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Aviation has a complicated relationship with carbon dioxide. The byproduct responsible for a large portion of climate change, CO2 is an inevitable consequence of burning hydrocarbons — the only viable source to power commercial aviation since its dawn.

Choosing to travel by air remains one of the most impactful decisions an individual can make regarding their individual carbon footprint — a term first coined by British Petroleum in a 2003 advertisement.

Globally, aviation remains a growth industry. Fluctuating between 2% and 2.5% of global CO2 emissions across all industries since 2000, aviation has more than doubled in revenue passenger kilometers flown while matching the growth of the world’s economies in emissions. That aviation has remained such a relatively small, but highly visible, portion of the 36 gigatons of annual carbon output is matched by the uncomfortable reality that emissions from other sectors have increased proportionately along with aviation.

Related: Climate challenge to aviation sets huge expectations for sustainable fuels

Even as the historic successes by aviation in consistently reducing fuel burn per passenger and, in turn, carbon emissions, the “failure” has been in aviation’s unwillingness to control its growth. Global growth has steadily outpaced the efficiency benefit of new technology with the addition of new flying at ever-higher rates. As fuel consumption has fallen, so has the cost of flying to levels that have unlocked air travel for a larger portion of the world’s population.

Long term industry trends in aircraft size and economics in mature and established markets are informing new consumer behaviors around the purchase of air travel with new search features from Google. This TAC Analysis looks at the big picture of aviation’s contribution to global carbon emissions.

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Courtney Miller is Managing Director of Analysis for The Air Current. Miller most recently spent 10-years with Bombardier Aerospace, serving as director, North America sales for the company’s commercial aircraft line and led airline marketing and analysis for the western hemisphere for airlines in North and South America and the community of global aircraft lessors. Miller is also founder of, where he merged industry history and analysis with insightful and beautiful data visualization to illustrate contemporary trends. Miller is a 3,000-hour U.S. airline pilot and began his career flying for U.S. regional airline Comair. He holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle University and a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Technology from Purdue University. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Metroplex.

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