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Flying Is Bad for the Environment, Here Are Some Tips to Make It Less Carbon-Intensive
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=49848"><span class="small">Elizabeth Weise, USA Today</span></a>   
Sunday, 30 December 2018 14:39

Weise writes: "Here's something to ponder as you think about making your New Year's resolutions: There's something you could skip just one or two times a year that could reduce your carbon footprint by as much as 10 to 20 percent."

A Boeing 737-800 of low-cost airline Norwegian flying near Oslo airport in Gardermoen. (photo: Kyrre Lien/AFP/Getty Images)
A Boeing 737-800 of low-cost airline Norwegian flying near Oslo airport in Gardermoen. (photo: Kyrre Lien/AFP/Getty Images)


Flying Is Bad for the Environment, Here Are Some Tips to Make It Less Carbon-Intensive

By Elizabeth Weise, USA Today

30 December 18

 

ere’s something to ponder as you think about making your New Year’s resolutions: There’s something you could skip just one or two times a year that could reduce your carbon footprint by as much as 10 to 20 percent. It’s something that’s kind of a hassle anyway and costs a pretty penny to boot.

No brainer, right?

Well, then. To be on your way of having the carbon footprint of a bicycle-riding, plastic-recycling European, all you have to do is cut one or two flights a year out of your life.

If you do fly, there are also tips for making it more carbon efficient. 

It’s a choice more and more people are making, in part because air travel puts a lot of climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When Karyn Hunt began planning a December trip to Disneyland, she faced a choice. Her family of five could catch a flight from their San Francisco-area home or they could drive.

Their first thought was to fly from San Francisco International Airport. But over the past few years Hunt and her husband have begun making small steps to minimize the amount of climate change-causing carbon they add to the atmosphere. Flying less is one of those changes.

 “When I’m out on the freeway I can see one plane after another launching from SFO, and I think ‘This just doesn’t make sense. We’re traveling too much,’” she said.

So instead of hopping on a flight, they piled into their plug-in hybrid car and drove the 380 miles to Anaheim, California.

“It was cramped and a little uncomfortable, but it felt like the right decision,” she said.

For when you do fly, buying carbon offsets to compensate for the carbon dioxide the flight produces is another option.

That was the choice Bishop Marc Andrus, of the Episcopal Diocese of California, made in October when he measured his carbon footprint using an app the diocese rolled out this fall, SustainIslandHome.org.

“It was not good. I fly a lot,” he said.

All but one of his flights in the previous year had been for work, for which he needed to be physically present. Instead, he chose to buy carbon offsets to reduce CO2 emissions in another area, equivalent to what his flights were producing.

“The money went to preserve prairie land in the United States and old growth forests in Peru,” he said. “It is less than the cost of a checked bag per flight! People don’t realize how reasonable it is,” he said. 

If lowering your carbon footprint is on your possible list of New Year’s resolutions, here are some tips.

Fly less

Flying takes a lot of energy, which means releasing a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There’s just no way around it, creating the thrust necessary to push a 130,000 pound airplane 35,000 feet above the Earth, keep it there for a couple of hours and then bring it down safely takes a lot of jet fuel.

“It really does matter. If there’s one thing a single person can do with maximum effect, it’s thinking about their flights,” said Dietrich Brockhagen, executive director of Atmosfair, a German non-profit that focuses on flight emissions.

How often you fly also matters. The average per capita emission of carbon for the Americas is about 16 metric tons, said Stefan Gössling, an economics professor at Sweden's Linnaeus University and co-editor of the book, "Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions."

One flight from the West to the East coast across the U.S. produces at a minimum 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. If all climate-change causing emissions are included, one flight from the United States to Asia or from Asia to Europe can produce as much as 5 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions, which includes both carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, he said. To put that in perspective, 5 metric tons is the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by every human each year on the planet. 

Burning jet fuel releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Greenhouse gases block heat from escaping from the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise just like in a greenhouse. 

"About 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from traveling," including air travel, hotels, food and sundries, said Arunima Malik, a researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia who studies the carbon footprint of tourism.

Humans have increased the Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, according to NASA. The extra carbon dioxide has caused temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors, scientists report. During the 20th century the Earth's average temperature increased about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows.  

What we do matters

About 80 percent of human beings will never set foot on a plane in their lives, said Gössling. Of the 20 percent that do, Americans are the biggest users of flight miles anywhere. One-third of all air traffic globally takes place in the United States, he said.

Air travel contributes about 1 gigaton of CO2 to the Earth’s atmosphere each year. Humans added 32.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. 

None of this means people shouldn’t fly at all anymore, just that they should be thoughtful about it, said David Doniger, senior strategic director for the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington D.C.

“You can’t tell people not to go to Cousin Ralph’s for Thanksgiving and do a video conference instead. That isn’t going to cut it. But small choices can make big differences,” he said.

Nonstop is best

Flying nonstop is much more energy efficient than flying multiple hops. That’s because takeoffs and ascent require significantly more energy than cruising at altitude – as much as 75 percent of fuel usage on a flight of 430 miles, said Dan Rutherford, director of aviation programs at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

So the fewer times you have to take off per trip, the better.

“The optimal length of a flight is 3,000 miles, so basically across the United States,” he said. That's because really long-haul flight, such as from San Francisco to Beijing, require planes to carry extra fuel, making them heavier and less efficient.

No short hops

From a scientific viewpoint, everything that’s below 600 miles, taking a train, a bus or driving is much more efficient, especially if you've got more than one person in the car, said Gössling.

Buses are becoming more popular in the United States. Millennials and post-Millennials especially have embraced Greyhound and new bus carriers such as Megabus and BoltBus that offer cheap tickets, WiFi and mobile booking apps. They have been expanding rapidly since 2014, according to researchers at DePaul University in Chicago.

Stay longer

One option is taking one long vacation rather than two short ones, or flying to one destination and staying put.

“You gain a more intimate relation to the destination, so if you want to really want get to know the people there, stay longer. In one week you can’t accomplish much but in two weeks you can,” said Brockhagen. 

Don’t fly business

The amount of energy required to fly a plane is divided among the people being flown. The more people, the more energy efficient. Business class and first-class seat fewer people, so they’re less efficient.

Depending on the size of the area for each seat, business class is usually between two or three times as energy intensive as economy class. First class, especially when it includes lie-flat beds, can be as much as four times as energy intensive, said Gössling.

And it doesn’t get you off the hook to simply say the seats would be there whether you sit in them or not. Buying business class seats encourages airlines to create more in their planes, making them overall less efficient per passenger.

“You’re encouraging the airlines to install more business class seating so it’s a net negative,” said Rutherford.

Carry less stuff

The more your baggage weighs, the more the plane has to carry and the less energy efficient it is. So pack light.        

Consider carbon offsets

These are programs run by nonprofits that allow you to purchase a carbon offset equivalent to how much carbon your flight costs. For example, Atmosfair has a program that subsidize the cost of fuel-efficient cookstoves sold in Africa that decrease the amount of wood and other carbon-emitting fuel people must burn to cook. 

“You’re effectively paying money into something that seeks to save energy and emissions elsewhere,” said Gössling.

Many U.S. airlines also partner with carbon offset programs, including Delta, JetBlue and United. Though you have to search their websites to find the information.

Don’t fly supersonic

OK, supersonic flights haven’t been available since the Concord stopped flying in 2003. But there are several startups working to reintroduce them and there’s support from the Trump administration to do so with a target date of 2025.

“But by our estimates, they will burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger seat,” than regular jets, said Rutherford.

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