Does your plane flight really have an impact on the climate? A 2016 Science paper by Dirk Notz and Julienne Stroeve estimates the relationship between greenhouse gases and Arctic sea ice loss, and it’s not pretty. According to Notz and Stroeve:

Arctic sea ice is retreating rapidly, raising prospects of a future ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer. Because climate-model simulations of the sea-ice loss differ substantially, we used a robust linear relationship between monthly-mean September sea-ice area and cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to infer the future evolution of Arctic summer sea ice directly from the observational record. The observed linear relationship implies a sustained loss of 3 ± 0.3 square meters of September sea-ice area per metric ton of CO2 emission.

“Observed Arctic sea-ice loss directly follows anthropogenic CO2 emission”

What does this mean in practical, intuitive, terms? Julienne Stroeve explains that a single passenger on a round-trip San Francisco to London flight kills 53 square feet (5 square meters) of Arctic ice:

So far, climate change has often felt like a rather abstract notion. Our results allow us to overcome this perception…For example, it is now straight-forward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissions for each seat on a return flight from, say, London to San Francisco causes about five square metres of Arctic sea ice to disappear.

Max Planck Institute: “My contribution to Arctic sea ice melt”

A Climate Central story continues using aviation as a metric:

For every round-trip transatlantic flight or just two months of a home’s electricity use, 30 square feet of Arctic sea ice is lost, according to a new study that lays out in the simplest possible terms the relationship between heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and the precipitous decline of sea ice.

Andrea Thompson: “Here’s How Much CO2 Will Make the Arctic Ice-Free”

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