Can You Fly and Virtue Signal Concern for the Environment at the Same Time?

Hotels encourage you to fly out for a stay while they replace single use plastic toiletries with bulk wall mounted shampoo, and offer to let you skip housekeeping, telling you these cost saving measures are out of their concern “for the environment.”

The Dutch government wants to ban flights between Brussels and Amsterdam for the environment since apparently it’s more environmentally friendly to connect at Heathrow or Frankfurt.

Ponder whether you should fly at all, while you continue to have kids and eat meat (China Southern has actually tested offered miles for skipping the inflight meal though they don’t claim it’s ‘for the environment’).

Modern jets are far more efficient than their predecessors, driven in part by $100 a barrel oil we saw at the start of the decade, and biofuel flights are closer to reality than many realize. Aircraft engineering advances do a lot of environmental work, and there have been over a dozen commercial flights powered with biofuel while Qantas begins using a biofuel mix next year. IATA has committed to carbon-neutral airline growth starting next year, and a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Tyler Cowen argues that giving up flying isn’t even good signaling of environmental commitment, with all flying accounting for about 2% of carbon emissions.

It is plausible to expect a lot of progress on solar, wind, nuclear and even fracking to cut carbon output. The use of more electric cars and possibly hydrogen vehicles will also help reduce emissions. Food production could be improved significantly if people simply ate less meat.

If you want to raise the status of environmental concerns, you can buy carbon offsets (although many of these regimes seem questionable), “take a stand in favor of nuclear power…educate the public on carbon sequestration…” The more we fly thought he more pressure there is to save on fuel cost driving the sort of advancement that makes flying better for the environment than it is today.

Remember that award travel and cheap fares don’t affect the environment nearly so much as paying a lot for airline tickeets.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A combination of cognitive dissonance and unthought through article. At over 850 million tons of CO2 (>4% of global emissions) the airline industry is a significant contributor to warming. Though we would like to think otherwise our travel habits are contributing to the problem.

    Here are some numbers. https://www.greenaironline.com/news.php?viewStory=2490

  2. A combination of cognitive dissonance and an unthoughtful article. At over 850 million tons CO2 emission (>4%) , and growing, the aviation industry is a significant contributor to warming. We need to face up to the fact that our lifestyle contributes to the problem.

  3. @LevyFlight – there are disputed numbers, I used a commonly accepted 2% you are citing 4%, that doesn’t change the argument in the slightest

  4. Someone raising money for an environmental group tried to stop me on the street. She asked, “What are YOU doing to protect the environment?” and I replied, “I’m not having kids.” She was too shocked to make another pitch as I walked past.

  5. @ Gary, you are right it does not change the argument slightly. We have a problem.
    @adam good job.

  6. Upton Sinclair said it’s impossible to make someone understand something if their job depends on not understanding it. Gary is no exception.

  7. A train between Amsterdam and Antwerp is only 1 hour and 15 minutes on the Thalys. You can do it for as little as $35. Why bother flying, the train is easier.

  8. JohnB,

    Flying to Belgium via/from the Netherlands can be easier than taking a train to Belgium via/from the Netherlands. For example, a single parent traveling with two very young children and having lugage for all of them may find that flying is actually easier since the bulk of the stuff can go in checked luggage.

    And since flying is safer than taking a car, I would say that pushing people to drive more is not a good idea. Especially since there is evidence that the higher risk there is for a person and their family to survive, the more likely the person will have more children than they would otherwise. More people = more pollution. Sort of like more cows = more methane.

  9. Are the Dutch even allowed to restrict that? Since this is Intra-EU would not EU rules apply? I would not think the EU would approve of an EU member restricting travel to another EU member. They might as well disband the EU. Is this the beginning of Dexit (or is it Nexit)?

    @JohnB > A train between Amsterdam and Antwerp is only 1 hour and 15 minutes on the Thalys. You can do it for as little as $35. Why bother flying, the train is easier.

    Perhaps because terrorists have a history of attacking on trains and people feel safer in the relatively more secure post security area of the airport?

  10. ” Especially since there is evidence that the higher risk there is for a person and their family to survive, the more likely the person will have more children than they would otherwise.”

    Yet another example that GUWonder is a man whose reach most definitely exceeds his grasp.

  11. Just fly private like all the politicians and celebrities do when going to climate conference. And it doesn’t matter any anyways the world is gonna end in 12 years if we dont pass the green new deal. Cuz farting cows

  12. Someone raising money for an environmental group tried to stop me on the street. She asked, “What are YOU doing to protect the environment?” and I replied, “I’m not shitting in the streets like they do in China.” She was too shocked to make another pitch as I walked past.

  13. @Jojo

    Absolutely. What nonsense. The noted climate scientist, Prince Charles, said we had 100 months to save the planet. That was in 2005.

    I’ll take my filet on the rare side, please.

  14. I’m with @Adam.

    A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

  15. It is almost impossible to tell the difference between BS and man made global warming science.

  16. dave,

    One of many pieces of evidence showing that a population exposed to increased mortality shocks tends to respond with increased procreation:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4411230/

    I may be many things, but one thing I am certainly not: “a man whose reach most definitely exceeds his grasp”.

    In the lower animal kingdom too, there is plenty of evidence that high mortality-inducing stresses of sort on a population can result in the stressed animal species increasing the number of offspring they tend to have. If a community is facing increased likelihood of dying, then having more children and coupling at younger ages becomes more likely than it would otherwise be. And one consequence of sexual pairing at younger ages is that females then tend to be able to have more children in their life than would otherwise be the case.

    You may want to believe that children aren’t a huge factor in causing increased levels of waste/pollution, but the garbage bins of the world increasingly are littered with non-biodegradable diapers, non-biodegradable clothing and other wearable accessories (shoes/slippers included), non-biodegradable toys and all the other stuff that increasingly fills landfills around the world. And little children become adults, many of whom will probably also be hit by a travel bug of sorts and want to see things that are beyond the grasp of their physical reach unless and until boarding a plane or having way more time off than is common.

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