Aviation & Climate Change
Aviation is the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. It disproportionately harms communities near airports, and its expansion will undermine Seattle and regional GHG targets.
Join the 350 Seattle Aviation Team (contact Laura!) to halt the growth of aviation pollution and support justice for communities near airports.
Aviation is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution in Seattle and globally
Globally, air travel has increased 300% since 1990 and is on pace to triple again by 2050.
Locally, aviation is 42% of Seattle’s GHG emissions as of 2018 because of its CO2 and non-CO2 effects. Seattle aviation emissions also increased over 40% from 2008-2018.
If we allow continued growth of aviation, we cannot meet Seattle and regional climate goals.
Localized aviation pollution in King County disproportionately impacts people of color
A majority of King County’s Black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander population lives within 10 miles of SeaTac Airport.
Studies show exposure to aviation pollution is linked to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Noise pollution from airports is linked to hypertension and poor school performance among children, including at 5 Beacon Hill schools. Life expectancy is 5 years shorter and premature birth rates are 43% higher for communities near the airport compared to the rest of King County.
Airplane emissions have a 3 times greater warming impact on the climate than on-the-ground emissions
Airplane emissions have many effects, called non-CO2 effects, climate forcing or Radiative Forcing (RF). In total, airplane emissions have 3 times the global warming impact than on-the-ground emissions.
This makes aviation pollution and its fast growth 3 times more harmful to our climate goals.
Carbon Offsets and Biofuels Don’t Make Aviation Carbon-Neutral
Offsets Are Unjust – We can’t get to a carbon-free economy if we keep polluting and pay someone else to clean it up. Worse still, only 2% of carbon offset projects have a high probability of reducing emissions, according to a study for the European Commission.
Biofuels Still Pollute – So-called “sustainable” aviation fuels still contain carbon and burning them for aviation still emits CO2 into the atmosphere, causing global warming and radiative forcing.
Electric or Green Hydrogen Aviation is Decades Away – Future technology for greener flight is not ready for most commercial aviation, and it takes 30 years to replace the average airline fleet. Furthermore, electric planes still cause noise pollution that harms nearby communities.
The Global Movement to Halt Aviation Expansion
In 2020, the UK’s independent statutory body charged with advising the government on climate policy issued a report stating that airport expansions must stop if the UK wants to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.
In 2021, the French government cancelled expansion of the Paris airport calling the plan to construct a fourth terminal “obsolete because it no longer corresponded to the government’s environmental policy.” They also banned short flights that could be covered by train.
350 Seattle is a member of the King County International Airport Community Coalition (KCIACC), which is holding local airports accountable and working towards healthier airport communities.
350 Seattle is a member of the global Stay Grounded network. Stay Grounded works globally for a just transition of aviation: a shift towards climate-just mobility and tourism while protecting workers and communities.
The 350 Seattle Aviation Team works to lessen the impact of air transportation on climate change by:
- Decreasing aviation activity, including by halting airport expansion and construction;
- Changing the regulatory framework to make emissions and other climate issues paramount and challenging the prioritization of economic growth and corporate profit;
- Ensuring transparency and accuracy in the measurement and reporting of aviation emissions and impacts — especially direct impacts on frontline communities — and bringing awareness to who benefits and who pays for aviation;
- Ending unfair subsidies and tax exemptions for airlines and aircraft manufacturers;
- Reducing or eliminating systemic incentives for air travel;
- Supporting the voices of marginalized, impacted communities seeking environmental justice;
- Encouraging development of clean-powered alternatives to air transport and rethinking how we move people and goods;
- Increasing public awareness of aviation’s climate and environmental justice impacts.
Current Aviation Team Priorities
Join us (contact Laura) to help reduce the harm aviation is causing to our health and our climate:
- Campaigning to halt SeaTac expansion proposals that would double flights
- Supporting King County’s airport communities seeking mitigation and environmental justice
- Pushing for city, county and state climate plans and GHG inventories to include aviation and Radiative Forcing (RF) warming impact, including King County’s 2021 GHG Inventory
- Researching aviation impacts on climate and health in Seattle and our region