Fly, Fly Away

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    It’s Midsummer week up here in the Nordics. Endless sunny days stretch into pale nights. There is excitement in the air, whispered promises mixed with a heady scent of elderflower and honeysuckle. And, inevitably, as the cool and elusive Northern sun finally graces us with its divine presence, our inherent FOMO threatens to turn into panic. There is simply too much to squeeze into those few precious days.

    Luckily, the proverbially long Nordic summer holidays are just around the corner. There is still a limited time slot to wrap up while sobering from the Midsummer madness next week. Off we go then, stuffing our bags full of bathing suits and sunglasses, confirming reservations, and trying to reconcile our conscience with flying to a more reliably sunny destination of our choice.

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    Ah, yes, flying… Although the prolonged Covid-induced confinement has taken the edge off our worst ‘flygskam’[1], it’s still lurking there, spoiling some of the travelling fun we feel so entitled to. Of course, we could try convincing ourselves that aeroplanes’ CO2 emissions are not such a big deal as they account for a measly two per cent of the global annual man-made emissions. The fact remains, however, that just like those white tails of frozen water vapour visible from the ground, the impact of planes on global warming stretches further if you consider all the other gases they emit.

    Aviation executives who are gathered in Doha for the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week are certainly feeling the heat. Well, in June, even the summer breeze blows hot in this part of the world. Also, they did pass a resolution in Boston last October promising to get to net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050. The question is how to get there, given the dearth of technological quick fixes. Batteries are still too heavy for long-haul travel, and alternative options such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) or green hydrogen each come with their own adverse side effects. Investing in new aerodynamic solutions and improving operational efficiency will only get you that far, even supplemented by a significant upscale of carbon capture and storage technology.

    Delivering on that net-zero commitment is shaping up to be very challenging indeed. “Ultimately, the only way to guarantee that aviation will not emit is to not fly, or to make flying so expensive that people make far fewer trips,” Peggy Hollinger sums it up in the Financial Times earlier this week. We are back in the grips of good old flight carbon anxiety, just as we thought the whole concept was so very yesteryear.

    And if you are still wavering in your determination to fly less, there are plenty of ways to nudge you in the right direction. Were I more prone to fall for conspiracy theories, I might suspect that the latest bout of chaotic airports and exorbitant ticket prices are hardly coincidental.

    Not to worry, urges IATA Director General Willie Walsh from sunny Doha. “I don’t expect the disruptions to continue, and it is important to reflect that not every airport or every airline is facing challenges, and not every flight is being disrupted. So, let’s just relax,” he chirps. For the sake of Midsummer, I’ll heed his advice, for now.

    [1] Flygskam (noun, Swedish): the feeling of climate guilt associated with airline travel, literally ‘flight shame’

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