Flying and vapor trails

According to a new study, a huge amount of atmospheric warming is caused by the cloud-like vapor trails – or “contrails” – that planes leave in their wake when flying at high altitude. These are created when vaporised water condenses or freezes around sooty exhaust particles to create cirrus-type clouds. These can persist for hours, but are too thin to reflect warmth. Instead, ice crystals within them trap heat, warming the planet. Researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Germany estimate that aircraft vapor trails typically have twice the warming impact of CO2 emissions. And as air traffic increases, the problem will only get worse. In a paper published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, they argue that the industry cannot solely focus on aircraft fuel efficiency; they must also acknowledge and address the currently overlooked problem of contrails.  (The Week, 13 July 2019)

This raises the questions of hypocrisy, in this case my own.  I happen to live between America and Britain.  In the old days one would go by passenger ship .  The last time I did that it took 7 days and the funnel smoke belched out non-stop.  But I was young .  It was fun. Now I fly.  Every time I book a flight I am roiled in guilt and misgivings.  Here I am bemoaning climate change, which is heavily affected by planes flying in all directions, and I am very well aware of what the plane is doing every mile of its journey.   I tell myself that, were my wife and I no longer flying, it would make not the a slightest difference – the airlines would happily continue fouling the air.  But I am not practicing what I preach.  There! It is out in the open.

Do you do things you didn’t ought to?   Do you eat beef or go on fancy foreign holidays, or drive a car every day of your life?  If so, drop me a line on this blog – I need to feel better about it all.



  1. I’m guilty of eating meat and flying too.

    But at least we’re conscious of it, and understand our actions have consequences. The first step is to be aware of the environmental impact of your life choices. For instance, I’m trying to reduce my meat consumption and have all but given up any journeys in combustion engine road vehicles.

    The real impact on climate change is made by government policy, not individual lifestyle choices. Governments need to be more radical in their attempts to tackle climate change, even if that comes at the expense of some popularity.

  2. Yeah me too… I’ve spent decades flying all over the world as a touring sound engineer. I drive a gas guzzling car, sometimes when I could walk or take a train if I was more organised. I eat meat every day.

    I think this hypocrisy is similar to the way that, despite my love for Epicurus and his philosophy, I behave in a very un-Epicurean way. I have anxiety, I wish for more, I eat too much food, I spend too much money on stupid shit, I drink too much alcohol.

    I would like to narrow the lacuna between the man I want to be, and the man I am. Perhaps I need to remember that Epicureanism is a ‘verb’. It is a way of life, a way to behave, like stoicism is. ‘Who we are’ is determined by ‘what we do’, and we ‘do’ in the present (well, given our inability to actually experience the present, it’s more like the recent past). I like the Taoist notion of ‘doing not-doing’. I should do less, want less, love more, think more.

    I’m thinking of buying a hybrid car, at least.

    I’ve just found this site, and I really like it. Great work. Keep ‘doing’ it 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.