It’s comforting to learn that when it comes to wreaking havoc on the climate, the world’s elite is more than pulling its weight. That’s according to researchers at Linnaeus University, in Sweden, who found that “frequent fliers—at most 1% of the world population—likely account[ed] for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel” in 2018. Well done, us! And because American exceptionalism knows no bounds, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the United States is the worst offender by far among wealthy countries.
But the travel falloff of 2020 offers some hope. The Linnaeus study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, concluded that “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity to rethink aviation in terms of demand distributions, air transport wants and needs (private aircraft, first class suites).” Or as the lead researcher Stefan Gössling put it to The Guardian, “The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes. We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system.”