Environmental Groups Target Aviation Emissions


Two major environmental groups have given the EPA six months to take action against pollution caused by aircraft or face a lawsuit. The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth announced the potential legal action, saying the EPA issued a determination in 2016 that aircraft emissions are a danger to human health but hasn’t done anything to curb them. “The Trump administration’s refusal to curb plane pollution is fueling the climate crisis,” Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters. “Airplane pollution is increasing at really worrying rates, but the EPA just keeps refusing to address this skyrocketing threat to our rapidly warming planet.” 

Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of global greenhouse emissions and 12 percent of transportation-related sources and in the U.S. airplanes are the largest unregulated producer of climate change pollution. Global air traffic is expected to double in the next 20 years but more fuel-efficient engines on new aircraft should mitigate the emissions levels somewhat. The EPA told Reuters it’s working on new regs and expects to propose them this month but it promised proposed rules last September and didn’t deliver them. International Civil Aviation Organization standards on new aircraft take effect this year aimed at making future growth carbon neutral and the EPA said it “anticipates adopting domestic GHG (greenhouse gas) standards that would be at least as stringent as ICAO’s standards.” In addition to the better engines, ICAO hopes to curb emissions through the use of biofuel and more efficient routing and ATC procedures.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. “Rapidly warming planet”?
    Just lies.
    With 0,5 ppm co2 aviation can not influence the climate at all.
    These greens should learn some physics and meteorology.

    • It’s very hard for me to understand this attitude from someone as evidence-based and apparently capable of learning as a pilot. I’m willing to believe (and of course, wanting to believe) the argument that *general* aviation isn’t a significant contributor to global warming, but just saying “aviation can’t influence the climate because ‘greens’ are stupid” isn’t an argument; it’s just willful ignorance and undeserved hostility.

      • OK, how much has the upper atmosphere increased in temperature over the last 20-30 years? That’s the basic question on co2. That would be a start on being “evidence based” in decision making. Let me know, thanks!

        • Not going to debate the science here, not qualified for it. My comment was about the ridiculousness of saying it’s “just lies” by “those greens”. Haven’t we had enough of that sort of thing already?

          • Well, let’s not debate the science and just read the lawsuit.
            They say and I quote: “aircraft remain the single largest CHG-emitting transportation source in the US”.

            THAT is a lie.
            That is a damn lie.
            I agree, I had enough of this sort of thing and such organizations need to be counter-sued out of existence for wasting taxpayer money on outright lies. Sorry, but I’ve had enough.

  2. “Aviation accounts for about two percent of global greenhouse emissions”

    Aviation accounts for only two percent of the two percent global greenhouse emissions that are attributable to mankind. Nature puts out 98% of the greenhouse gasses every year.

    The “Friends of the Earth”need to bring a lawsuit against nature for creating so much emissions every year as to make even jet airliners insignificant in their contribution.

    • The conventional wording is a bit sloppy, but the article’s point is valid.

      Natural processes cause greenhouse emissions and absorb those emissions in approximate balance, and have done so for thousands of years. Human processes cause greenhouse emissions, but absorb hardly any of them. Hence, the real issue is the human-generated greenhouse emissions. That is the change, that is the problem we are causing for ourselves, that is what we can control. Source: https://skepticalscience.com/human-co2-smaller-than-natural-emissions.htm

      What I notice is that just about everyone talking about climate-change emissions tends to focus on the human-caused emissions, but leave out the “human-caused” modifier. See for example the EPA’s overview: “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.…”, but then soon after, “The primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are” [leaving out the modifiers “increase in” and “human-caused”]. Source: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

      It would be more precise if everyone talking about climate change would always use the modifiers, such as “Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of global human-caused greenhouse emissions, all of which is an increase in emissions over the natural baseline.” But I can understand why editors cut the wordiness down. As readers, let’s not fool ourselves.

    • “Aviation accounts for only two percent of the two percent global greenhouse emissions that are attributable to mankind. Nature puts out 98% of the greenhouse gasses every year.”

      True! Nature puts out 98% of green house gas emissions, but has also been absorbing about that much for millions of years, resulting an pretty stable pot of GHG on earth.
      The beauty of compound interest is that just adding 2% every year to your pot will double the quantity in only about 34 years. That’s more additional green house gas than the earth — with all of its natural volcanos, fires, clouds, animal farts, etc. has been able to add to GHG levels in hundreds of thousands of years. In geologic time terms, the rate and magnitude of change in GHG from the industrial revolution is more on a time scale like when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs–a mere blip, than the other natural climate change drivers.

