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Reducing the Impact of Flying

Sorry I was incommunicado last week. Things have been a little crazy, what with our trip to Chicago for our friends’ wedding (congrats, Jim and Raquel!) and my upcoming work trip to Cuba. Between the two of them, they’ve really added to my carbon footprint for the year in just a month.

Two four-hour round-trip plane trips emit more than a ton of CO2. This is the difference between, say, driving a hybrid rather than a regular car—or going vegetarian rather than eating meat—for a whole year!  It really makes me think about how a few big choices can outweigh a thousand little ones. I try to concentrate my efforts in order of efficiency (most impact, least effort; most impact, most effort; least impact, least effort; least impact, most effort) but sometimes I get distracted by day-to-day stuff.

Obviously, choosing not to fly would save a lot of CO2, but what if it can’t be avoided (or it’s important enough that you really don’t want to avoid it)? There are a few things we can do to minimize the effects of plane travel.

  • Book nonstop flights – Up to 50% of fuel is used in takeoff (depending on the length of the flight), so it’s better to only do this once.
  • Don’t fly short-haul – In addition to improving the takeoff/flight ratio for fuel consumption, shorter trips are far more efficient by bus, train, even car, than by plane.
  • Don’t take the red eyeAirplane exhaust trails have more of a greenhouse effect at night.
  • Offset your travel with carbon credits – I don’t generally think that carbon credits actually make up for reducing carbon used in the first place, but it does help assuage my guilt a little. Just make sure to buy them from a reputable company. Native Energy is my favorite, but TerraPass is another good one.

Don’t worry—I’m not such a Debbie downer that I’m letting my worries about my carbon footprint ruin my trips this month. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to share when I get back.

One year ago: To Save Energy, Use the Dishwasher?


Comment from LC Fiore
Time December 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for this post. Apparently, Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines) is concerned about this very thing:

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