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(77,419 posts)
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 09:52 AM Feb 2016

How Far Can We Get Without Flying?

from YES! Magazine:

How Far Can We Get Without Flying?
When a climate scientist decided to stop flying to cut his carbon emissions, he got a glimpse of the post-oil future.

Peter Kalmus
posted Feb 11, 2016

I’m a climate scientist who doesn’t fly. I try to avoid burning fossil fuels, because it’s clear that doing so causes real harm to humans and to nonhumans, today and far into the future. I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly. Back in 2010, though, I was awash in cognitive dissonance. My awareness of global warming had risen to a fever pitch, but I hadn’t yet made real changes to my daily life. This disconnect made me feel panicked and disempowered.

Then one evening in 2011, I gathered my utility bills and did some Internet research. I looked up the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by burning a gallon of gasoline and a therm (about 100 cubic feet) of natural gas, I found an estimate for emissions from producing the food for a typical American diet and an estimate for generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity in California, and I averaged the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Environmental Protection Agency estimates for CO2 emissions per mile from flying. With these data, I made a basic pie chart of my personal greenhouse gas emissions for 2010.

This picture came as a surprise. I’d assumed that electricity and driving were my largest sources of emissions. Instead, it turned out that the 50,000 miles I’d flown that year (two international and half a dozen domestic flights, typical for postdocs in the sciences who are expected to attend conferences and meetings) utterly dominated my emissions.

Hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly in a plane. If you fly coach from Los Angeles to Paris and back, you’ve just emitted 3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, 10 times what an average Kenyan emits in an entire year. Flying first class doubles these numbers. .............(more)


24 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
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How Far Can We Get Without Flying? (Original Post) marmar Feb 2016 OP
I had to decline yet another offer to fly, yesterday. Gregorian Feb 2016 #1
I lost my bike riding friend over my insistance Duppers Feb 2016 #6
two questions lapfog_1 Feb 2016 #2
I imagine it's calculated by plane capacity. Duppers Feb 2016 #4
that assumes lapfog_1 Feb 2016 #10
It was the only guesstimate Duppers Feb 2016 #19
First determine how much fuel a jet uses.... happyslug Feb 2016 #11
Great article. nt Duppers Feb 2016 #3
Unrealistic. The world economy and society would utterly collapse without airplanes. longship Feb 2016 #5
That's right: the economy is based on unreasonable constraints. Gregorian Feb 2016 #7
That isn't a solution though The2ndWheel Feb 2016 #17
Our global economy is built on unrealistic beliefs, such as infinite growth on finite resources NickB79 Feb 2016 #18
"What a silly argument." Good comment but misplaced. Nihil Feb 2016 #21
Well, you have a good argument. longship Feb 2016 #22
And to you too! Nihil Feb 2016 #23
A heartfelt K&R pscot Feb 2016 #8
This article was very real sue4e3 Feb 2016 #9
This solution addresses the author's cognitive dissonance GliderGuider Feb 2016 #12
And for that you deserve praise above all else. Duppers Feb 2016 #20
I loathe automobiles and airplanes, not only do they use fossil fuels... hunter Feb 2016 #13
Is this a fair metric? LouisvilleDem Feb 2016 #14
Same thing with buses vs cars, but nobody is giving up their cars there either The2ndWheel Feb 2016 #15
America's emissions come from cars, typically doing commutes past 2 miles MisterP Feb 2016 #16
A good (not great) Carbon Footprint calculator... NeoGreen Feb 2016 #24


(23,867 posts)
1. I had to decline yet another offer to fly, yesterday.
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 10:06 AM
Feb 2016

I'm losing friends due to climate change. I'm unwilling to burn fuel for things like high school reunions and bike rides.

I'm just blown away by the lack of responsibllity by those who do know better. What is this, stick your head in the sand, and just don't give a shit about the future generations.

I'm pissed this morning, because I lost a friend over this. And a family member. I can't believe this shit.

PS- good to see a responsible scientist. I often wonder why Noam Chomsky feels the need to be physically present all over the world. Don't people know about skype? Why can't he give talks without flying? That goes for the rest of you dingbats.


(28,176 posts)
6. I lost my bike riding friend over my insistance
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 10:52 AM
Feb 2016

that she educate herself. (The rich couple who fly the world to ride bikes.)

I'm damn disappointed in most people's selfishness and lack of concern. It's as if they think the future generation will have some magic solution. Idiots.


(29,422 posts)
2. two questions
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 10:18 AM
Feb 2016

1. why does flying first class double the emissions for that person on that flight?

2. how many miles did the author fly during the year in question. I travel infrequently ( maybe one domestic trip per year ) so I imagine that my flying carbon footprint is relatively small. but I'd like to know how this is calculated. Moreover, I can imagine that the carbon footprint is not merely miles flown, but also related to takeoffs and landings (the ascent phase consumes probably 3x the amount of fuel as the cruise phase of a flight... just a guess).


(28,176 posts)
4. I imagine it's calculated by plane capacity.
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 10:46 AM
Feb 2016

And first class takes up more real estate in the plane. That's the only thing I can think of.


