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Finnish researcher calls for end to domestic air travel, citing climate concerns

Carbon emissions from trips less than 400km are 18 times higher when travelling by air compared to taking a train, the researcher said.

Lentokone laskeutumassa
File photo of airplane in the sky. Image: Esko Jämsä / AOP

Even though air travel is often the fastest mode of transport, it also impacts the climate most heavily, according to Stefan Baumeister, a researcher of corporate environmental management at Jyväskylä University's School of Business and Economics.

Long-haul flights have long been considered to be major factors in raising the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, but Baumeister said the environmental impact of domestic air travel is rarely discussed in the climate debate and has proposed to put an end to domestic flights altogether.

He said domestic flights can be very easily replaced with more environmentally-friendly modes of ground transport, according to his new academic paper titled “Replacing short-haul flights with land-based transportation modes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: the case of Finland.”

About 2.7 million passengers travelled by air domestically in Finland during 2017. Stressed-out travellers often justify taking short-haul flights by saying they’re faster than, for example, taking a train.

But that’s not always the case, according to Baumeister.

Short-haul emissions

“We can take the route between Kokkola-Pietarsaari (on the west coast) and Helsinki airports, which takes about an hour by plane, as an example. When you add the time for the trip to the airport, the security check, boarding the plane, the flight itself and then the journey to the centre of Helsinki, the trip is around three-and-a-half hours,” he said, pointing out that’s about the same time it takes to travel the route by train.

He said that in terms of the environment train travel is a much better alternative.

“Briefly, air travel-related carbon emissions on trips shorter than 400km are 18 times higher than they are by train. And within that distance private vehicles are also clearly more environmentally friendly, not to mention taking a bus,” he said.

“Our results showed that replacing short-haul flights could significantly reduce a country’s climate impact. Furthermore, we found that existing land-based transportation modes can keep up with the travel times of aircraft on routes up to 400km,” Baumeister wrote in his paper’s abstract.

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