level of atmospheric carbon dioxide “. Nobody seems to know!

      • Matthew this is so apparent in Portland, OR, where they have one of the best rapid transit systems of any city in the country. Unfortunately it often runs empty. Everyone wanted the system thinking that would take cars off the freeways during rush hour. Trouble is, everybody thinks that and keeps on driving..

        • Also appears that they think Trains do not use fossil fuels. Even Electric trains use fossil fuels to make the electricity.
          They also do not consider how many trains will be needed for the millions of new passengers and how that will slow the trips even more. Years ago I rode the train from Chicago to Cleveland every weekend for about 18 months. I could by a rather expensive car if I had a dollar for every minute the train sat on a siding to let higher priority (late) trains pass.

      • In addition, the assertions that aviation is bad have been so relentless that the frame of reference for any conversations on this begins from a postion that aviation is bad. Therefore all conversations are about who is destroying the planet by flying.
        It is interesting that neither Boeing or Airbus combined have produced anywhere near the number of aircraft produiced during WW2. the world airline fleet is somewhere around 29,000 airliners in the world. Around 30 years ago it was around 20,000. Nearly 800,000 airplanes were produced during WW2 and admitedly they didn’t all fly at once. But on one day towards the end of WW2 there were over 25,000 allied pilots in the skies over Europe. And for another perspective there are nealry 1 billion raod vehicles in the world.
        Aviation is the number 1 threat to the planet? Give me a break.

  4. I must confess that I think I would be rather partial to slow airships meandering across the globe….

    But then again I also think Concorde is the most remarkable flying machine ever built. I’m gutted because I was saving up for a trip in the thing when it was scrapped…. Sob…

    I’m so confused……

    • If an airship could carry two shipping containers from a port to an inland distribution centre or factory it would take two trucks off the road. The airship could fly as a UAV and could be fitted with solar panels and lightweight electric motors. The biggest problem would be the weather – airships struggle in high winds.

      • Dear B13, about airships:
        Helium is a strictly non-renewable resource. Once out, forever out. And if using hydrogen, I’ll watch this from far away.

        We know what solar cells are, time to think of NightCells for those nice cold windy stormy winter operations. At altitudes where icing is not a thing of the past and the combined power of two CFM56 at meltdown thrust is barely authoritative over the weather. Better those NIghtCells be mighty!

        That’s why airships are scary things.

        • The latest I’ve heard on the wacky world of electric airliners. One jet engine will be allowed to run the electrics and charge the batteries driving the propellers.

        • Flight Level says: “Helium is a strictly non-renewable resource”

          That’s not quite true. We can make more, by fusing hydrogen, or bombarding lithium or boron with protons in a particle accelerator. No, it’s not cheap, but if we need it, we can make it. We can also mine helium-3 on the moon… there’s plenty for filling party balloons there 🙂

    • There’s a story about the USS Macon which crashed off the coast of california. A gust of wind blew off the vertical fin at the back tearing one of the gas bags thus making it lose gas and buoyancy. To counter the loss of buoyancy 32,700lb of water ballast was dropped, but because the Macon was pointing skyward with engines at full power the ship started climbing at kept going. At ‘pressure altitude’, 2,800 feet the automatic valves bagan discharging helium and continued to do so faster and faster all the way up to 4,850ft. She was now heavier than air, although the crea managed to keep her in the air for a further 20 mins.
      She settled (not gender neutral I’m afraid) lightly on the water and most of the crew were able to jump into the water. However the Macon’s nose rose up and pointed skyward. Sailors trapped in the nose knifed their way out but were too high to jump. While they waited for the leaking gas cells to settle the airship lower in the water, the gas caused the men to speak in very high voices so that the last men off the totally wrecked airship were laughing hysterically.

  5. “Meanwhile, climate and extreme weather patterns will continue doing what they always have: change.”

    That should be ‘climates’.

    Climate was a convenient term used to teach schoolchildren about different weather patterns over different continents.

    There is no such thing as a global climate.

