United Airlines Wins "Gold" for Environment Work While Fighting Climate Action

Sigh. Airline giant United was named “Eco-Aviation Airline of the Year” today by the industry trade publication Air Transport World. This comes at the same time that United is being called out by industry watchdogs for its major role in lobbying against new regulations to begin curbing the massive amounts of climate pollution the airline industry is responsible for. 

Last year, United Airlines, along with the airline industry lobby group, Airlines for America, led the way on a massive lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to try to kill a plan that would see US airline companies participate in the European Union's climate law for all their flights to and from Europe. Basically, the law would have reduced pollution on all flights to and from the EU, at an estimated cost of only $3 per passenger on trans-Atlantic flights.

United Airlines and the other US carriers were victorious in getting the US government to pass a law that allows the administration to exempt them from the EU carbon reduction plan. This September there will likely be another proposal put on the table at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which will consider a global plan to curb airplane pollution. There is public pressure again on United to voice its support (or at least not to interfere behind close doors, as United and the US airline industry has done in ICAO over the past fifteen years).

At a press conference last month, United elite frequent flier and top Obama-supporter Tom Steyer said, 

“If United wants to stay competitive, it needs to take climate change seriously and act in its customers' - and the planet's - best interest.”

In many ways, United Airlines has been a fly in the ointment when it comes to seeing a global and grand solution to reduce airline climate pollution. 

No mention of any of this, of course, in Air Transport World's awards announcment today.

To be sure, the list of what United Airlines is doing to make their fleet more effiecient should be commended. But given that the airline industry is one of the largest single contributors to global climate emissions, United's list of “eco” actions within the company are a drop in the bucket, if they continue at the same time to resist the large-scale global solutions required to tackle the issue of climate change.

If United Airlines wants to truly deserve their eco gold medal they need to step up to the world stage and lead on the big solutions that get the entire industry to where it needs to be as far as climate emissions. If they don't then I would suggest Air Transport World rethink their criteria for what they deem to be a “Gold Winner in Eco-Aviation.” 

(Photo credit: Aero Icarus on Flickr)