      Imagine what our life might be like now if the founders of this country said “don’t worry about how people are going to live in a hundred years–our business with the King is too entrenched to change now.”

      Changing how the global economy emits GHG is a hard challenge and will require a revolution that addresses all parts of the problem, including ones that are only 2% of the 2% compound interest.

  3. “Aviation accounts for about two percent of global greenhouse emissions.”

    “The Trump administration’s refusal to curb plane pollution is fueling the climate crisis.”

    “Airplane pollution is increasing at really worrying rates, but the EPA just keeps refusing to address this skyrocketing threat to our rapidly warming planet.”

    I wonder what Ms. Clare Lakewood (the “climate legal director” at the Center for Biological Diversity) has to say about the other 98% of this climate crisis, or about the fact that China and India continue to build hundreds of new coal-fired powerplants each year?

    The Left won’t be happy (are they ever?) until we’re all living in pup tents, eating kale, and walking to our destinations. Don’t worry, though. AOC will put us on “high-speed rail” from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Even Mazie Hirono snickered at that one.

    It’s not like the industry is complacent. Engine manufacturers are investing $billions in R&D on more-efficient machines. Things are getting better, despite what Chicken Little feeds us daily. Hint: it’s something that cannot be used to make chicken salad.

    • Maybe the EPA can start “taking action” by levying fines against groups who use aircraft to travel to global climate conferences? 🙂

      • Instead of fines, maybe the US Government can take action by setting up proper carbon pricing, for aviation and for other sectors of the economy? Then market forces will give pricing signals to groups considering travel to global climate conference?

        I live in a Canadian province, British Columbia, which has had a limited carbon price for over a decade. It has worked very well here. Y’all should try it. If you are willing to rely on market forces instead of government control.

        • Nice that the government there can collect taxes for nothing in return.
          You call that a success; down here we call it theft.

        • What? A typical Canadian sheep who blindly believes and follows the classic – The government knows best, rather than think for themselves.
          Here is a little hint, carbon taxes are set up by governments to gain ever more money and control, and are the opposite of letting market forces work. Please give us a break, and tell us how the Canadian government’s carbon tax is influencing the Chinese and Indians building and operating thousands of coal fired energy plants. If Canada quit using all fossil fuels it would not make any measurable difference.

    • Two practical ways to reduce the impact of of human-caused greenhouse emissions.

      1. Travel fewer passenger-kilometers. Even if all aircraft passenger-kilometers become very efficient, even if a bunch of those passenger-kilometers switch to trains which are even more efficient, the travel still costs energy. I think in the future we will all have to get used to not travelling where before we might have travelled. Or get used to travelling to closer destinations. This will be a profound adjustment for the aviation industries.

      2. Realistic carbon pricing. Let market forces price in the cost of climate damage, by putting a price on greenhouse emissions from aviation (and every other source) instead of letting those emissions remain an unpriced externality. Then market forces will help persuade airlines to switch to more efficient aircraft, and fuels, and passenger load factors, and will help persuade people to travel fewer passenger-kilometers.

      How many people objecting the lawsuit described in this article are supporting carbon pricing, or less travel?

      • I can endorse voluntary reduced travel. But not price controls or carbon taxes.
        As a basically-Libertarian guy, I believe that ALL taxes should have one and only one purpose: raising needed revenues. Concomitantly, I believe that using ANY tax as an effort to influence behavior is illegitimate.

      • I prefer to improve/create technology so we can all live the best possible lifestyle. Travel is a luxury that many people around the world can afford and that make the world a better place to live. Rather than focusing on ways to restrict travel let’s focus on ways to make it cheaper, more accessible and easier on the environment.

    • “The Left won’t be happy (are they ever?) until we’re all living in pup tents, eating kale, and walking to our destinations.” Cmon, folks, what’s with all the lazy demonizing of the left here? Make an effort to make real argument, based on some real information.

      • I’ll have you know that I put a LOT of effort into demonizing the Left! 😉
        Seven decades of living in the Peoples Republik of Massachusetts will do that to you.

  4. “Nature puts out 98% of the greenhouse gases every year.” WRONG.
    Absolutely bogus. The source of the carbon dioxide increase has never been in dispute. 78% comes from burning fossil fuels and the remainder comes from agriculture and forest destruction. Virtually nothing is coming from natural sources. We have a carbon dioxide legacy of 250 ppm from natural sources over millennia and the difference between that and the present 412 ppm is entirely due to man. We know this through tracking fossil fuel use and carbon isotopic ratios.