    • No such thing as a global sea level either. Or a global anything at any scale that matters for people…

  6. Third Runway for Heathrow gets rejected to save the World. Meanwhile, One of the most vulnerable places on Earth (or so we’re told) to rising sea levels, the Maldives, continue with expanding their Airports… right on the coastline.

  7. Bureaucracy is a plague that quarantines prosperity – for all except the bureaucrap itself!

  8. US Air Force scrapping its fleet of F22 Raptors and replacing with eco friendly solar powered gliders. Right.

  9. A lot of politically awry things would happen if someone had the nerve to request under FOIA or alike and subsequently publish bizjet & private / charter (passenger) manifests.

    Furthermore the sky is far from dead. Some destinations are down, others are flying “ghosts” to keep their slots but to most is business as usual.

    There’s nothing to hide so instead of the panic spreading news aviation exerts (uh-uh…) just dial flighradar24 on your browser and see by yourself.

    Things are getting sorted out and organized and it looks like next week will be almost “office” time again on the old continent.

  10. California, the 5th largest economy in the world, could not complete its first high speed rail. AOC is oblivious to the logistics and costs to overcome residents throughout the country, willing to accept a train going through their backyard.

  11. I hope the GND proponents have done a full analysis of a high speed rail system and the unbelievable quantity of materials it will take to build and operate, yeah sure.
    It’s all about control- not trace gases.

    I wonder how happy the average person will be in a few weeks after being trapped at home while the hypocrites continue in their ways. Better get used to it, if you believe (and “believe” is the key word) in the greens agenda.
    The misery from this is just a little test run for what they want to achieve. I am of the firm belief that the battle lines for WWIII have now been drawn and tested. My children will be at war for their freedom- or will lie down and acquiesce to the garbage they’ve been brainwashed with.

  12. Jones
    There is still a Concorde you can sit in on the Intrepid in New York. A couple of years ago my family and I sat down in the cockpit. A neat looking plane.

  13. When people who claim to believe that air travel is a sin against the planet continue to fly there are two possible explanations. Maybe they are really, really stupid. That is the explanation that conservatives often go with because it feels good. More likely they don’t really believe that it is a sin. They are just saying what the crowd wants to hear so they will put money in the offering plate. The scary thing is that people still are ‘putting money in the offering plate’. Again, it could be that people are really, really stupid. No doubt some of them are. What worries me is that I think far more don’t believe it than let on. They have a hidden agenda and they don’t really care about the environment at all. I think there are a lot of them and that’s why accusations of hypocrisy don’t have any effect.

      • An interesting approach – and one I shall remember.
        Although I suspect the greenies will seek to stop the ‘planes -and then use exactly that argument to stop the railway lines – “They cut nature into pieces!”; we will all be on horseback by then.

        Auto – old enough not be a cynic – just a realist.

  14. As a calgarian I too laughed at Leo DiCaprio not understanding that a chinook is a common occurrence around here, but everyone missed the true “duh” moment. When he gave his Oscar acceptance speech for the revenant he babbled about how he had to fly the entire movie production to the southern tip of South America just to get some final shots with snow.
    Imagine flying an entire movie production almost to the other end of the earth for that!
    You would hope that someone so concerned about carbon emissions would clue in?
    And that shooting movies is one of the first things that needs to go?

    • But didn’t you know? One bright young Greenie reckoned that we could save all the energy used in shooting a film by doing it on cellphones!

  15. I wasn’t shocked by the Green New Deal, not one bit! Those bozos left the world of sanity long before that!

    First I laughed until I thought my sides would split!

    Then I did eye rolls until I had to sit down from dizziness!

    Seeing someone describe it as the longest suicide note ever written corroborated my own suspicions!

    So if the Left thinks that’s a winning strategy, Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged should be re-published so we can see how it all turns out!

    I just wish some on the Left were willing to use it themselves rather than foist it on their political enemies!

    That is the TRUE measure of the Green New Deal’s “merit”!

  16. Article didn’t even mention Leo DiCaprio’s megayacht he used to tranverse the mediterrean to a climate conference ride sharing it with Sean Penn and their girlfriends. It only uses the fuel of a couple of dozen fully loaded 747’s on a per mile basis.

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