Last Updated on January 12, 2022
On March 10, 2019, and based on the graph above, Bloomberg ran an article about the growth of aviation. Unfortunately, that graph contains two major framings. One is obvious, the other a bit less so, because that one uses four manipulations of the graph.
Let us first identify the manipulations. They are marked in the graph below and will be discussed top to bottom:
In red: aviation is an international worldwide activity and if you restrict data to a specific area, be it an airport, a country or even a continent, you run into allocation issues and misleading representation.
In yellow: the base line of 100% is set in 2020 for aviation and in 1990 for the whole economy.
In blue: for aviation the prediction, 2020 – 2050, is displayed, but not the history.
In green: the history, the first thirty years, is bunched together in the graph space for five years.
The not-so-obvious framing only stands out when you correct for the minor ones, which creates the following graph:
The problem is the sub-headline that frames aviation as not having addressed emissions issues, while other sectors took their responsibility.
Historically that is obviously not true: the growth of aviation emissions was about the same as that of the economy as a whole: about 2.5% per year.
But the growth of aviation is on average twice that of the economy as a whole: about 5% per year. So for at least the last thirty years aviation was already very active and successful in cutting back emissions. And of course, it is precisely this head-start that makes it very difficult to improve even further, while other sectors are just starting to cut back.
So, the prediction that, if nothing changes, from now on aviation emissions will grow with 5% per year is probably correct.
But this brings us to the other major framing. The graph expects the total world-wide emissions to drop to about 20% by 2050.
This total includes the aviation emissions. So, this can only be true if the aviation emissions, despite their rise (to 345% in this graph), will remain a minor part of the whole.
Quite a lot of people are not very good with math and even worse with percentages. That is why framers use this type of framing a lot. But for people used to working with numbers and percentages the obvious message from this graph is quite different than the framing. Aviation is not the Big Bad Wolf in the world of climate change: aviation has relatively little influence.
The people at business-oriented media outlet Bloomberg probably have percentages for breakfast. That they missed this must be a blooper.