(29,422 posts)
10. that assumes
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 12:40 PM
Feb 2016

that every flight is full, and that if first class was eliminated and replaced with all coach (Southwest) that the flight would remain full...

all not true and not possible as the plane would need to be "right sized" for every flight to ensure capacity.


(28,176 posts)
19. It was the only guesstimate
Sat Feb 13, 2016, 02:02 AM
Feb 2016

I could think of. Never proposed it to be fact.

In fact, the opposite of what I posted is more true.



(14,779 posts)
11. First determine how much fuel a jet uses....
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 01:20 PM
Feb 2016

A 747 carries 64,225 U.S. gallons of fuel in a 747-8I and that plane can go 8000 miles on that fuel or 8000/64225 or .124556 miles per gallon per plane


The 784-8I can carry 605 passengers passengers, thus all of those passengers (605) are using that jet at .12 miles per gallon that comes to 72.6 miles per passenger per mile (Gallons per passenger miles).

Yes on a per passenger per mile cost, planes do better then cars (assuming one passenger per car, four passenger per car, car do MUCH better, in a 20 mpg car with four passengers that comes to 80 miles per gallon PER PASSENGER). Please note the above assumes the jet is operating with full passenger loads all the time (which is NOT the case).

Please note, a 747 with three class carries only 467 passengers or 56 miles per passenger per mile. If we assume 400 of those seats were business class and 67 are first class. and the 400 are listed at 72.6 passenger miles per gallon, that comes to 29040 gallons. That leaves 35184 gallons to cover the first class passengers, (8000/35184) times 67 first class passengers or 1.5 gallons per passenger mile.

Now, that is how to account for the fuel use per seat. Since we really can NOT actually say that a Business class seat uses on 72 gallons per mile travel or a first class seat 1 1/2 gallons for every mile traveled the above is clearly wrong, but it is the best way to allocate the fuel use per passenger. The rich have always been willing to pay more, but rarely the real difference between 100% business class (or in the 1800, Steerage) and a first class ticket. In the 1800s, it was Steerage that paid for the passenger service between Europe and the US, not First Class. First class only wants to pay the same as business class when it comes to things like fuel and the pilots, it is the larger seats and better food they pay more for.

If you allocate first class fares on a per gallon usage basis, the price of the first class would be triple the cost of the business class AND the wider seats and better food would be extras NOT part of the ticket. First Class passengers have always rejected such a cost allocation and ships and later planes both embraced that concept.

Thus once you start doing the math, the numbers are not nice when it comes to first class passenger seats. They do NOT pay their way in terms of fuel, maintenance or the plane or even the cost of the pilots. First Class is a huge profit, only if you allocate the above mentioned costs to them as you would a business class, and then charge for the wider seat and better food (and that is how it is done and why when deregulation kicked in, most first class seats disappeared for business class was more profitable for the airlines then First Class was).


(40,416 posts)
5. Unrealistic. The world economy and society would utterly collapse without airplanes.
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 10:48 AM
Feb 2016

What a silly argument.

The solution is to make those energy sources which we can, renewable. Flying will likely always require some kind of high energy fuel and one is not likely to change that anytime soon.

But we can do a lot in other areas. A whole lot.

We do what we can do. And we all know we've not done enough. But one dude not flying is not going to help much, as much as I sympathize with his sentiments. His solution is a non-starter. What does he want to do? Ground all airplanes? Good luck with that.


(23,867 posts)
7. That's right: the economy is based on unreasonable constraints.
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 11:03 AM
Feb 2016

It's the same with cars.

How did we live for all of eternity without them? Ask that before condemning the notion they should be abandoned.

I did not design my life around the car, and as such I don't need one. And I live in a rural setting where everything is a distance.

The choice is we start slowing down, or say goodbye to earth.


(7,947 posts)
17. That isn't a solution though
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 03:46 PM
Feb 2016

One reason being that not being able to fly isn't a "problem" per se. We just want to fly, even though we physically can't. We can't move at 55mph either, we just want to. Those wants create the perception of a problem in our minds, which then necessitate solutions, which don't really solve anything. Human beings still can't fly, so the problem wasn't solved.

The lack of instant global communication wasn't a problem that the internet solved. Our technology amplifies the abstract reality we're creating. We want what is in our heads to be real. The question is what will win; the human imagination, or physical reality? As with any battle, there will be unintended consequences. That can be the polar bears, of the rhinos, or the trees, or cows that we've molded to fit our interests, etc, etc, etc. It's really what the human experiment is about. How much of life, of existence, can humanity control?

Of course that also includes controlling humanity, because we can't just let ourselves do whatever it is that we want. That was be chaos. However, humans don't do well with limits. It's an interesting situation.


(19,385 posts)
18. Our global economy is built on unrealistic beliefs, such as infinite growth on finite resources
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 04:23 PM
Feb 2016

What's silly is expecting technological breakthroughs to keep this Ponzi scheme we call civilization going indefinitely, all the while vastly exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet.



