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“It does not harm the environment!”

Gössling, S., Peeters, P.M.

Bibliographical information:
Gössling, S. & Peeters, P. M. (2007) “It does not harm the environment!” An analysis of industry discourses on tourism, air travel and the environment. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 15 (4), 402–417

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 article seeks to understand this phenomenon by analysing the discourses surrounding air travel. Four major industry discourses are identified: air travel is energy efficient; air travel’s share of total emissions is negligible; fuel use is constantly minimized and new technology will solve the problem. 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.
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