In a conscientious attempt to reduce Carbon emissions, France has banned domestic air travel as of Tuesday on routes where trains are available and put the commute under 150 minutes. The unexpected development has caused ripples across industries far and wide, attracting vociferous opinions from airlines around the world and environmentalists too.
Two Sides of the Air Ticket
Air Travel and its associations with climate change have for long polarised people. As flights contribute to just 2.5% of the global CO2 emissions, a percentage that’s been constant and hasn’t seen drastic rates of increase since the 1980s, there persists a school of thought that’s confident about how it’s more important for the other CO2 contributing industries to clean up their act. It is estimated that 80-85% of people don’t even take flights, as Idun A. Husabø writes in an article explaining how just 1% of people cause half of the global aviation emissions. In this background, putting the blame squarely on air travel in the context of climate debates seems a little unfair, and as such, former Vice-President of Air France’s pilots’ union, Guillaume Schmid, is particularly caustic in his tweets about this development in France and is quick to call out the pretence he sees in this seemingly insignificant decision.
One Planet, One Less Flight
On the other hand, there is another group that looks at this angle differently and points out the lacunae in the same sets of information, noticing how it’s actually the non Co2 Emissions like the contrails and Methane dispelled by the airlines which are bigger concerns about airlines, rather than the 2.5% CO2 popularly talked about. Stefan Gössling, a Swedish academic and professor at the Linnaeus University School of Business and Economics, corroborates this, “Other substances, including most water in the form of contrails, as well as soot and nitrous oxides, all have a capability of trapping additional heat at flight altitude”. The same 1980s are dismantled differently by this sect as they locate their data a decade later and point out how from the 1990s to 2012, carbon emissions from airlines have increased by 75%. The long-term effects of even slower increases in Ozone and Methane readings in the atmosphere from short-term, inefficient air travel pose the bigger problem, as this is how the overall warming effect gets stronger. As for the paltry percentages of people taking flights, that concern stands slighted too because the total passenger numbers are expected to double in the next twenty years, as reported by Jocelyn
The Bottom Line
While the naysayers sound convincing enough in their claims about the airline industry affecting the climate only marginally, putting a stop on flights which could be compensated for via other modes of travel, like the extensive and fast train networks in France, this move certainly adds up in a series of seminal moments in our civilisation’s history in working towards reducing global carbon and non-carbon emissions. A single flight from the UAE to France consumes as much energy as required to heat an Alaskan house for an entire year. Every step counts. And so, while the ban on flights in France being limited only to domestic trips and not affecting international flights at all may ruffle the feathers of some people calling out the French government on this radical decision, the news is undeniably a step in the right direction, owing to how there is a paucity of technology that could help decarbonise current air travel emissions.
As hydrogen cell-based aeroplanes continue being passed off as viable prototypes, we need not wait for technology to catch up because there are still things we, as responsible flight takers, can do. For example, Dan Rutherford, shipping and aviation director at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a US-based non-profit, offers the suggestion that carrying lighter luggage on flights as the collective result of that on a single trip, can sometimes “reduce CO2 emissions from your flights by around 20% to 45%, depending on the route”. Choosing airlines that actively reduce carbon emissions and disclose their emission readings is another way we can responsibly tour the skies while leaving behind a cleaner environment. We have just one planet to call our home. If it helps at all, why not take one less flight?