Mitigating Climate Change Makes Business Sense for United

By Joel Finkelstein
Climate & Energy, Political Strategy

When Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. east coast last year, more than 5,300 United Airlines flights were cancelled in the aftermath. The cancelled flights and ensuing chaos cost the airline giant an estimated US$35 million in lost profits.

A recent report by one of the largest insurance companies, Munich Re, titled: Severe Weather in North America, finds that North America, “has experienced the largest increases in weather-related loss events.” The report echoes what the science is telling us, namely that:

Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity. The view that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming is in keeping with current scientific findings…

In a nutshell, warmer oceans mean larger and more frequent hurricanes.

This is of course bad news for all of us, but also pretty unfortunate for airline companies like United, who need relatively calm skies to fly their planes. In fact, Hurricane Sandy resulted in 5,300 canceled United Airlines flights, costing the company $35 million in lost profits. Such massive costs are only going to increase for United and the rest of the airline industry as extreme weather events due to climate change become more frequent.

Fact is that the airline industry is one of the largest emitters of climate change pollution in the world. A recent New York Times article reported that just a few cross-country USA or international flights a year can quickly add up to more pollution than an average American emits driving or burning electricity for their home in one year.

You would think the airline industry would be on board with battling to prevent the worst effects of our warming planet. Seems to me, that it would just make good business sense.

Surprisingly, United Airlines is doing the opposite. The company has been fighting regulations on their pollution for years, and as we speak they are fighting to avoid a minimal charge for the climate change pollution their airplanes emit.

An international body that works with governments called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is meeting right now to decide whether to pursue a global program to reduce airplane pollution.

This group has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of successful global efforts to reduce nuclear arms, close the hole in the ozone layer, ban land mines and stop acid rain. Or, it can go the way of similar aviation negotiations over the past 15 years and never take off.

United Airlines wants the ICAO decision to go away. They do not want to be charged a fee for polluting our skies. They do not want to take part in a global program to avoid the worst impacts of climate change that is already costing their company tens-of-millions of dollars. Instead, United, along with other U.S. airlines, are spending millions on lobbyists to convince the U.S. government to fight a meaningful ICAO decision.

It just doesn’t make any sense.

ICAO has until June to make a final proposal, which will be brought to a vote next September. You can take action right now and tell United Airlines to get out of the way and start making sense.

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On February 25, 2013

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