Driving vs. Flying: Carbon Emissions and Spring Break Travel

Going green — By Stephanie on March 18, 2010 at 5:13 am
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Central Oregon Highways....

Its almost Spring Break for my kids here in Oregon.  We’re planning a trip to Southern California (and for those that think I’m nuts to write about this, my house will be occupied, so its not saying “ROB ME” while we’re gone).

With 4 kids and 2 adults, we think it makes more economic sense to drive the 940 miles than to fly.  But I was curious about the difference in carbon emissions for the trip.  Is there a point at which you can lower your carbon emissions for travel?

Let’s consider the statistics.  First for Driving:

  • 2003 Honda Pilot 4WD
  • Average highway gas mileage: 21 mpg
  • Miles to travel: 940 (each way)
  • Estimated annual carbon emissions 10.8 tons (wow!)

According to the Energy Information Administration each gallon of gasoline you burn produces 19.564 pounds of CO2.  That means that if we reach the top estimated range of 21 mpg on our spring break trip, we’ll go through about 45 gallons of gas, each way.  We’ll go through a total of 873 pounds of CO2 on the trip down, and the same for our return.  That’s about 145 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per person.

Now for Flying:

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Driving beats flying sometimes when it comes to CO2 emissions

For a one-way, non-stop flight from Redmond International Airport to Palm Desert Airport, Webflyer.com calculates a distance of 769 miles.  The total flying time is approximately 2 hours.  Over that flight, a 737-300 jet fully-loaded with 137 passengers would burn 10,363 pounds of jet fuel. One gallon of jet fuel weighs 6.7 lbs so 10,363 lbs would equal 1546.7 gallons burned in total.  Our family would be accountable for 6/137ths of that total, or about 67.74 gallons of jet fuel.  The Energy Information Administration has determined that burning one gallon of jet fuel generates 21.095 pounds of CO2.

So flying from Redmond to Palm Desert would generate about 1,429 pounds of CO2 for six people on a 737-300 full with 137 passengers.  If there are fewer passengers, the amount of carbon emissions attributable to our family would rise.  This also does not include the mileage driving to and from the airport (about 25 miles each way).

Its fascinating to compare the statistics for carbon emissions and spring break travel.  Before you make your vacation plans this year, why not calculate your own greenhouse gas emissions beforehand?  Spring, summer, or winter vacations… you may be surprised!

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