“You are now free to move about the country.” We love to fly, and it shows. Airports and airplanes are crowded. It’s finally affordable and possible to just jump on an airplane and “fly the friendly skies” to grandma and the distant kids for a long-awaited holiday hug. “You deserve a break today” in some warm exotic place. Leave COVID confinement a thousand miles behind. What takes days by car is just a couple of hours away by plane. The power and roar of a jet engine taking off is a sign of “something special in the air”—massive amounts of carbon dioxide, CO2.
But you can fly green. I’ll explain.
A single weekend flight, Detroit to Los Angeles, four thousand air miles round trip, emits more CO2 per passenger seat than the average American car emits in three months. Automobiles with two passengers produce only half the CO2 per person. But airplane miles and CO2 are rated per seat. Two passengers generate 8,000 miles of airplane CO2 instead of 4,000. If you and another fly to Los Angeles, that rate comes to the equivalent of almost seven months of automobile CO2 in a weekend!
Jet fuel, aviation gas, and automobile gas each emit almost twenty pounds of CO2 per gallon. On average, an airplane produces over fifty-three pounds of CO2 per air mile. A 747 airplane can carry up to 568 people and 63,000 gallons of fossil fuel. It burns about 5 gallons of fuel per mile, about 1 gallon per second! That 4,000 mile flight generates (4,000 miles x 53 lbs. CO2 per mile) 212,000 lbs.—100 tons of CO2! In 2019, the average domestic commercial flight emitted 0.39 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile. 4,000 miles x 0.39 CO2 per mile = 1,560 lbs. CO2 per person.
Today, globally, there are more than 100,000 flights per day.
Global airline passengers are expected to double in the next 20 years. Improving fuel efficiency (proudly claimed by many airlines) reduces emissions 1% per year but flights are increasing 6% per year. It’s not even close. Airline CO2 is rising.
Some airlines promise “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” (SAF – biofuels) but hardly any is available. One popular airline boldly committed to replacing 10% of fossil jet fuel with SAFs by 2030 (90% will still be fossil fuel).
Fly greener. Compensate for airline emissions by buying carbon offsets. Offsets try to neutralize airplane CO2 by preventing or removing equivalent CO2 elsewhere. However, it is hard to be sure an offset will permanently “absorb” the emissions your flight generates.
Some offsets plant trees to capture CO2, but seedlings take 20 years to grow big enough to be effective. If seedlings or trees die or are cut down or burn in a wildfire within the next 200 years, the CO2 returns to the air. Instead of planting trees, we must focus on growing and protecting trees, especially the biggest and longest-lived trees, for centuries.
Some offsets support social programs in poor countries that build schools to educate people about carbon solutions and sustainability. They build roads and ranger stations to help prevent illegal logging or provide more efficient cookstoves so very poor families burn less wood for cooking or use less fossil energy. My favorite offsets support methane capture or solar and wind energy projects which directly prevent CO2.
You choose how your offset dollars are used. Average offset prices are between $3-$50 per ton of CO2. Some people annually offset all their CO2. Consider the United Nation’s Gold Standard certification (https://marketplace.goldstandard.org/collections/projects or https://clear.eco/).
Steve Waller’s family lives in a wind- and solar-powered home. He has been involved with conservation and energy issues since the 1970s and frequently teaches about energy. Steve can be reached at Steve@UPWallers.net.
Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.