Sky Gods – The Price of Our Love of Flying (Documentary)
This documentary lays out the conflict that many are familiar with by now: a love of flying and everything it brings vs. the knowledge of the harm it does to the environment.
Produced by Sarah Robertson and Bernice Notenboom, the documentary follows Notenboom (an explorer and climate journalist) on her journey to understand carbon. Along the way, Notenboom meets with airlines and airport leaders, scientists, academics, and environmental experts to get a rounded perspective on the relationship between aviation and the climate.
The first half of the documentary forces viewers to address the cognitive dissonance between flying and the damage it causes. Opening with upsetting footage of the Chile fires, and painful facts about the shrinking of the arctic ice, the reality of the climate crisis is brought home.
Turning to the aviation industry’s role in this, the quantities of jetfuel that are burned through are highlighted, stating that in 2019 global production reached 200 billion litres a year. Delving deeper, issues that have made headlines recently are explored such as contrails which are responsible for two-thirds of aviation’s contribution to environmental problems.
These problems are contextualised with the late explosion in numbers of passengers with the increase in Chinese passengers, the rising luxury of business travel, and unsustainable millennial travel habits who are vacationing for an average of thirty-five days a year. One particularly powerful message conveyed was that only five per-cent of the world’s population has ever flown in a plane. The problems caused by the few and being paid for by the many.
Aviation’s impact on the environment is something everyone is aware of, but viewers are forced to sit and confront it. The message is clear: things cannot continue this way.
Whilst the impact flying has on the climate is made indisputably clear, the documentary also highlights the reality that flying is not going to disappear. Planes have the ability to connect families, show people the world, and access incredible opportunities – they are sky gods.
Consequently, the second half of the documentary pivots towards how we can make aviation compatible with a respect for the environment. Here, Notenboom explored the various ways experts are attempting to reconcile these. From carbon fibre planes, to fuel efficient engines, streamlining of routes, and the limitations of carbon offsetting.
In a particularly interesting conversation, Notenboom asks easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren why do they not just raise ticket prices thereby cutting the number of flights. In response, Lundgren describes it as “a dangerous social experiment” to turn the clocks back to a time when only the privileged and wealthy could fly. This again highlighted the complexities involved in solving the climate problem.
The solution appears to be technology. Through an inspiring set of conversations with scientists and experts, Notenboom explores the development of sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen fuels, electric planes, biofuels, and synthetic jetfuel. This would enable carbon to be cut at the source as opposed to offset. The countless people working on these solutions was inspiring, but again, not without limitations. The price, availability, and demand are all areas which need to be resolved.
The overall message of the documentary was: although the various industries involved are working to make flying reconcilable with addressing climate problems, currently the technology is not where it needs to be. As a result, for now people should reduce flights where they can whilst the industry fights to make flying genuinely sustainable.
Touching, realistic, and well-rounded this documentary explores the impact of aviation on the environment whilst remaining attentive to the subtle complexities of addressing this problem.
This documentary will be shown at this year’s World Aviation Festival. The trailer can be watched here.
Sustainability is a huge topic this year at the World Aviation Festival with industry experts gather to discuss how to meet sustainability targets.
Article by Jess Brownlow