Infographic: The Greener Way to Get ThereBy Matthew Wheeland - October 5, 2011
The Greener Way to Get There
Among planes, trains, and automobiles—all’s not equal when it comes to their emissions. So what’s the greenest way to get around? It depends on how far you’re traveling. We break down the carbon footprint for a solo traveler embarking on different trips in various vehicles.
Going the Distance
Long-distance trip (2500 miles) roughly Los Angeles to New York
- Large SUV (12 mpg): 5200 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Typical SUV (18 mpg): 3475 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Typical car (23 mpg): 2700 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Efficient car (32 mpg): 1950 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Hybrid car (46 mpg): 1350 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Average train: 1025 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Electric car (charged on the grid): 1025 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Wide-body jet: 931 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Bus: 425 pounds of CO2 per trip
Short-distance trip (350 miles) Roughly Los Angeles to San Francisco
- Large SUV (12 mpg): 728 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Typical SUV (18 mpg): 487 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Typical car (23 mpg): 378 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Efficient car (32 mpg): 273 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Hybrid car (46 mpg): 222 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Average train: 189 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Electric car (charged on the grid): 144 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Wide-body jet: 144 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Bus: 60 pounds of CO2 per trip
Cross-city trip (20 miles)
- Typical car (23 mpg): 21.6 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Diesel train: 9 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Electric car (charged on the grid): 8 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Electric train: 7 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Carpool in typical car: 6 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Bus: 3 pounds of CO2 per trip
- Bicycle: 0 pounds of CO2 per trip
Why So Different?
Energy use and emissions from transportation are determined by four main factors:
- Type of fuel or energy source
- Type of vehicle
- Distance traveled
- Overall system infrastructure
Considering a detour?
Whenever possible, opt for nonstop flights. Takeoff, landing, and ground operations add a significant amount of emissions to a trip. More landing equals more emissions.
Thinking about an upgrade?
If you’re considering air travel, think twice before upgrading to that first-class seat. Seats in first-class or business-class areas take up more space, reducing the number of passengers that a flight can hold. Passengers in those seats are responsible for a greater portion of the plane’s emissions.
Going with company?
Because per-passenger carbon emissions decline as the number of passengers rises, it definitely pays to carpool. A driver in a car alone assumes all of the vehicle’s emissions, but if a spouse, friend, or whole family tags along, it can dramatically reduce the per-passenger footprint.
Though large vehicles like buses and trains put out greater emissions than the average car, those emissions are shared among the larger vehicle’s passengers resulting in a smaller carbon footprint per person. So what if you can’t take public transit? An electric car wins out.
Typical gas-fueled car: 1.08 pounds of CO2/mile
Hybrid car (such as Chevy Volt): 0.54 pounds of CO2/mile
Electric car charged on electric grid (such as Nissan Leaf): 0.41 pounds of CO2/mile
When you’re driving them around, electric vehicles are emissions-free because they don’t burn anything, but they do have an ongoing carbon footprint when they’re charged on a coal-fired grid. Multiple studies confirm, however, that the environmental impact of doing this is still dramatically lower than driving a car with a combustion engine. Plus, that generates CO2 at a “point source” (a power plant) where it’s a bit easier to control and clean CO2 emissions versus a “non-point source” (cars) where CO2 emissions are harder to capture and clean.
The Greenest Ride of All
So what’s the best way to get around with the smallest carbon footprint? Charge an already eco-friendly electric car using solar panels. Even a small home solar system can charge an electric car for up to 15,000 miles a year. Larger systems can power even more.
1-2 kW: 15,000 miles for an electric car
3-5 kW: Zero dollars for household electricity.
Again, because electric cars are typically charged on the coal-fired grid, they still have somewhat of an ongoing carbon footprint, but if you charge your electric car using solar panels you ride is totally emissions free!
Sources: timeanddate.com, Union of Concerned Scientists, NPR, Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
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