Stephen Lezak is a Gates scholar and PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and manages the Oxford Programme on the Sustainable Future of Commodities and Infrastructure.
My grandmother was 90 and traveling alone in Paris when she broke her hip. She spent two weeks in the hospital, praising the food and practicing her French with the nurses. When she was ready to be discharged, our family began planning her flight home — business class, on doctors’ orders. She refused.
Flying is an exquisitely carbon-intensive activity. A round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Paris generates the same amount of carbon dioxide as the average resident of Switzerland does in six months. But fly first class, and that same round-trip flight creates as much CO2 as the average American does in 30 months. That’s two and a half years’ worth of gasoline, heating, groceries, lights, AC, showers, and Netflix in 12 (hopefully luxurious) hours.
There are two reasons for this discrepancy. Most importantly, first-class seats take up a huge amount of space, often three or four times more than those in economy. Second, premium cabins tend to have a lower percentage of occupi... Read more