Flying in the face of climate science—Part 2: Air travel emissions in perspective

The first installment of this two-part series set out the case for why carbon offsetting is incompatible with serious response to climate change, and looked specifically at what this implies for rich-world attachment to air travel.

In coming to terms with why this does actually matter, there is a further basic question that needs grappling with: why should flying in particular be singled out for such scrutiny? It’s hardly the largest source of emissions overall, so why give it such weight? With carbon dioxide from aviation accounting for just 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions (roughly 12 percent of CO2 emissions from transport, which in turn is 15 percent of the global total) the concern I’m expressing might seem thoroughly misplaced. Even for Australia, direct aviation emissions account only for 3.1 percent of the national total for all greenhouse gases (i.e. on a Global Warming Potential CO2 equivalent basis, rather than in terms of CO2 alone). I suspect this may in fact play a substantial part in why broader cultural attitudes diverge so sharply from my own.

There is a two-level problem with this apparently obvious but far too simplistic view. Continue reading