Frequent Air Travel has a 'Dark Side,' Say Researchers

Apparently, there's a lot more to be worried about than the environment.

Air travel comes at a serious cost, and not just in terms of monetary value, but also to our health, relationships, and the environment, according to researchers from the University of Surrey and Lund University in Sweden.


Lead author Dr. Scott Cohen explains that travel has become a kind of fashion statement when the end result of a jet-setting lifestyle is really anything but:

“The reality is that most people who are required to engage in frequent travel suffer high levels of stress, loneliness, and long-term health problems. There are also wider implications for the environment and sustainability. In this context, hypermobility seems far from glamourous."

The paper is not the typical research study we often feature on Big Think. The authors write that their paper is more of a review of the literature surrounding travel that's “subjectively biased, is not comprehensive, and should be viewed as a starting point or ‘launch pad’ rather than an end in itself.”

So, let's start talking: How bad is air travel on a personal and global level?

Air travel is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. As of 2015, air travel alone accounted for 2.5 percent of global emissions, which is about the same as Germany's contributions. Airplanes may be contributing to their own flight conditions, as one past study revealed that climate change was altering the jet streams, causing more incidents of clear-air turbulence, and that rate is expected to double by 2050. Given that air travel is such a huge contributor to climate change, climate scientists have even argued if it’s ethically right for them to fly, especially when technology enables people to appear at conferences and meetings remotely. However, emission standards and advancements in biofuel may ease some of these environmental concerns.

On a personal level, they talk about how bad constant travel can be on your health and well-being. Traveling can be an isolating experience, and when you don't have a partner to share it with, the journey may feel less fulfilling.

Cohen explained in a press release:

"The level of physiological, physical, and societal stress that frequent travels places upon individuals has potentially serious and long-term negative effects that range from the breaking down of family relationships, to changes in our genes due to lack of sleep.”

Constant jet lag can play with our internal clocks and affect our sleep patterns, which in turn play with our psychological health. Poor sleep quality has been linked to an inability to read emotions and even the development of Alzheimer's. There are also the physical risks to consider, like deep vein thrombosis and the consequence of radiation exposure.

Read the press release at Science Daily and the full study.

Photo Credit: PATRIK STOLLARZ / Stringer/ Getty

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less