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Coronavirus fears have made air travel unpopular these days. Many individuals and families kept their summer vacations close to home. Air travel is dramatically down, while campgrounds in Ontario are full.
In addition to the threat of COVID-19 that flights pose to our health and safety, airline flights are a threat to the global climate. Their burned fuel produces greenhouse gases - mainly carbon dioxide (CO2). These contribute to global warming when they enter the atmosphere.
A return London-New York flight produces an estimated 2/3 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, according to the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization. That's about the same as the emissions caused by someone living in Ghana over an entire year.
Aviation contributes about 2% of the world's global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). However, the IATA predicts passenger numbers will double to 8.2 billion by 2037.
As other sectors of the economy become greener - with more solar panels and wind turbines, for example - aviation's proportion of total emissions is set to rise.
What is an environmentally-conscious traveller to do?
Let’s compare various forms of transportation based on the amount of carbon dioxide released per kilometre travelled. Of course, the higher the number of people in any given vehicle, the lower the per-person emissions.
The chart that follows demonstrates the enormous GHG impact of vacation flights, one of the reasons that travelers, if they must take a plane, are urged these days to buy carbon offsets to compensate—at least somewhat—for the emissions that are caused by our taking a plane to our destination.
It’s also worth noting how much impact is caused by jumping into a car to travel if it means traveling alone. Clearly cars are a major problem when it comes to emissions.
The chart, by the way, is based on United Kingdom standards of transportation. You’ll notice that “car” refers to the “average diesel car.”
“Eurostar” is the highspeed electric train that runs from London to Europe through the Chunnel. The highspeed trains in Europe are clearly the greenest method for Europeans to travel — and also a good choice for Canadian travelers once they arrive in Europe.
The European countries, with their denser populations, have created a much more convenient rail system for travelers than we have in North America. Despite this, governments here, too, will be looking at changes in transportation to reduce our domestic emissions. It won’t be long before electric cars, buses and trains are the norm.
In the meantime, hiking or bicycle holidays, anyone?