Air Travel’s Carbon Impact

Air Travel's Carbon ImpactEver wonder about the impact of air travel on your carbon footprint? What does one roundtrip to visit a friend or relative do to your carbon footprint?

Some experts call it the biggest carbon sin and have calculated that in terms of an individuals’ carbon footprint, it about the same as if every passenger on the plane was driving alone in their own Hummer across those clear blue skies. No wonder there’s a jet stream visible from miles away.

We all do are bit to minimize our carbon footprint, but a single or cluster of flights, any budding tree-hugger can neutralize their carbon footprint reducing intentions. Don’t let this discourage your ever-greening behavior to help our environment or dissuade your efforts to shrink your carbon footprint, just be mindful of the downside and try to minimize your flights and try to only fly when driving or taking the train are not feasible options.

Its been estimated that flying is like driving a Hummer in terms of carbon footprint impact, air mile to surface mile. Imagine we’re all seating comfy in our airline seat each driving a big fat Hummer across the skies. Its a congested nightmare.

Two of the larger airlines in America have online carbon calculators. United’s is well done, whereas Delta’s appears to be still under development.

The best of this short list of options is United’s Eco-skies. Putting United’s carbon calculator to the test, we assumed that a couple flew roundtrip from Chicago to LA in July. United calculates that this trip generates 1.47 metric tons and footnotes that it doesn’t take into account the upstream related emissions from distillery and transportation activities getting the fuel to the plan. If you want to include that, just add another 16%. A typical family in America generates about 50 metric tons of CO2 annually. So this single trip, few hour trip is about 3% of the yearly average. Start flying a few times a year, maybe a few cross country trips and your carbo footprint could expand by 50, 100% or even 200%.

Delta carbon calculator is still essentially a placeholder. Well at least the framework of good intentions is currently on the page, but curiously the functionality of calculating your footprint is no where to be found as of April ’16. Perhaps its still in the works, or the link is hidden, but the good environmental intentions were at least there.

To assuage you guilt of expelling all this CO2 into the environment, you can comfortably donate $30 or 4000 award miles and then sit back and relax and sip your sugar flavored water from a clear plastic cup.

All this enchanted awareness is a start, but its not going to carry the day in reducing your carbon footprint. Flying has an overwhelming impact on ones carbon footprint – one so large that it takes a long, long time to really offset with smart daily living habits. For this reason, all we can advise is to minimize air travel as much as possible, drive is possible, don’t even go if that’s feasible. Or going less frequently and combine trips. Better yet, video conference or Facetime the next time.


About the author

Keith Blizzard

A life-long environmentalist, Keith set out on the never ending journey of adjusting his lifestyle to a more sustainable one, with a goal of annually shrinking his carbon footprint. When he looked around for a dependable source of meaningful carbon footprint reduction ideas, it was pretty lame - so he launched Green Blizzard loaded with eco-friendly lifestyle tweaks. When he's not managing Green Blizzard, you'll find him on the trails around Mid Coast Maine with his trusty trail companion mutt, Moose.