Aviation Scores Well On Green Efforts, But Not Without Critics


As the world inches its way toward controlling the pandemic, there’s good news and bad news for those who cheer the return of global air travel. The very good news is that all of aviation generates just 1.9 percent of greenhouse emissions (according to ourworldindata.org) and per-passenger emission have dropped by 50 percent since 1990. Aviation can be proud of how aggressively it has focused on fuel efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint.

But as cited in an article by JoAnna Haugen, founder of Rooted, “a sustainable travel, environmental conservation platform,” the not-so-good news is that the number of people flying has increased dramatically, despite estimates that 80 percent of the world population doesn’t fly at all. And as well as aviation has done in cutting emissions related to tourism and other forms of world travel, she writes, “as other sectors decarbonize—and as the tourism industry itself decarbonizes through rewilding partnerships, lower-carbon tour options and other climate actions—aviation will become a larger proportion of emissions.”

Before tagging Haugan as anti-everything-aviation, however, it’s important that she also sides with aviation interests where and when credit is due. For example: “United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby’s response to the [carbon emissions] crisis is the Eco-Skies Alliance—a program for companies to partner with the airline in its investment of approximately 3.4 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) this year.” She also cites other airlines’ commitment to SAF, but then quotes academic skeptic Dr. Giulio Mattioli, who said, “The aviation industry has a long history of exaggerating how soon new clean technologies will be available, and how much they will help in reducing emissions.”

Haugen’s pendulum swings back to aviation interests when she cites airlines that are actively promoting rail service to replace short-haul flights. “Some airlines are taking a more grounded approach to their decarbonization efforts. Deutsche Bahn and the German Aviation Association have stated an interest in working together over the next decade to expand rail service and decrease short-haul flights in Germany. These plans could move approximately 4.3 million flight passengers to rail lines every year.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Shifting passengers to rail, is an admission of defeat, for the conversion off fossil fuel burning aircraft. Give it time to develop an alternative fuel, hopefully, with ample energy for the long haul aircraft.. Bio based fuels, blended or not, I believe will have the most potential to alter the environmental landscape in a short period of time.. Force the change before the technology is ready and any industry will experience serious contraction.. That would be the same mistake Europe embarked on 20+ years ago.. And those European economies are in perpetual Deflation, with no recovery insight..

    • Rail *should* replace most short-haul flights simply because its quicker door-to-door than most short-haul flights after factoring getting through security and baggage claim and everything else with commercial air travel. The remaining short-haul flights should only be ones where there’s no direct rail route, or for rail journeys longer than 5 around hours.

  2. Aviation is less than 2% of man released co2. All man released co2 is less than 2% of all annually released co2. All co2 in the atmosphere is less than 0.04% of the total atmosphere.

    Tell me again why that would be a “crisis”?

    • Since trees grow much better in co2 environments, even trees disagree with “tree huggers”.

      • Now THERE is a quote I’ll remember !! Good one.

        I just made the long drive N to my summer home location by car. I chose to do it this year by using two-lane roads into the Midwest. Doing so put me right in the middle of hundreds … maybe thousands of gigantic windmills. My wife asked me if I knew how much power each produced; I didn’t but do now … ~15,000 KW. Then she remarked that of all the HD farm equipment we saw, “How would all that equipment be converted to electric?” Answer … it can’t be done economically. Anyone who thinks it can is delusional. Beyond that, the U.S. is SO large, transportation is essential to it’s well being.

        All this talk about global warming and all the cockamamie schemes to ameliorate it — mostly by conversion to electric powered everything — ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room … overpopulation of the planet and stripping of it’s resources to feed, clothe and transport same. We cannot keep multiplying exponentially without a negative impact on nearly everything. Just imagine unchecked population growth inside the Arizona bio dome, for example. Embedded in this article she talks about increased air travel, e.g., despite the fact that 80% of people don’t fly.

        Your premise begs the following question, “If a tree hugger hugs a tree … does it produce more oxygen?”

        • Larry, the “average” land-based wind turbine produces a maximum of 1.5 megawatts (1,500 kW). That is kind of the sweet spot between blade size and power output. An ideal wind farm has around 100 turbines, so the total farm output is 150 MW, assuming the wind is actually blowing. Finding a good site for a wind farm takes a steady wind that doesn’t blow too hard. Over 35-40 mph and the turbine shuts down and locks the blades to keep the turbine from overspeeding. While it is nice to dream about replacing all our carbon-based power generation with wind, there just aren’t enough good sites for the tens of thousands of turbines that would require.

