We've been thinking a lot about travel recently. After writing the blog about carbon offsets we started talking about how much greenhouse gases airplanes emit into our atmosphere. So what are the most eco-friendly ways to travel? How should we choose our transportation to get to work, to run errands, and for our next holiday?
According to the International Energy Agency 2009 report on “Transport, Energy and CO2”, transportation accounts for approximately 25% of the world’s “energy-related CO2 emissions.” That’s a lot of greenhouse gases and it's only expected to rise. We need to understand which forms of transportation have the largest and smallest carbon footprints and make adjustments in our lives accordingly.
Planes, Trains, and Cars
National Geographic did a study comparing the carbon output of various forms of transportation. They wanted to find out the most efficient way to travel from New York to Toronto.
Distance Time Passenger mile/gal. CO2/passenger
Plane 352 miles 1hr. 35m 40 75.3 kg
Train 544 miles 12hr. 30m 59 84.3 kg
Car (SUV) 472 miles 8hr. 15m 52 80.7 kg
Bus 472 miles 10hr. 30m 180 24 kg
Electric Car 472 miles 8hr. 15m 239 11 kg
Clearly the plane was the fastest and traveled the shortest distance but it was the least efficient with only 40 passenger miles per gallon and 75.3 kg of CO2 emissions. This was followed by the train, then the car (SUV), bus, and lastly the electric car was by far the most efficient.
If you want to know even more about the fuel efficiency of each airline, the International Council on Clean Transportation published a report in 2010 showing how the top 15 airlines compare with each other. Alaska Airlines was the most fuel efficient airline with American Airlines close to the bottom.
Walking and biking
Let’s not forget about walking which is the original form of transportation. It not only is the most sustainable but it has significant health benefits. Who knows, in some cities such as New York, it might even be faster than driving at times.
Another great form of transportation is bicycles. Their only emissions come about in the manufacturing of the bike and a few tires over the years. They're not only environmentally friendly, but also faster than walking.
There are a few other forms of transportation we haven't covered such as scooters and motorcycles, but let’s end on the biggest offender of all. Cruise ships produce a long list of pollution and are extremely inefficient. A study done in Croatia showed that “the average CO2 emissions for a 3000-passenger cruise ship was 1200 kg/km” (1931 kg CO2/mile) and just think of how many miles each cruise ship travels! That dwarfs all other forms of transportation.
So, next time you and your family plan a trip, give the environment a little consideration when choosing how you travel. If it's close enough, maybe you can plan a fun road trip or even bus ride instead of flying.
Traveling from NYC to Toronto: National Geographic