I was doing some gardening early on Monday. It was a beautiful morning and when I looked up, I was startled to see so many plane trails in the sky. In fact, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and everything I could see was caused by plane pollution. It was really surprising, and got me thinking about what a problem plane pollution is and why we generally just ignore it.

This prompted me to investigate a number of articles on the internet (you can see links to all these articles below along with the most interesting quotes from each).  It’s clear that plane pollution is one of the major problems we’re facing as humankind, and we need to do something radical and quickly.

no clouds, just the effect of planes

Governments like the airline industry because it brings people to their countries to spend money. So they’ll protect the industry, approve expenditure on additional runways, and be happy that it remains cheap and the number of flights increases every year.

This is exactly the opposite of what is needed to protect the world, and it has to stop.

In the spirit of Use 10 Percent Less, it makes sense to reduce our air travel rapidly and dramatically. However, the forces of advertising and profit making will be very strong in this regard. I think we’ll need to make governments take action, and that won’t be easy.

plane pollution

The obvious quick way to make a dramatic impact would be to introduce a high tax on all flights. The money raised could be pumped into other initiatives to reduce waste, increase recycling and reduce pollution. But, in general, most people would see more expensive air travel as a negative thing and withdraw support form any political party that introduces it.

The first step will be to raise the awareness of this issue in the minds of the whole population. Please have a look at the quotes from the number of articles below. Hopefully, this will prove how important this issue is.

all vapor trails

Articles and Quotes on Plane Pollution

  • How many cars equal the CO2 emissions of one plane? – from Science Focus
    • A Boeing 747 uses 7840kg of aviation fuel for the take-off, climb and descent portions of the flight and these account for about 250km. For journeys longer than that, the plane will use 10.1kg for each additional kilometre under typical cruising conditions. So to fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh (530km) uses 10,668kg of fuel, which releases a little over 33 tonnes of CO2.Whereas a Ford Mondeo 1.8 TDCi emits 151g of CO2 per km and covers 650km to reach Edinburgh. That works out to be 98kg for a single passenger, compared to 79kg per person for the Jumbo, assuming it carries its full complement of 416 passengers. But you could drive 336 cars to Edinburgh for the same CO2 as one plane.
  • Air pollution from Europe’s planes set to rise by nearly half – from The Guardian
    • Aircraft emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are linked to lung damage, doubled since 1990 and are forecast to rise 43% by 2035.
    • NOx is an indirect greenhouse gas created by fuel combustion, that can lead to the formation of health-damaging air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM).
    • Around 23,500 Britons die prematurely each year from exposure to NOx, according to provisional government figures. Another 29,000 people die early from the effects of PM pollution.
  • Plane Exhaust Kills More People Than Plane Crashes – from National Geographic
    • In recent years, airplane crashes have killed about a thousand people annually, whereas plane emissions kill about ten thousand people each year, researchers say.
    • Airplane exhaust, like car exhaust, contains a variety of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
    • So-called particulate matter that’s especially small is the main culprit in human health effects, especially since the particulates can become wedged deep in the lung and possibly enter the bloodstream, scientists say.
    • When a plane flies at cruising altitude above the clouds, wind currents can whisk the pollution far away so that prevailing winds cause the pollution to fall from the sky about 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) to the east of the plane’s route.
  • Cutting Aviation Pollution – from WWF – World Wildlife Fund
    • Unregulated carbon pollution from aviation is the fastest-growing source of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change. In fact, if the entire aviation sector were a country, it would be one of the top 10 carbon-polluting nations on the planet.
  • Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better. – from The New York Times
    • Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.
    • According to some estimates, about 20,000 planes are in use around the world, serving three billion passengers annually. By 2040, more than 50,000 planes could be in service, and they are expected to fly more often.
    • The most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less often. If everyone took fewer flights, airline companies wouldn’t burn as much jet fuel.
  • For the love of Earth, stop traveling – from The Washington Post
    • According to former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, we have only three years left in which to “bend the emissions curve downward” and forestall a terrifying cascade of climate-related catastrophes, much worse than what we’re already experiencing.
    • The answer is yes (anything we can do about it?), and the good news is it won’t cost us a penny. It will actually save us money, and we won’t have to leave home to do it. Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry.
    • “The lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions” from the COP23 conference, the organizers note, “is from long-distance air travel.”
    • So for the love of the Earth, our common home, our only home, start conducting more remote work meetings and training sessions virtually.
  • Airlines Were Supposed to Fix Their Pollution Problem. It’s Just Getting Worse – from Bloomberg
    • Hundreds of millions of new passengers are coming, and there’s no solution in sight.
    • While energy generation and agriculture currently dwarf aviation’s 1.3 percent share of all human-caused greenhouse gases, emissions from air travel are accelerating many times faster.
    • That puts the industry on track to become the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide within three decades if the predicted cuts in other sectors materialize, data and projections from UN agencies show.
    • We are all going to have to reduce the extent to which we fly
  • It’s time to wake up to the devastating impact flying has on the environment – from The Conversation
    • The first is that aviation is essentially a fossil fuel industry, one which guzzles an eye-watering 5m barrels of oil every day.
    • 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 think about its carbon impact.
    • “how many politicians facing a potential election would vote to end cheap air travel?” His answer: zero.
    • flying is kept artificially cheap, while trains and cars become more expensive. The main reason for this 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 forms of transport have increased dramatically since 1944 but thanks to the convention aviation has remained almost unscathed.
    • Aviation, along with shipping, was given special status and excluded from the Kyoto and Paris climate change agreements. The industry was tasked to come up with its own solutions instead.
    • If citizens remain blissfully unaware of aviation emissions, then airlines and governments are unlikely to do anything about them.
  • Vapor trails are not friendly – from “Life In The Right Direction”
  • Spending less time in planes – from “Life In The Right Direction”