Ready to recover from your post-festive comedown by booking an escape to the sun? For lots of you, that can involve flying. And while I’m sorry to place a downer in your holiday plans, there are several problems with this from a climate perspective.

The first is that aviation is actually a fossil fuel industry, one which guzzles an eye-watering 5m barrels of oil on daily basis. Burning that fuel currently contributes around 2.5% to total carbon emissions, a proportion which could rise to 22% by 2050 as other sectors emit less.

The second problem is, as Air Asia puts it, “Now everyone can fly”. And in “generation easyJet”, those that already fly, fly greater than ever. This increasing demand from recent and existing travellers means the variety of passenger aircraft in our skies is about to double by 2035.

The third problem is that unlike other sectors where there could be a greener alternative (solar not coal, LEDs not lightbulbs etc), there may be currently no method to fly 8m people on daily basis without burning a lot of dirty kerosene. Aircraft have gotten more fuel-efficient, but not quickly enough to offset the large demand in growth. Electric planes remain a long time away, weighed down by batteries that may’t deliver nearly as much power per kilo as jet fuel.

There isn’t any green alternative.
tratong / shutterstock

But here’s the peculiar thing: although no other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel, most of us don’t stop to take into consideration its carbon impact.

While in lots of countries recent cars, domestic appliances, and even houses now have mandatory energy efficiency disclosures, air travel’s carbon footprint is basically invisible, despite it being relatively much larger. For instance, a return trip from Europe to Australia creates about 4.5 tonnes of carbon. You could drive a automobile for two,000 kilometres and still emit lower than that. And the typical per capita emissions globally is around 1 tonne.

Several studies have found people to be quite ignorant of how their very own flying behaviour contributes to climate change. It’s not hard to see why. Research into airline web sites shows little mention of environmental impact. Green NGOs are sometimes quiet on the problem, perhaps being reluctant to “preach” to their members to fly less, and anxious over accusations of hypocrisy as their very own staff fly world wide to conferences.

Political leaders are also unwilling to point the finger at passenger-voters. Indeed, Tony Blair asked as prime minister in 2005 “what number of politicians facing a possible election would vote to finish low cost air travel?” His answer: zero. The political strategy appears to be passing the buck to the airline industry, and hoping for the very best.

Aviation is a golden goose for politicians. In the UK, where sources of future post-Brexit economic growth are hard to discover, the industry looks set to proceed its enviable historic growth-rate of 4-5% annually. The principal problem for airlines now could be finding enough space to accommodate planes at crowded airports reminiscent of Heathrow. Airlines’ seductive message to politicians is “If you construct it, they may come.”

And the first reason that they may come is because flying is kept artificially low cost, while trains and cars grow to be costlier. The principal reason for that is the so-called “Chicago Convention”, agreed in 1944 by a then much smaller air industry, which prohibits countries from imposing jet fuel tax and VAT on international flights. Taxes on other types of transport have increased dramatically since 1944 but due to the convention aviation has remained almost unscathed. Things have actually moved in the opposite direction for the reason that Nineties, when an influx of low-cost carriers led to big cost savings and even lower ticket prices.

What is to be done? Aviation, together with shipping, was given special status and excluded from the Kyoto and Paris climate change agreements. The industry was tasked to provide you with its own solutions as an alternative. After much foot-dragging, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), finally addressed aviation emissions in 2016, proposing a market-based mechanism, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Under CORSIA, countries’ airlines are given allowances to emit carbon, and in the event that they exceed their allowances (which they may) then they have to buy offsets from other sectors. Yet the plan just isn’t nearly radical enough. It doesn’t even come into power for an additional decade, and it does nothing to stifle demand – unlike a carbon tax.

As we are able to see, regulating the environmental impact of flying is a fancy business. Ignorance and inaction is an appealing response to complexity, but we’d like to act before aviation gobbles up more of the increasingly small wriggle-room for emission cuts. We can try to reduce the variety of flights taken, buy carbon offsets for unavoidable flights, and query the broader logic of allowing the industry to grow ad infinitum. Just using a carbon calculator to learn in regards to the carbon impact of our sunny escapades is a very good start.

If residents remain blissfully unaware of aviation emissions, then airlines and governments are unlikely to do anything about them. Alternatively, if governments ever wish to put a world carbon tax on flights, then they may must create political “buy-in” from residents who increasingly see low cost flights for granted.

This article was originally published at