"It does not harm the environment" - An analysis of discourses of tourism, air travel and the environment


By: Stefan Gössling and Paul Peeters

While a substantial part of the population in Europe seems well informed about the phenomenon of climate change, uncertainty seems to prevail in terms of its seriousness, its consequences for society and action that needs to be taken in order to prevent ‘dangerous interference with the climate system’. Many people seem to believe that there is no scientific consensus about climate change and that individual behavioural change is irrelevant in the face of uncertainty. Such a ‘psychology of denial’ seems particularly strong in the context of air travel, the fastest growing transport sector. This paper seeks to understand this phenomenon by analysing the discourses surrounding air travel. Four major industry discourses are identified: air travel is energy efficient and accounts only for marginal emissions of CO2; air travel is economically and socially too important to be restricted; fuel use is constantly minimized and new technology will solve the problem, and air travel is treated unfairly in comparison to other means of transport. The validity of these claims is evaluated based on data and material presented in the scientific literature. Results show that there are substantial gaps between the discourses and the reality of aviation's environmental performance, which might partially explain the controversial understanding of air travel and its environmental consequences among the public.

 In: Journal of Sustainable Tourism