Home News Travel Planes, trains or automobiles? Breaking down the most emissive forms of travel

Planes, trains or automobiles? Breaking down the most emissive forms of travel

Planes, trains or automobiles?  Breaking down the most emissive forms of travel

SAN DIEGO — As you’re booking flights for this spring or summer, are you thinking about
how much pollution you might be contributing? It’s probably not on most people’s minds. Well, in this Earth 8 report, Neda Iranpour shows why it helps to at least know our carbon footprint to determine which way to travel.

When you’re considering planes, trains, or automobiles, there’s no doubt planes will get you there the fastest. But as we’ve learned with a lot of research on the environment, what’s convenient isn’t always the best for our climate.

This is not an Earth 8 piece that’s going to tell you not to fly. This is an Earth 8 piece that will hopefully help us become wiser travelers.

Emily Carlton is a Research Associate with UC San Diego’s School of Global
Policy and Strategy and she explains, “When you fly an airplane it’s very energy intensive. It takes a lot of jet fuel to get that massive machine and all of that cargo and people into the air.”

That jet fuel is producing carbon dioxide and other pollutants which are contributing to global warming, “Such a small population goes out and flies in airplanes, but the emissions go out and affect everybody on the planes,” said Carlton.

She and her team look at carbon’s impact on our planet.

Neda asked her for the stats on what she thought would be a typical flight for many: San Diego to San Francisco and back.

A flight emits nearly 400 kilograms of CO2, a car emits under 350 kilograms, an electric car emits around 50 kilograms and a train emits around 100 kilograms.

Clearly the plane has the highest emissions but even an EV doesn’t come with zero emissions, and that’s in part due to how we charge them.

Carlton says, “You’re not emitting from your tailpipe anymore but there’s still emission embedded in the electricity you’re using to charge your car.”

Power companies still use natural gas for electricity in many areas which is why EV’s still also contribute a small amount of carbon.

Although Carlton points out, California is moving quicker to decarbonize our grid with solar and wind energy, “As we put more renewables on the grid those emissions will go down over time.”

Consider a trip from San Diego to New York and back, you can see how much higher emissions go up. All the way up to around 1300 kilograms of CO2. But again, an EV wins with the least emissions.

Carlton and the team of researchers recognize aviation as the most emissive
way to travel. But she recognizes, “Aviation creates benefits it connects us in a way no other transportation can so it’s really important to find ways to decarbonize aviation.”

Some have tried using waste oils like used cooking oil to fuel planes.
There’s also research being done right now on electric flight or hydrogen powered flight.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego County’s climate change plan is to be at zero carbon emissions by 2045


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here