Seven members of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island handed out pamphlets Monday outside Victoria International Airport, drawing attention to the harmful effects of airplane travel.
The peaceful protest was one of multiple events the global civil disobedience movement organized in B.C. to draw attention to air travel’s impact on climate change, leading up to a major international climate conference in Scotland next month.
“There is nothing worse for our carbon emissions than flying big planes,” said Peter Carter, a member of the group and the director of the Victoria-based Climate Emergency Institute. “It’s the single worst thing that our society is doing. So we are trying to discourage people from flying when they don’t need to.”
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions totalled the equivalent of 730 megatons of CO2, with all transport responsible for 186 megatons, according to Canada’s submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The report does not single out aviation but finds passenger transport by bus, rail and aviation accounted for 9.6 megatons in 2019. Looking at non-passenger freight transport, aviation and marine forms of transport account for 5.6 megatons.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, airline emissions make up little more than three per cent of total emissions in Canada (without citing a year) and international research has found about 2.4 per cent of global emissions come from aviation.
“Today, we are focusing on planes,” said Carter. “We have to try make people aware of all the ways in which they are unnecessarily burning carbon and emitting CO2, which is threatening our very survival.”
When asked about people who have no other choice than to fly, Carter said a lot of air travel is non-essential.
“People are travelling by plane going on holidays … There is a lot of that. There is no need to do that all. They can stay in Canada and have their holiday in Canada,” he said. “I’m not saying there is anything wrong with taking a holiday in Mexico … But flying is not the way to do it.”
Erin Tinney was dropping off her brother Nick Tinney, who was flying out to Bella Bella for work as a conservation officer with the federal government, and described the protest as a “little bit inconvenient” but nonetheless appreciated it.
“I think it is great,” she said. “I’m sure we all are, in a way, (responsible for climate change) but it is a tough one. I am dropping off my brother, who has to get back to work. He has got to protect the environment in his own way.”
Nick also appreciated the protest and noted the protesters were making a valid point. “Flying is dirty in a way,” he said. “All traffic is — it’s the price of doing business. But they kind of have a right to target us. We are in a rush, but then again, we are the target audience for that message.”
When asked how the protest would change his behaviour, Nick said “that’s tough.” As a resident of northern British Columbia, who wants to see his family and travel, he relies on air travel.
“I have to evaluate how much it is worth to see my family. If I want to have less of an impact, then I have to make those sacrifices myself. That is what we can do. It would be nice to see the industry develop lower-emission planes to do (their) part too.”
While such plans are underway, experts say they are some time away from commercial viability.
And as Carter said at the protest, we don’t have the time. “The technology is definitely going in the right direction, but meanwhile, most of us spend a lot of our time burning fossil fuel.”
He noted the public isn’t educated enough on the extent and reasons for the climate emergency. “What we are doing is, we are inviting them to take a pamphlet, really that is all we are doing.” Ultimately, it is the choice of travellers to decide for themselves.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article use an incorrect unit of measurement. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.
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