My prediction for 2018 is that this is the year when flying becomes ‘uncool’. Admitting you’re frequent flyer gold status will become embarrassing.
We already see the early signs. Deputy Science Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Henrik Östblom, tweeted happily that he had been downgraded by two air miles programs this year. Swedish sport stars Björn Ferry and Heidi Andersson have stopped flying entirely, despite the fact that they live far up in the Swedish North. Björn Ferry even declined to report from the Olympics because of the required flights.
Why are people making a fuss about flying? In the case of Heidi and Björn, they try to live as climate friendly as possible. After filling in the Swedish Environmental Institute’s ‘climate account‘ they discovered that the absolute biggest impact they had on the climate was transport and particularly flying. So they got an electric car and quit flying. Pretty hard core and quite admirable.
Inspired by these people, I also filled out the climate account and, as expected, almost all of my climate impact derives from flying. And this is after I already limit my flying to within Europe. This year, I have skipped conferences outside of Europe. Still the footprint from flying is high and much higher than the average person on earth.
Researchers propose that our total carbon footprint should be around 1-2 tonnes per person and year, that’s one return trip to Thailand.
When they compared the impact of car traffic with flying in Stockholm, the flying habit had much larger impact on the climate.
What about climate compensation? It’s not evident that we can compensate fossil fuels, that have accumulated during a very long time with carbon in trees and plants that have much shorter time horizons in the carbon cycle. Thus it’s a practice that has been criticized by researchers. The environmental NGOs disagree on the value of climate compensation, Naturskyddsföreningen is critical to it whereas WWF support the gold standard.
Will we have to quit flying permanently? Maybe not. On the optimistic side, Norwegian airports are starting to offer renewable jet biofuel, for example at Bergen airport. This is very promising, although Swedish airports, unfortunately, are far behind.
Despite the promise of jet biofuel, the amount of flying and how it’s increasing remains a problem. Our flying habit has exploded the last decades. Even if we replace all the jet fuel at Swedish airport with renewable ones by 2030, this only compensates for the expected increase in flying i.e. our overall carbon footprint will remain the same as today. Thus we cannot increase our flying, as we have done the last decades, in the future. And until jet biofuel is the standard, we should simply avoid flying. If we want to save the climate.