Flying the friendly skies
Average carbon rank: 4 out of 5
As you may have guessed, air travel is almost always the most carbon-intensive mode of transportation for your summer getaway. Of course, international travel is obviously quite difficult – though not impossible – without flying. And for travelers who can only get a few precious days off from work, spending two or more of those days in a car, train or bus often seems less than desirable.
So, let’s break it down by numbers to see just how much carbon impact that flight really racks up.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, air travel is actually one of the most efficient means of transportation (other than motor coach) for solo travelers – emitting less than 1,000 pounds of C02 for a 2,000-mile trip, compared to more than 2,000 pounds created by driving an average car alone for the same distance. But the numbers stack up a bit differently for everyone else.
For two people, flying economy nonstop edges out diesel-powered trains and driving in any vehicle other than a fuel-efficient hybrid for trips of 500 miles or more. Families of four are better off driving an average car, taking a motor coach or traveling via electric-powered train when compared to flying for all trips.
The good news; if you must fly to your destination, there are still a few things you can do to shrink your carbon footprint.
Many researchers say that flying coach carries a smaller carbon footprint, as first-class seats take up more space, reducing the number of passengers that a plane can carry. Nonstop flights also produce fewer carbon emissions.
In attempt to reduce the eco-guilt assosciated with air travel, many airlines and travel sites also allow customers to purchase carbon credits to offset the impact of their travel. Typically, these credits support alternative energy projects and are said to counter-balance carbon impact.
Using public transportation or driving a fuel-efficient car carries a smaller footprint than air travel in almost all cases. That said, air travel is one of the most variable modes of transportation with respect to carbon emissions. Per-person emissions vary based on the number of seats filled in the airplane, distance traveled, number of stops and directness of route – among many other factors. Use a carbon calculator to see how your emissions truly stack up.