Is jet-setting compatible with a safe climate?

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    I like living close to my core values. As my chart below shows, climate pollution per passenger on long-distance jet travel overwhelms the climate-safe "budget" remaining for each of us. A few weeks of novelty aren't worth inflicting so many tonnes of climate damage on the things I care about. I realize I am just one person, but still it feels meaningful to me to bring my actions more in line with a world that has a safe and stable climate. In my view, society's half-hearted actions are utterly failing to prevent climate pollution from accelerating with no end in sight. We are headed toward worst-case scenarios that I want to avoid.
    Another part of my motivation is to withdraw my financial support from an industry that I feel is acting immorally towards our future. The airline industry could reduce their total climate damage -- while also increasing flights – but they refuse to take this path. As I'll show below, this industry's climate pollution is massive, unregulated and on track to quadruple by 2050. The world desperately needs to make deep cuts in our climate pollution. But after two decades of meetings, the global aviation industry still has no plan to ever reduce their climate pollution or to pay anything for the climate damage they cause. I don't want my money funding that.
    Finally I'm motivated by a desire to understand the climate denial we all have inside ourselves that is preventing our acting effectively to solve the climate crisis. Climate denial isn't caused by disliking the facts -- it's caused by not wanting to participate in the solution. I'm not talking about the kind of denial that disputes the climate science. I'm talking about the widespread denial that continuing with extremely high levels of climate pollution is compatible with a safe future. The attempt – at all levels of society from individuals to nations -- to avoid making big sustained reductions in the climate pollution we have control over is leading to what the International Energy Agency terms a "catastrophe for all of us".    

Below I explore the facts and trends on passenger, and industry, climate pollution levels.

Climate impact per airline passenger

I'll start with one of my Visual Carbon charts showing climate pollution per passenger. For clarity, I'm going to build the chart in three steps.

First, I show humanity's maximum climate "budget". This is how much climate pollution the average person can cause each year through 2050 and still avoid the "dire" climate impacts that will emerge in a world overheated by more than 2 C. The nations of the world have collectively said our safety requires not exceeding this 2 C threshold.

For the average human, this works out to 2.3 tonnes of CO2 (tCO2) per year.

Around 20 percent of this budget can be used for travel, which is around 0.5 tCO2 per year.

Both of these "budget" lines are shown on the chart below.


Next I'll add the actual yearly CO2 emissions per person for different nations. These bars show all the CO2 for everything in life for an entire year (except international aviation and shipping). Some nations are below the maximum climate "budget". Others are far above it. Notice that the world average is currently twice the climate "budget". Big reductions in climate pollution are needed pronto if we hope to avoid a dangerous new climate system.

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