One of the most interesting things about writing a blog is statistics. Statistics clearly show that people don’t read what is annoying. Taking responsibility for a problem is annoying, and therefore, I presume this article won’t be too popular among the Air Industry folks.
The issue of the environmental impact of air transport is a complex one. Air transport brings along substantial socioeconomic benefits, and therefore, it makes politicians, the industry and civil society alike look in the opposite direction when confronted with the inconvenient truth.
Air pollution coming from the air transport business is on the rise.
In economics, externalities are costs or benefits that affect a third party not involved in the economic transaction. Air pollution is one of them. Unlike noise pollution, which is more or less dealt with at local level, the geographical scale of air pollutants goes beyond any jurisdiction. No local, regional o national policy can prevent air pollutants coming in from far away.
Air transport releases millions of tons of all sorts of gases each year into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, methane, heavy metals, particulate matters and other weird stuff go uncontrolled beyond any national boundary. Since the atmosphere enables a swift and widespread diffusion of pollutants, the effect on the environment is not quick and direct. It’s rather long-term and cumulative. In other words, its effects go unnoticed for years until it’s too late.
It’s not fair to claim the Air Industry is not trying. The problem of source reduction has been addressed. New technologies are being devised each year. Air pollutant emissions, on a per passenger-mile basis, have dropped considerably thanks to more fuel-efficient and cleaner jet engines. On the positive side, emissions of the most harmful pollutants, despite a growth in the number of airplanes, have declined. But the truth is that carbon dioxide emissions have increased. Air travel demand is growing spurred – unsurprisingly – by the very same fuel efficiency. Air travel is cheaper than ever. As a result, the net air pollution generated by the air industry is still on the rise.
Airlines, the chief source of air pollutants, reap the benefits of the business but rarely bear the loss. Clean-up costs are not included in the flight ticket price. I must admit that quantification of these costs is almost impossible. Even if it was possible, worldwide agreement lies in the realm of science fiction. As a result, passengers’ mess travels free of charge.
Those who think that a clean-up-your-mess-upfront fee would be a business killer are wrong. Residents of medieval London customarily threw all sorts of garbage and the contents of their bedpans onto the streets. These days are gone, and today London economy is thriving.