Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jet Fuel’s Great Big Footprint

I’m back after a whirlwind of moving and then flying off to Puerto Vallarta for a week. Did you miss me? I hope so.

TO Think About This Week

I was going to spotlight car sharing services this week, but since I just flew 7003.54 kilometers (4351.92 miles) on a machine that pumped greenhouse gas emissions into the stratosphere I thought I’d turn my attention to the impact of jet fuel on our planet.

What’s the Big Deal? – The jet fuel that flies us to our favourite destinations is kerosene, a petroleum based fuel that doesn’t freeze at high altitudes. It also pumps out a hefty amount of carbon.

So what’s the greenhouse gas price tag on my return flight to Puerto Vallarta? According to the Choose Climate jet fuel calculator, my week vegging out on the beach came at a high greenhouse gas price tag. Due to that one flight I am personally responsible for 277 kg of fuel and 2584 kg of C02. This is equivalent to:
  • Seven 60W light bulbs lit continuously for one year
  • Food eaten by four people in one year
  • The carbon in a 13 m tall tree

Times that by the number of people on the plane times the number of planes in the sky during any given day times the number of days in a year.

Aviation makes up about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in the US. That’s about 2.7 percent of total national greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, housed under the US Department of Transportation. In Europe alone, emissions increased by 85% from 1990 to 2004. These figures are expected to increase. However, with rising fuel costs and fears of terrorism who knows what the future holds for air travel.


Alternative Fuel - Richard Branson, the billionaire who owns the Virgin Group, announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in September that he will invest 100% of his airline and locomotive proceeds in renewable, sustainable energy sources. That translates into $3 billion over 10 years. Biofuels are considered by some as the great solution to the global climate crisis and Branson plans to invest in just that. The problem? Where on earth do they plan to grow and harvest the bio matter that will satisfy current global fuel needs? Humanity would have to take over the land assigned to agriculture. That’s not much to begin with and um…we kinda need it for food.

Fuel Tax – The impact of jet fuel on our planet has led many to demand that the airline industry pay for the damage they’re causing. More specifically, they want airline travelers to pay for the damage they are causing through a fuel tax. Jet fuel is the only fuel that isn’t taxed thanks to some crazy agreement from the 1940s. Now keep in mind that air transportation was not part of the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Rather, airline companies were invited to voluntarily come up with a way to reduce emissions through carbon trading by 2007. That’s two months away. Unless they plan to surprise everyone with some grand announcement, voluntary airline carbon trading ain’t in the works. Most countries, except the US and Australia, have expressed support for such a tax. This of course has been met by fierce resistance from the airline industry. What are your thoughts on such a tax? I say go for it, so long as the tax goes directly into efforts to mitigate global warming.

Alternatives to Air Travel – Oh boy-oh-boy, I am all for adjusting my lifestyle to be more planet-friendly but cutting down on air travel is a real toughie for me. I LOVE to travel: Italy, Greece, Panama, Mexico, New York, San Francisco. These have been incredibly rewarding travel experiences for Jane and me. Also at issue are the thousands of miles separating my close family and me. I’m also starting to travel occasionally for work. But all this travel comes at a heavy price.

Here are some tips on reducing air travel when you want to or must get away:

  • Can you take the train to a close-by destination? Think the plane is much faster? Think again. I want to travel from Toronto to Ottawa. That’s 4.5 hours by train and four hours by plane. By train I just hop on and go – from one downtown to another. By plane I have to drive out there (30 minutes), wait (1.5 hours), fly (1 hour), disembark and wait for my luggage (half hour) and drive into town (30 minutes).
  • Your own country is exotic. Heck! Your own state or provinces is. So is the one next door to you. Explore travel brochures to find out all that they have to offer.
  • Need to travel for meetings? Sometimes face-to-face is a must but how much can you get away by using video conferencing? It can cut you company travel costs significantly and may still retain a sense of meaningful connection.

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