What’s the Environmental Impact of Flying Cross-Country?

With millions traversing the globe to reach their loved ones for the holidays, travel (particularly air travel) is top of mind. How can I avoid the lines? Will I be able to fit all these gifts in my carry-on? But one more question arises in the environmentally conscious: What’s this going to do to my carbon footprint?

Aviation is, at its core, a fossil fuel industry, one which guzzles a shocking 5 million barrels of oil every single day. Burning this fuel to get you to your grandma’s place in Wisconsin or that winter getaway in Hawaii currently contributes to close to 2.5 percent of total carbon emissions. Experts expect this figure to rise to 22 percent by 2050, even as other sectors start cutting.

Additionally, we are flying more than ever. Demand for flights increases daily, to the point that demand from new and existing travelers is supposed to double by 2035. With the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning us that we have just 12 years to avoid apocalyptic climate change disaster, this rising trend in air travel is certainly bleak.

Airplane over New York City

The third problem? While aircraft is becoming more fuel efficient, electric planes are still decades away. We have yet to invent a battery that can deliver as much power as jet fuel and, so far, the technology is cost prohibitive.

Most of us are ignorant of how our flying behavior contributes to climate change, largely because it just isn’t communicated to us very often. Think about it…when was the last time you saw an advertisement mentioning the environmental impact of flying? New cars, appliances, even houses are required to disclose energy efficiency. Planes and airlines? Not so.

So what’s to be done? We won’t be shutting down cheap air travel anytime soon (aviation was purposefully excluded from the Kyoto and Paris climate change agreements) and regulatory organizations are dragging their feet, avoiding any plan that might have negative economic implications.

Here’s what you can do about this.

Your government, your favorite airline, the companies that control global wealth…they won’t do a thing as long as citizens remain blissfully unaware of the impact of aviation emissions. Want a carbon tax on flights? Speak up.

Connect with your peers. Encourage everyone to use their voice to make change. Maybe then, we will be able to find a less damaging solution, while still retaining access to global travel and that vacay you always dreamed of in Hawaii.


Richard B
Richard B1 months ago

Thank you

Thomas M
Thomas M3 months ago

thanks for sharing

Paula A
Patricia A3 months ago

Thank you

Caitlin L
Past Member 4 months ago

Easy: it's terrible.

John W
John W4 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta W4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson4 months ago

Thank you.

David C
David C4 months ago

Do your best, try to limit, fly non-stop, carry less stuff, offset, and do your best.....

Carole R
Carole R4 months ago

It's too bad but we live in an era of flight.

Anne Moran
Anne M4 months ago

I must have taken the plane across the country 50 times, in the last 20 years from Vancouver, to visit my parents in Toronto.. - I hate flying,, but there's no other way; the bus takes 5 days,, I couldn't sit on a dirty bus for 5 days without showering or eating meals.. - I did take the train a dozen times, which took 4 days, but at least there I had a roomette, where I could close the door and have privacy,, able to sleep, and also had a toilet and sink. The meals were all included and there was a very good shower on every car.. - Now that Mom and Dad are no longer of this world,, I have no reason to go back there... xoxo