More importantly, this average belies the fact that in the UK 70% of all flights are taken by a small minority (15%) of the population who fly extremely frequently – data is limited, but this pattern is replicated in other countries. Worse still is the fact that a few celebrities emit 10,000 times as much carbon as the global average just due to their jet-set flying habit. We must focus on the national and sub-national reality – rich countries fly most, and within them rich people fly even more. Add to that recent research that finds that nearly half the flights taken aren’t even considered important to those taking them.
Other modes of transport – cars, buses and trains – used to travel to airports produce further air pollution that damages the health of those living near airports as well as travellers.
False solutions All attempts to reduce the environmental impacts of air travel so far have been the responsibility of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, as countries have refused to take any international responsibility. This is because the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol that preceded it exclude emissions from aviation and shipping. Unfortunately, the ICAO has failed with anything like the urgency needed to propose any solutions that will reduce the amount of kerosene burnt. Attempts at global-scale solutions are failing us all even though governments see the ICAO as the forum for solutions.
The current ‘mitigation’ strategy of using carbon offsets is a false solution being pushed by the aviation industry and its captured regulators, particularly the ICAO. Airlines and airports claim that instead of reducing emissions, they can offset them by buying carbon credits from others – like reforestation projects or hydroelectric dams that are claimed to reduce emissions. Airports also often try to legitimise their destruction of ecosystems by ‘offsetting’ the biodiversity loss. Carbon offsets do not actually reduce emissions, and complex ecosystems destroyed in one place cannot be instantly created elsewhere. Offset projects are often associated with local conflict and land grabbing, especially in the case of reforesting or land-based schemes such as REDD+. Offsetting is unjust and distracts from the urgent need to reduce, not shift, destruction. By failing to reduce emissions and delaying real action, offsetting is probably worse than doing nothing.
Using plants to synthesise biofuel for use in planes is touted by airlines as another major solution. Substituting kerosene with biofuels is a false and highly destructive prospect. Biofuels cannot be supplied at the large scale the industry would require. One crop that might deliver this is corn (maize), but this would mean using precious fertile land for growing food for aircraft rather than for people. Substantial use of biofuels in aircraft would (both directly and indirectly) drive a massive increase in deforestation and peat drainage and thereby cause vast carbon emissions. It is also very likely to lead to land grabbing and human rights violations, including forced eviction and loss of food sovereignty. Finally, burning these fuels at altitude would still have the same nonCO 2 effects as burning kerosene.
Worse still is the fact that a few celebrities emit 10,000 times as much carbon as the global average
Local resistance Right now around over 540 airports around the world are currently under construction or have expansion plans. Each one is causing conflict, but many of them are being resisted locally. Building new airport infrastructure involves destroying ecosystems, tarmacking over farmland, and/or bulldozing people’s homes. In practice this leads to land grabbing, dispossession, destruction and ecocide. In response, many of these places have local communities that are working together to resist these projects and oppose the social or ecological damage they will cause.
Stay Grounded is an international network connecting these local struggles in order to share knowledge and show solidarity. More than 150 groups around the world have joined the network so far. Part of the work Stay Grounded is doing is to collate and share information about all these conflicts through the Environmental Justice Atlas. As a project, this broadcasts local events around the world in a way that has not been possible before. It also helps campaigns identify other
Resurgence & Ecologist