Eco-Travel Part 1: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
We Americans sure do love to travel! But as you likely know, in addition to being fun and rejuvenating, travel has many environmental impacts. There's the fuel involved in getting to and from your destination, whether by car, rail, air or some other mode of transport (hurray to those of you on bikes!). There are the natural resources used in housing, feeding and entertaining you at your destination: detergent and water to wash your towels, heat and water involved in cooking, more fuel (can you say Jet Ski?), and the list goes on and on.
This is the first of a three-part series we're doing on eco-friendly travel. This first edition covers transportation impacts and options. Next time we'll look at the impacts of lodgings and offer some excellent green hotel options. Finally we'll look at eco-tourism-- we'll define it and give you some great resources for eco-friendly travel destinations and tour operators. Hopefully this series will help you understand more about the impacts of our traveling and give you some good information and resources for how you can lessen your load and still enjoy a delightful vacation.
The Transportation Situation
First some stats. We travel almost 1 BILLION people days each year—and that's just for leisure travel. Over those billion days we rack up over 750 billion person miles per year-- by plane, auto, train, bus and other forms of transportation. All of this traveling equates to huge amounts of fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions. Our leisure travel by car alone accounts for over 9 billion gallons of fuel and 90 millions tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. Air travel tacks on another 140+ million tons of CO2. That's a huge amount of CO2 emissions-- taken together it represents more than the entire annual emissions of countries like Venezuela or the Netherlands!
To put this all in a personal context, if you drove round-trip from Los Angeles to Kansas City, you'd put out 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas if you flew you'd be responsible for 2.2 tons. If you took a train, you'd contribute 0.9 tons. For you international vagabonds, if you flew from Los Angeles to Paris, you'd have put out 4.4 tons of CO2 (and yes we know you can't drive). For frame of reference, most people drive ~12,000 miles in the course of a year, which in an average MPG car emits almost 6 tons of CO2. That means by flying round-trip to Paris you've emitted almost the same amount of CO2 as you would by driving for a whole year!
So the green moral of the story is this: if you can, take a train or a bus. If you can't, drive. Don't have a hybrid for the trip?--Rent one! You'll save money and gas and cut your emissions. EV Rental Car exclusively rents hybrids and natural gas vehicles and has many locations in the Western US. One of the major US rental companies, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is making big efforts to go green. In certain cities you can rent hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles-- call 1-800- RENT-A-CAR to find these cars. Enterprise has also recently launched a 50 Million Tree Pledge. They will plant one million trees per year for the next fifty years in US National Forests. Learn more about Enterprise's environmental activities here. Want to drive in super eco-style? You can rent biodiesel cars in some locations. One of our favorites-- Bio-Beetle rents biodiesel VW bugs in Los Angeles and Maui. They are a must if you're going to either of those destinations! Finally, if you absolutely cannot take a form of land-based public transport or drive a car, then take a plane.
And why not replace that international trip with one to see some of America's majestic beauty? Have you been to Zion National Park in Utah? The Oregon Coast? The Florida Keys? Amtrak even has a new GrandLuxe service starting this fall. Want to travel in old-fashioned high style? This one is for you. The GrandLuxe Train, which features dining, lounge and sleeping cars appointed with elegant vintage furnishings, will be occupied exclusively by GrandLuxe Limited passengers. You can travel between Chicago and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, Washington DC and Miami, and more. All Aboard! Find more about rail travel options here.
Okay, Okay, You Will Still Need to Fly Sometimes...
We know you will still fly some of the time, and we admit that we will too. One way you can cut your flying emissions is to take direct flights whenever possible. Planes burn more fuel in take-off and landing than they do by flying at a constant altitude. And, connections aren't direct by definition – they increase your distance. Thus the more connections you have, the higher your emissions. For example, flying direct from Los Angeles to Boston reduces your CO2 by 20% compared to the same route with a stop in Dallas.
Please also consider offsetting your travel-related carbon emissions. Carbon offsets allow you to spend a nominal amount of money to help fund clean power initiatives and thus counter-balance your emissions. We recommend Native Energy for offsets. Their offsets are purely 'additional' which means that your contribution funds the creation of new renewable energy production facilities (like wind turbines and methane-capture-based energy.) They are also a Native-American owned company that builds projects that create sustainable economic benefits for Native Americans and Alaskan Native Villages, and that help family farmers compete with large agribusiness. So book your flight, get an offset and fly semi-guilt-free! Getting a Native Energy offset is easy--click here to take a good green step today.
We hope you feel a bit more informed about the impacts of your touristic travel, and that you're armed with some new options for lowering your travel impacts. Have a wonderful trip, and don't forget to tune in next to learn about great green hotels!
Jessica Jensen, Co-Founder, Low Impact Living, LLC
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