Air traffic is still increasing

The debate about our planetary boundaries, including not only the finiteness of natural resources but also the boundaries of the planet’s carbon dioxide sinks, has some time past reached the public discussion. The majority of people is aware that flying is the environmentally most harmful way of mobility. Nevertheless, this does not lead to a change in behavioral patterns. The worldwide air traffic is still increasing year by year and has reached a number of more than 3 million departures by 2016 (DLR 2016).


Offsetting flights

Also environmentally conscious people do not avoid air travels. In fact, the great contradiction is that especially Green-Party voters – statistically – are frequent flyers (Spiegel 2014). This might result from averagely higher incomes of Green-Party voters, but it also points out an ingrained logic of our lifestyles. In lockstep with increasing air traffic the idea of offsetting our flight emissions has heavily grown in recent years. Organizations and platforms like myclimate and atmosfair have a simple but attractive concept: They calculate the emissions of your flight and determine a specific value/price for compensating it. The money is then used to either plant a tree somewhere (which is supposed to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to your flight in its lifetime) or to provide solar panels for villages of the Global South in order to prevent them from burning greenhouse-relevant materials for cooking and heating.


Modern selling of indulgences

The idea is definitely attractive! It is simple to dismiss the concept as a modern selling of indulgences. And it is evident that we are rather willing to pay for our flights than consider changing our – unsustainable – way of living. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the concept is bad these companies offer. I certainly love to travel and I can fully understand not to give up traveling and exploring different places of the world. So what to think about compensation then? Well, although it is a good thing that people are aware of their carbon dioxide emissions, it is definitely not enough.


Individual responsibility vs. structural change

Not only are flights too cheap, but also is air traffic still subsidized. The decision whether to partially internalize parts of the ecological costs is thus transferred to the consumer – to us. While I don’t want to condemn the concept of flight compensation per se, I believe that it prevents from an urgently needed transformation towards developing more sustainable, solidary and equal lifestyles of good living. This deep structural change is politically not within the range of vision, but everyone can make a difference. Not to fly if not absolutely necessary is the best thing we can do. Short weekend trips through the world are an absurdity that I always try to avoid. If I travel somewhere, willing to spend some time there and to seriously explore the region, I use atmosfair to compensate for the emissions. To be honest, this is something very personal: It is my personal way to deal with the guilty conscience and it is also my way of justifying my personal behavior. There is no recipe or solution for it, so I hope you can find your own way while we fight for a deeper political and structural change.


From a human desire to a usual means of transportation for two billion people year by year.



Brand, Ulrich; Wissen, Markus (2017): Imperiale Lebensweise. Zur Ausbeutung von Mensch und Natur im globalen Kapitalismus. München.

DLR (2016): Wachstum im weltweiten Luftverkehr: Juni bricht Rekorde. Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt. 1. Juli 2016.

Der Spiegel (2014): Grünen-Wähler halten Rekord bei Flugreisen. 12.11.2014.