    • We know that since the ATMOSPHERE is not warming yet the surface temperature is, the mechanism is not due to increased heat trap in the atmosphere. The theory is wrong. That’s a good thing and the plants thank us.

    • “Virtually nothing is coming from natural sources.”

      Forest fires.


      Cow farts.

      Hot air.

      • Actually, cow farts mostly count as human-caused, because humans caused most of the cows to come into existence. Without the human-run beef and dairy operations, this planet would have a lot fewer cows.

    • I’ll point out that Carl T. and Mark F. appear to be talking past each other. Carl T. is talking about an “increase”. So is the article, although it skips the word “increase”. Mark F is talking about natural emissions, in steady state over thousands of years, plus human emissions, increasing greatly over three hundred years, and omitting natural absorbtion, in steady state over thousands of years.

      Our conversation will be more productive if we talk about the same things. Maybe even using the same terms.

      • “Thousands of years” as a time frame is part of the problem. You need to look at much longer time periods when discussing climate change.

        We currently are in a relatively warm interglacial period which is part of the 100,000 glaciation cycle. These have been geologically mapped for at least 6-8 cycles depending on which analysis you choose. Interglacial warming cycles have lasted 15-20,000 years and we are 12,000 years into the current cycle.

        In the 1920s Milutin Milanković a mathematician, astronomer and geophysicist proposed an explanation for this cycle based on a combination of the earth’s elliptical orbit, changing orbital tilt and orbital precession which change with regularity over these time periods.

        This Milanković cycle has been accepted since the 1970s but is not widely discussed in current arguments over global warming. There are of course other factors that come into play.

        IMO the last 1M year geologic record should play a larger role in any discussion of climate change.

        • “geologic record should play a larger role in any discussion of climate change”

          I agree completely. The geologic record shows that “normal” for Florida is to be under water. That’s important to remember before saying man is responsible.

  5. Tell then that when Al Gore, et al, sell their jets and ride bicycles wherever they want to go … THEN we’ll take it under consideration. Until then … go pound sand.

    In Wisconsin NW of Oshkosh, there’s an organization called the Midwest Renewable Energy Assn. Their HQ is in Custer, WI. Each June, they hold an energy fair … I go because I’m interested in learning about the technology but most of it is pure bravo sierra. Last year, I got “into it” with a young Gen whatever over pipelines running through Wisconsin. I walked up and pretended to agree with them and we discussed their position. Finally, I asked how they got there. Answer … they drove their pickup truck. THEN … Katie Bar the Door! Those people are hypocrites. They don’t understand much of anything.

    So lets just ground ALL jets and see how they like not being able to get from A to B on demand.

  6. According to the investigating journalist…:

    02/02/2020 “Bernie Sanders campaign says it buys up enough carbon offsets to pay for its environmental impact of private jet use.
    “Bernie spent $1,199,579 on private jet use last quarter and paid for just $23,200 in carbon offsets.””

    Believe what you want to believe but these politicians don’t always speak total accuracy.

    • “Carbon offset?”
      You can buy all of the popcorn you want to – it won’t un-burn an ounce of fuel. It’s a plenary indulgence.

  7. All the fuss about global warming aside, I do love that the photo for this article is of a C-141B headed into the sunset (or sunrise possibly). The AF made a really bad decision back in ’06 when they parked them. Had they taken Lockheed’s offer in 1994 of rebuilding 178 of those proud ladies and simply put them in the reserves, they would have retained almost 60 million ton miles a day of potential airlift capability. That potential came with 30+ years of experience operating worldwide and the ability to use a ton of airstrips most jet aircraft cannot. The C-17 and C-5 do have “off-road” capability of sorts but will NEVER be exposed to it due to airframe cost.
    The Puerto Rico relief ops in ’18 are a great example. The -141, like the Herc, requires no ground support equip for offload on a paved surface and only 9000′ of pavement, 50 ft wide, for operations with no turnaround.

    • Surprising. As a generator of such dense and potent chemtrails, the C-141s should have been transferred from USAF to the Department of Conspiracies.

      • I know this photo well and it was inappropriately used to make the point. The aircraft is headed due north! It was taken during Operation Deep Freeze in the 1980s flying directly over the South Pole. The contrails are thick because of the moisture being added to the extremely cold, near-zero humidity air. ….probably the most beautiful photo ever taken of this great workhorse!

        • I guess I should have appended “JK”. I know all about contrails. And nothing about chemtrails. For good reason.

