Aviation has been called “the fastest way to fry the planet.” Peak holiday flight departures from London’s Heathrow airport will take place this ‘Fry-day’ on 21 July 2023. And this year the milestone will coincide with a second European ultra heatwave.

The Ministry for the Climate Emergency is therefore acting on official scientific advice to reduce aviation demand with the public information campaign, ‘Planes on the Brain’. The message: we need to stop promoting pollution.

The campaign is launched as peak heat hits peak holiday season in the UK and Europe. At the beginning of July global heating temperature records were broken three times with initial indications that this was the world’s hottest week on record.


While flying for business has dropped post-pandemic to a potentially permanent new, lower level – due to savings on cost, time and carbon and the rise of virtual meetings – heavily promoted and polluting leisure flights are back close to record levels.  

UK aviation emissions adding to climate change “almost doubled in 2022 compared with 2021” according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government own climate advisors, leading the experts to point out the lack of, and need for, a national strategy to reduce air travel.

The airline industry has missed 98 percent of its previous environmental targets, yet is still planning to at least double passenger numbers by 2050. The ‘Fly Net Zero’ plan addresses as little as one half of aviation’s climate impact and ignores the non-carbon effects of flights.

Research indicates that additional flights being taken due to their promotion by advertising could result in up to 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in a year.


The CCC’s new, official, assessment of the UK’s progress report on climate action makes stark reading for the UK Government. 

It finds that: it’s current Jet Zero strategy to meet climate targets has “considerable delivery risks”; will lead to a 70 percent increase in demand by 2050; there should be “no net airport expansion across the UK”.

It also makes the case that “a coherent public engagement strategy on climate action is long overdue” and this is essential to “empower and inform households and communities to make low-carbon choices” and reduce air and car travel.

In the absence of such a public engagement strategy, the unofficial Ministry for the Climate Emergency is stepping in with a public health and climate campaign called ‘Planes on the brain.’ 

The key CCC recommendation concerning aviation is the need for a policy framework to reduce demand for flights. 


The ‘Planes on the brain’ public information campaign responds to that call by raising awareness of the dangers of exposure to aviation advertising which seeks to do the opposite, increasing demand for flights, and sets out proposals for an end to the active promotion of flying with a tobacco-style end to airline adverts. 

According to the same recent CCC report: “Demand management is an effective way of reducing aviation CO2 and non-CO2 emissions”; “substantial changes to behaviours are possible”; and “consumers increasingly consider the impact of flying on the environment when considering travelling by air.”

By far the simplest and most painless way to begin managing aviation demand is to stop promoting it with ubiquitous airline adverts.

Highlights of the Ministry’s Planes on the Brain campaign include an animation voiced by Dr Chris Van Tulleken, an expert in commerciogenic diseases – health problems that result from the profit driven promotion of products with known harmful effects.

The film is about the new, dangerous condition dubbed ‘planes on the brain’, caused by exposure to aviation advertising, and a unique travel brochure showing the reality of the impact of flying that sits behind the usual glossy adverts.

A virtual billboard campaign completes the picture.

Travel better

It is proving a disaster for the climate that just as people had found less polluting ways to enjoy holiday – using other forms of transport and holidaying in less far flung locations –  frequent flying has crept back after being heavily promoted by the airline industry. 

Yet the scientific advice to reduce demand for flying is now as clear as a blue sky with the contrails removed. 

Ending airline adverts to stop the active promotion of pollution will save lives and help slow and reverse global heating, just as we reduced smoking deaths by ending tobacco advertising.

People will still be able to fly, but it will take away the extra flights that happen because of the millions spent promoting frequent flying. 


Planes on the Brain shows the insidious effects of high carbon advertising and how it works to undermine the best climate advice, locking in the behaviours and lifestyles in the rich world that are driving environmental collapse.

“We had to make this campaign because the government is ignoring its own advisors. It is time we stopped actively promoting our own self destruction,” says my colleague, Leo Murray, director of innovation at climate action charity, Possible, and co-creator of the campaign.

The Planes on the Brain campaign seeks to the implement the advice of the UK House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee report into behaviour change from late 2022 that concluded: “The Government should introduce measures to regulate advertising of high-carbon and environmentally damaging products.”

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