          You make a couple good points. First, I don’t see many farmers spending the money for the huge charging station needed to charge up all his electric farm equipment. Second, overpopulation is a major factor in effecting the climate, both through deforestation and the infrastructure to feed and support all those people. The world was doing pretty well when the global population was around 3-4 billion, but with 8 billion and climbing, things are getting way out of balance.

    • One of the main reasons being that the commercial aviation CO2 emissions are made directly into the upper atmosphere where there is no chance of mitigation before it is added to the overall atmospheric carbon footprint

      • Since upper atmosphere has not warmed, let’s just say that data does not support the primary tenant of the AGW theory.

        • Ya know what – you’re absolutely right Arthur. Why should we worry about this? We should just continue along as we are, pumping gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s certainly a lot easier just doing what we’re doing, with zero regard for the future. I mean, there’s absolutely ZERO chance that altering the chemical composition of our planet’s atmosphere would have any detrimental long effects – right?

          • Actually, slightly more co2 and slightly warmer temperature has beneficial long term effects for life in the planet. Cooler and less co2 is a planet killing combination.

          • That would be dependent upon your point of view. I doubt that people currently living equatorial or drought prone regions would agree with your premise

    • Because if we didn’t have “crisis”–we wouldn’t need government–and wouldn’t need politicians–and wouldn’t need government agencies–and wouldn’t need “advocates”–and wouldn’t need “hysterical news agencies”–and wouldn’t need political parties!

      THINK of all the jobs you would eliminate if you didn’t have this Crisis! “Telling us how we OUGHT to think–these are high-paying jobs! THINK of all of the thousands of people out of work! DON’T JUST THINK ABOUT YOURSELF! (sarcasm)

  3. Irrelevant virtue signaling.

    Aviation produces such a tiny amount of carbon dioxide gas compared to everything else it has no significance.

    Also, even liberals, tree huggers, and eco-warriors like to travel, and when they do so, don’t they have the right to fly commercial jets?

    As far as rail goes, I don’t think that that will work. It is true that there are large unnecessary delays due to security to fly commercially, but once there’s a couple of attacks on high speed rail/mono rail or whatever else they can dream up, I think that the same sort of security delays will exist for rail travel in the future.

    The climate has been changing for immense periods of time before man got to earth. It will continue to change after we are gone. The earth will be fine.

    As far as concerns of sea level rise and things like that, that also does not matter. People move. We are bipeds. For centuries, cities have sprung up, flourished and died and become ghost towns. Other cities rise and fall to replace them. People move from one place to another depending on their circumstances. They will continue to do so in the future.

    The Bible cautions us that we are not to place our faith in things, or in people, or even the ground beneath our feet.

    • I live on a salt water canal in NE Florida. I obsess about sea rise so I go out every morning to see if the ocean is gonna “eat” my back yard and require us to load the vehicles and flee. Funny thing is, save for nor’eaters, the level stays about the same within the bounds of tidal flow. Sometimes it’s SO low I can almost stand on exposed bottom in some areas. I think all this talk is bravo sierra.

      • I also live on a salt water canal in SE FL – for 35 yrs now & see NO rise.
        To take Larry’s quote “I think all this talk is Bravo Sierra”
        Just sayin.

      • The annual rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 60 years is about 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred at the end of the last ice age 11,000-17,000 years ago.

  4. Rail may work for the “Coastal Corridors”, Europe, and Japan, with large urban centers, but not for the rest of the country.

    Try taking rail in the majority of the country–betweek the Adirondacks and the Rockies. There isn’t any, with the exception of large city pairs. Minneapolis, for example–has had public-subsidized rail between Minneapolis, Chicago, and Duluth–it hasn’t been popular, even with subsidies, advertising, and “virtue-signalling.” People either fly–or take the car–at freeway speeds, the difference in time between the car and rail over less than 400 miles isn’t worth the hassle and need for further transportation at the end.

  5. So sustainable biofuels are the answer?
    Being involved in ag for many decades, I am aware of the multitude of studies trying demonstrate or justify using alcohol or bean oil for vehicle fuel. The studies involve the use of cropland, diesel, petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, tires, farm equipment all using petroleum or carbon produced electricity. Most (honest) studies not from farm belt researchers who value their jobs more than the truth show the end result is a net negative carbon footprint with a few showing it might be a breakeven deal. Reducing the carbon footprint with biofuels is simply more ignorant BS.
    Just like replacing all petroleum powered vehicles with electric ones. A noted engineer just published a report that calculated the amount of electricity needed to provide vehicle power if IC powered vehicles are swapped out for electrical ones. His calculation is that we need to be constructing one Gigawatt nuclear power plant every three weeks for the foreseeable future starting last week, in order to provide the power needed to operate vehicles as we now do. Just shows how unrealistic all this nonsense really is.