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Surprising Science

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


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