Climate Change

Airplane Travel More Climate-Friendly Than Car Travel

Flying is less carbon-sinful than driving

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Way back in 2006, the Guardian's green scold George Monbiot headlined an article, "We Are All Killers: Until we stop flying." More recently, the New York Times in 2013 declared that air travel might "your biggest carbon sin." In Monbiot's terms, flying is a mortal, not a venial sin against Gaia. Perhaps not.

In a new analysis reported in R&D Magazine, University of Michigan transportation research Michael Sivak found that it takes twice as much energy to drive than to fly. From R&D Magazine:

He examined recent trends in energy intensity — the amount of energy needed to transport a person a given distance — in light-duty vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickups and vans) versus domestic airline flights. His analysis measured BTU per person mile from 1970 to 2012.

Sivak found that the energy intensity of driving is 2.07 times that of flying. In 2012, BTU per person mile was 4,211 for driving compared to 2,033 for flying. Consequently, the entire fleet of light-duty vehicles would have to improve from the current on-road fuel economy of 21.6 mpg to 44.7 mpg for driving to be as energy intensive as flying.

So if some frequent flyers were ever worried about their carbon sinning, they can now think of it as more of a venial rather than a mortal one. Of course, those especially worried about their carbon sins can always buy carbon indulgences.

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  1. Well, duh, if you really care about climate change, you’ll walk.

    1. If you really cared, you’d commit seppuku and spare gaia all of your emissions.

      1. That’s the only ideologically consistent thing to do. For mother earth.

  2. This makes me happier to be driving my 2015 Mustang GT Convertible. I need to get the mileage down – I was almsot averaging 25MPG. That won’t do!

    *puts lead weights into shoes*

    1. Dude, in the city I get…10 MPG. On the highway I can get that up to…15 MPG.

      1. So the biggest carbon benefit would be eliminating cities?

        1. ^^ SCIENCE

    2. Keep it in a lower gear and put your foot into it at every opportunity.

    3. Burning rubber is even more carbon intensive than burning gasoline.

    4. I like money more than I like annoying environmentalists.

  3. “Our lives are so easy that we actually make up shit to feel guilty about.”

    Why couldn’t these assholes have just become Catholics like normal guilt-prone people do?

    1. Which is even more energy intensive than driving a car.

  4. I wonder what the carbon footprint of not flying 10,000 self-important dignataries to gold pressed latinum-plated environmental conferences is.

    1. Dude, do you realize how much carbon is in latinum? No? Neither do the DS9 writers.

      1. Carbon. That’s what that nude, bald-headed women in the reboot of the Nomad episode was going on about, right?

        1. When her examination is complete, all carbon units will be reduced to data patterns.

          1. That’s her. Just like the Lifeforce vampire, but generally with more clothes and hair, except when she was Patrick Stewart.

  5. Ban all travel, except for heroes like Al Gore.

    1. Yeah, I’m guessing the study refers to commercial jumbo jets, not the private jets preferred by Al Gore. Then again, carbon offsets!

  6. The alternative to flying across the country is not driving, it is this internet thing al gore invented.

    1. The alternative to flying across the country is not driving, it is this internet thing al gore invented.

      He’s just phoning it in at this point anyway.

  7. Or you could just use that greatest invention of all time, prices and money. Since the energy and labor of manufacture plus use are reflected in ticket prices, you can compare ticket prices vs car rental prices and get a pretty good back-of-the-envelope comparison.

    1. Yeah, this study didn’t come across as ‘new’ to me in any sense except that it was published recently. It seems like every couple of years somebody publishes that price-wise, time-wise, and, more recently, environment-wise, ~300 mi. (with all the little price of gas, efficiency of car, remoteness of destination, etc. conditionals tacked on) is where air travel becomes undeniably better than by car.

  8. Tsk, tsk, Bailey. Just giving ammunition to the frequent-flying Al Gore types, are we? 😉

  9. “….light-duty vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickups and vans) versus domestic airline flights. His analysis measured BTU per person mile from 1970 to 2012. Sivak found that the energy intensity of driving is 2.07 times that of flying. In 2012, BTU per person mile was 4,211 for driving compared to 2,033 for flying.”

    I hate to be a skeptic, but there is no friggin’ way it’s more carbon efficient to fly a jet then to drive a normal car for distances shorter than 60 miles. Maybe jet travel is more efficient than a Tesla for 100 or 150 mile trips, but it’s clearly not true over ANY distance. Commercial jets use 400x my daily commute fuel just to taxi, get aloft, and fly 2 miles. Gotta be a caveat in there…

    1. Science Denier!!!!1!1!!

      1. [lowers head, acknowledges denier-guilt]

        1. Hell, I don’t even know her guiit!

  10. I need to get the mileage down – I was almsot averaging 25MPG. That won’t do!

    Second gear, Dude. All the time.

  11. These results should probably be taken with a grain of salt. I looked up the report. It seems that the numbers are essentially # of passenger miles divided by # of gallons of fuel used and averaged over the relevant transportation sector. It seems that this misses a ton of pertinent information. How much energy is used for things like maintaining the planes? How does the average person get to the airport? It only seems fair to count this against air travel since these energy costs would be avoided by driving. This analysis seems fairly typical most of the “green” ilk, in which the other costs of a supposedly superior means of obtaining energy, transportation, etc. are just completely ignored. Kinda like not counting the ecologically devastating mining operations needed to build large battery arrays against Tesla.

  12. No, no! You must take the train or bus. Megabus is much more efficient.

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