As summer comes around, holidaymakers pack their suitcases and jet off abroad — often in search of warmer temperatures. But those flights heat the planet. What are the costs of flying?
More than just CO2
Flying at high altitudes releases more than just carbon dioxide. Condensation trails turn into thin and wispy ‘cirrostratus’ clouds, which, depending on the position of the sun and the earth’s surface, can cool or warm the ground beneath it. Nitrogen oxides released from planes into sunlight also contribute to the greenhouse gas ozone, which warms the planet.
Eat sausages or fly?
Our daily lives warm the planet. Heating, electricity, clothing and food all form part of our carbon footprints. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, UBA recommends each German emits about a ton of carbon dioxide in total — regardless if through flying or eating sausages.
Air traffic doesn’t just hurt the global climate — it also has local effects. The sound of aircrafts flying low overhead makes people more at risk of heart attacks, for example. Children who live near airports struggle to concentrate. And local air quality suffers from pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.
Flying is subsidized more than other modes of transport. Aviation kerosene, which is used as jet fuel, is not taxed in the EU. In Germany, cross-border flights are exempt from value-added tax. Through that, the government waived more than €4.7 billion of tax revenue in 2012, according to the latest data by UBA.
Government and staff costs
The costs of air travel are often subsidized on the ground. Taxpayers’ money is often spent on building new airports, a form of indirect subsidy. And budget airlines such as Ryanair have come under fire for saving money through imposing poor working conditions on their staff.
Flying as a new form of imperialism?
Only about 20% of the world population has ever flown. According to climate justice movement Stay Grounded, a minority of highly mobile people who are rich and educated cause 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by flying.