(13,508 posts)
21. "What a silly argument." Good comment but misplaced.
Tue Feb 23, 2016, 09:08 AM
Feb 2016

It actually applies to your previous sentence:
> The world economy and society would utterly collapse without airplanes.

Neither the "world economy" nor "society" depend on airplanes.

Planes make some aspects more convenient (for sure) but "depend"? Not so much.

Here in England, we have had two absolutely delightful "collapses" since 2000
as a result of a) the terrorist inspired US flight shutdown in September 2001
and b) the Eyjafjallajökull inspired European flight shutdown in April 2010.

Both caused inconvenience to a small (globally microscopic) subset of the world's population
(mostly through people being stranded and unable to fly *back* to their homes).

Both caused clear & quiet skies of a nature that had simply been unimaginable by many
people prior to the events.

Neither caused the world economy to crash.

Neither caused global society to collapse.

In fact, I'd love a similar "collapse" like that every year.

If you want to introduce it in a gentle way rather than the big bang shutdowns
of the above, simply tax the ******* fuel for planes at the same rate as the
European governments do for car fuel and ramp up the tax annually until the
aircraft industry goes the way of the buggy-whip makers.

That will make for a "soft landing" that should assure even you of the fact that
air travel is, has been, and will always be a luxury, not a necessity (and certainly
not something that is critical to holding up the world economy or society).


(40,416 posts)
22. Well, you have a good argument.
Tue Feb 23, 2016, 09:10 AM
Feb 2016

And I am always willing to listen to such and take it into consideration. That's what people should do.

My best to you.



(13,508 posts)
23. And to you too!
Tue Feb 23, 2016, 09:25 AM
Feb 2016

(Even though I doubt that my suggestion would ever be implemented in time either!)


(734 posts)
9. This article was very real
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 12:12 PM
Feb 2016

not abstract . I get the feeling if you actually asked this person about how to decrease your carbon footprint you would actually get real life info. Not abstract , you can do it if the stars align info. It was really good.



(21,088 posts)
12. This solution addresses the author's cognitive dissonance
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 01:37 PM
Feb 2016

Not the underlying problem, which is intractable.

I've done the same thing - addressed my cognitive dissonance in the areas where I can, recognized and accepted it in areas I can do nothing about. But I don't pretend that any of that addresses real planetary issues. The only thing I've done that has a impact on the future of the biosphere that's worth mentioning is my absolute refusal to procreate.


(38,575 posts)
13. I loathe automobiles and airplanes, not only do they use fossil fuels...
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 02:11 PM
Feb 2016

... they isolate us from the natural environment, from the world we are passing through, and from our fellow travelers.

Here i am sitting in my tin can

Railroad and ocean travel is an entirely different, a more meaningful and respectful experience. You are not just some random person dropped in and out of a place; traveling becomes a part of you, you get to know people and places along the way.

I resent every minute I've been trapped in an automobile or airliner.

Hurry, hurry, hurry is a stupid way to live. The only real "deadlines" are medical emergencies and other sorts of catastrophes.

If you need to get to Paris in less than a day it probably means your vacations are not long enough.

Everything that is wrong with our high energy industrial economy is represented in automobiles and airliners.


(303 posts)
14. Is this a fair metric?
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 03:01 PM
Feb 2016

I can't help but wonder what the numbers would be if you compared cars and planes by measuring the CO2 produced per person per mile.

I bet planes start looking a lot better when you consider the vast distances they cover.

Of course, people will just say: "We shouldn't travel vast distances. We should just stay home and grow vegetables."


(7,947 posts)
15. Same thing with buses vs cars, but nobody is giving up their cars there either
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 03:19 PM
Feb 2016

That's the beauty of numbers and statistics. You can make them say whatever you want them to say, depending on what argument you're making.


(23,730 posts)
16. America's emissions come from cars, typically doing commutes past 2 miles
Fri Feb 12, 2016, 03:23 PM
Feb 2016

8 flights in one year may be staggering, but is possible only for a middle-class figure who get comped: this is a total outlier

cutting the Gordian Knot would mean HSR for under-500-mi. flights (which are a bad emitter since they're all TOGA and don't profit the airlines), enough commuter rail and LRT to provide an alternative to driving, buses every 20 min everywhere (actually the biggest financial and CO2 burden), and upgrading and expanding regular Amtrak to 90 mph (heck, the GOP *loves* Amtrak, as long as it's for THEIR state only; it's so slow because freight rail's so profitable)


(4,031 posts)
24. A good (not great) Carbon Footprint calculator...
Tue Feb 23, 2016, 09:40 AM
Feb 2016


my result:

My results for home energy should be much lower:
We do not have a home furnace and heat with passive solar, a pellet stove and with our own wood lot,
All of our electricity is generated by a local hydro-power plant that does not use or require a dam, and
for the last +10-years I have been paying a monthly $10 premium on my electric bill to support the development of green power (Green Mountain).

My result for transportation should be a bit higher since we took a 900-mile (RT) family vacation and opted to travel by Amtrak not plane, but including rail miles wasn't an option. We haven't flown since 2010 and Amtrak will be our future means of holiday travel or we'll vacation locally.

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