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09/09/2013

How where you fly matters to the environment

Plane

File photo of British Airways' Boeing 787 Dreamliner at London's Heathrow airport. 

Are you one of those already browsing online for cheap holiday fares? Well, that’s fair, it will be cold and we all want to escape to warmer places even if it is just for a few days.

But where you fly is connected to the environment.

New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that flights to and from Australia and New Zealand, in October, created the highest amounts of a potent global warming pollutant called tropospheric ozone. This ozone is created when nitrogen oxides, released during the burning of jet fuel, react with carbon monoxide and other chemicals in the presence of sunlight.

(These were big aircrafts, long flights and, thus, nitrogen oxide production larger due to the amount of fuel burned.)

The research also found that the area around Solomon Islands in the Pacific was the most sensitive to airplane emissions — 5.1 times, to be exact. It also means that a kilogram of nitrogen oxide emissions can cause an extra 15 kilograms of tropospheric ozone annually. So, a flight from Sydney to Mumbai results in an extra 25,000 kilograms of tropospheric ozone.

Aviation, world over, is acknowledged as a big source of greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial planes account for two per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions annually and dump enormous amounts of short-lived but highly potent black carbon high up in the atmosphere.

The MIT research also notes that aviation in southeast Asia is growing significantly faster than the global average.

So, do you know where you are flying to this holiday season?

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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'How much your holiday effects the environment depends on where you fly'
Effect is a noun; affect is the verb.

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