How much carbon is emitted every time you take a plane?
A popular Twitter account started by a teenager and run by a bot has sparked debate about the carbon emissions of the rich and famous. Private jet construction is carbon-intensive — as Jack Sweeney’s Elon Musk @CelebJets account shows — but so is plugging into a standard airliner.
Climate and energy consultant Ketan Joshi said this Explicitly: Billionaire or not, if you’re flying, “you’re somebody’s Kylie Jenner.” Or Tom Cruise or Vladimir Putin or Musk, the latter of whom wanted to pay Sweeney to destroy his Twitter account.
Only 5-10% of the world’s population flies each year, with frequent flyers accounting for 1% of the world’s total and three-quarters of all passenger emissions. The top 10 frequent flyer countries account for 60% of the world’s total aviation emissions.
Co-director of the Energy Transfer Center, Associate Professor Malt Meinshausen, said: Crikey that although wealthier segments of the population have the funds to finance a low-carbon lifestyle, they tend to balance this with carbon-intensive activities such as flying.
Crikey for free to your inbox every morning using fluffy cream.
“Real negative emissions cost much more than the viable option of planting trees,” Meinshausen said. “But currently we don’t have regulatory frameworks to ask people not to use substandard credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.”
There is a thick manual for calculating the carbon emissions of air travel. In short, it’s about fuel consumption, but the impact on the seats also plays an important role. Empty planes are much more carbon intensive than fully loaded ones. As economy travel is first class. Simply put: more breathing room means more emissions.
According to Google Flights’ internal carbon meter, a one-way economy Qantas-Emirates ticket from Sydney to London costs $1,811 today and gives you 1,232 kg of CO2. A business class seat on the same flight quadruples your carbon footprint. Compare that to flying forward in first class: five times the sardine seats and almost seven times the price.
“First and business class can pay more, but the perspective has to be that even those in economy are part of the big 5 percent that contribute to emissions,” Meinshausen said.
So is flying always pointless? Greta Thunberg certainly thinks so. In 2019, the climate activist famously took a 32-hour train ride to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and spent two weeks crossing the Atlantic to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Many argued that commuting on the high seas was a waste of time, but by 2022 standards, Thunberg not only beat the arrival time at the airport, but also disembarked at the check-in with all the luggage.
This year, WEF organizers took a leaf out of his book and encouraged attendees to train rather than fly to the conference. Consider it an image control. Past forums had almost as many private planes as participants. But rest assured, these publications were all compensated.
World leader or aircraft support in a commercial aircraft, these are all at a high level. However, there are many reasons why people need to fly – and individual responsibility pales in comparison to what is required of governments and companies to reduce emissions.
The good news is that Qantas does a lot of work for passengers, reducing the cost of reducing emissions by ensuring that some of its planes never leave the airport.
Do environmental concerns influence your decision to fly? Let us know what you think by emailing [email protected] Please enter your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.