The Fight to Green the Eco-Unfriendly Skies

Hundreds of people have gathered in a field outside London’s
Heathrow Airport over the past week to protest a proposed expansion
of the busy international hub and to call attention to air travel’s
ecologically harmful effects. While the auto industry tends to
garner much of the media’s attention when it comes to calling out
climate-change culprits, the protests at Heathrow reveal a growing
effort to challenge the airline industry to minimize its carbon
footprint.

Air travel currently makes up a relatively small percentage of
overall carbon emissions, but as
Mark Rice-Oxley of the Christian Science
Monitor
reports
, that will likely change as flying’s
popularity continues to grow. Rice-Oxley cites estimates that air
travel could nearly triple in the next 20 to 30 years, and more
travel means more pollution. Carbon dioxide isn’t the only problem
people have to worry about with air travel, Rice-Oxley writes, as
airplanes also give off ‘nitrous oxide, thought to have at least
double the impact of CO2, and condensation trails, which also may
contribute to global warming.’

In the United States, efforts to curb aviation’s environmental
impact have been mired in a political morass. In 2003, Congress
instigated an overhaul of the aviation industry called the Next
Generation Air Transportation System (NexGen) that,
according to Megan Tady of In These
Times
, has obscured rather than addressed environmental
problems. NexGen is being overseen by the Joint Planning and
Development Office (JPDO), a board that so far has focused its
attentions on air-travel capacity and growth, not environmental
issues. In fact, Tady notes that the board’s recent reports to
Congress ‘highlight noise pollution and local air quality’ as
the primary environmental issues. Climate change is not on the
agenda. Though the JPDO may be in the perfect position to steer
air travel toward a more sustainable future, Tady reports that
the organization seems intent on obfuscating the realities
regarding aviation’s impact on climate change.

Though Great Britain also has lagged when it comes to evaluating
the effects of airplane emissions on climate change, the limited
debate in the country has been no more fruitful.
According to the Economist, members
of the British Parliament are trying to include emissions from
air travel in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, a
multinational effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. More
substantive solutions to the overall problem, however, have yet
to materialize. The issue continues to get bogged down in
complex policy debate about taxation and emissions trading.

Politicians may push policy change as a pragmatic solution for
the problems with aviation, but as the Christian Science
Monitor
‘s Rice-Oxley writes: ‘For the hundreds of
climate-change activists who’ve camped out by Heathrow Airport this
week, there is just one way to reduce aircrafts’ carbon footprint:
stop flying.’

Go there >>
Air Travel Latest Target in Climate Change
Fight

Go there, too >>
Sins of Omission

And there >>
Persuading Britons to Cut Back on Flying Will Be
an Uphill Struggle

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