  8. Weight matters in aviation. Our current battery technology may be unable to create a carbon efficient airplane in the foreseeable future.
    So why not take a different approach: pursue ground based technologies which remove carbon from the air so we can still use our airplanes anywhere while making methane from thin air. Yes, it will cost us but given time the cost will decline. The cost of such technology could be spread through the economy using an energy tax coupled with subsidies for the carbon renewal plants. Who knows: someday there might be power plants which don’t require much external fuels or which are powered by nuclear or fusion energy and we could still take a jet from SFO to JFK while knowing we are doing no harm.
    Meanwhile, don’t kill aviation.

  9. WOW, with all this increase in CO2, how come I don’t see this in my lawn, scrubs.
    & tree growth? After all, isn’t that the “fuel” for vegetation growth?

    Hey farmers – how are your yields? over

    • That’s EXACTLY what Burt Rutan says is GOOD about the slight increase in the CO2 in the atmosphere, Bob. Billions of people need food and a slightly longer growing season helps. Plants and trees like CO2 !

  10. I get weary reading stories of “well meaning” groups suing anybody and everybody to “Save the planet”. First of all, we Americans already have a carbon tax on transportation fuels. It’s called fuel taxes, and they account for about 1/3 of the cost of each gallon. Use more fuel, pay more taxes. Use less, pay less. That seems pretty effective and straightforward to me.

    Second, American carbon emissions have been steadily dropping for the past 20 years in spite of large increases in the number of vehicles and aircraft at the same time. We have shut down many coal fired power plants and are one of the world’s leaders in installing wind and solar generation. Meanwhile, in the same time period, carbon emissions in the developing world (China, India, Afrrica) have more than tripled and are now about 40% higher than those of the developed world. So, why are they suing the EPA instead of chasing the Indian and Chinese governments? Is it because they have a legal system here that won’t imprison them or send them to a “reeducation facility” when they try filing suit? Also, aviation represents a large and visible industry with deep pockets.

    Finally, when these so-called “friends of the earth” begin promoting nuclear power for electrical generation, I will be impressed with their goals. Nuclear technology has gone far beyond the currently active plants, both in terms of safety and waste control, and nuclear power is already carbon neutral. It is the only technology we have today that has the power density to base load our power grid in a stable manner. Yes, we need all types of power options, including wind and solar, but we can’t run our industries solely on those power sources. Also, the “green movement” conveniently forgets that they were instrumental in killing new nuclear plant construction back in the 1970s, which is when the construction of coal-fired plants took over. So, in a way, they are at least partially responsible for the mess we have today.

  11. One more thing. The article mentions that air travel is expected to double in the next 20 years. The vast majority of that will occur outside our borders in places like India and China. Do we see a reoccurring theme here?

  12. First it was global cooling, but that didn’t happen. Next it was global warming, but that didn’t really happen, either. Now it is (human-caused) climate change. It is time for the aviation industry to stop allowing these leftist junk-science based groups to continue unopposed. Fight back with real science instead of just rolling over. Increasing the CO2 has very little effect on temperatures due to the saturation effect at its current level of about 400 parts per million. I don’t believe anything the EPA puts out, either.

    • This is parody, right? You say “fight back with real science”, then expect us to just accept your unsubstantiated personal beliefs? Also, you don’t believe anything the EPA puts out? Yeah, I guess you can’t; all those highly credentialed scientists think the earth is round, too.

      • OK, Harry, what frequencies are the black body heat radiations from Earth and what is the absorption spectra of c02? Since the atmosphere has NOT warmed but the surface shows slight warming, the real science should come up with a new theory to try and explain WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING. Just a thought from a Chemist.

    • “Two major environmental groups…. The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth”

      These 2 groups exemplify why informed people distrust major environmental initiatives.
      These groups are to environmentalism as Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity.

  13. From a quick search of reliable and reputable sources:
    1) Check with the Dept of Transportation, NASA and the EPA.
    2) https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/ – good details
    3) “Burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat is, by far, the main driver of climate change. Emissions from those sectors account for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute. ”
    4) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-causes/
    ‘Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, buildings, factories, and power plants.”
    5) Global Carbon Project
    ‘growing number of cars on the roads and a renaissance of coal use’
    6) EPA: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data
    ‘Transportation (14% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions)…what’s interesting is the list of recommendations…Nowhere is aviation listed.

    Summary – it aint aviation, folks. Aviation is just a convenient target. Truck and cars and coal power plants are more trouble than aviation.