Recently, The New York Times printed an article titled “Travel’s Climate Problem.” It referenced two authors from Science Magazine who determined that there is a loss of plus-3 or minus-3 meters of sea ice per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. This means, for instance, a flight from New York to Los Angeles would shrink the ice by three square meters, or 32 square feet — for one person.
Most of us think we can hide from the statistics, that “what I do personally doesn’t matter, because I’m just one person.” This article shows the damage one person does. After seeing the data, researcher Alice Larkin of the University of Manchester stopped flying. She hasn’t been on a plane since 2008.
A family of three generates the equivalent of 2.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide by taking a flight from New York to Miami, which causes 90 square feet of ice to melt. That’s the size of a pickup truck.
Americans generate an average of 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, more than triple the world average. As a result, hundreds of millions of people, according to a study conducted by the United Nations in 2007, will experience coastal flooding, water shortages, malnutrition, and poor health, due in part to our carbon emissions.
Don’t think taking a cruise ship is any better; in fact, it’s worse. Cruise ships emit three or four times more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than a jet. And FYI, the indoor air of a ship is likened to that of the worst polluted cities in the world — Beijing and Santiago, Chile.
Unfortunately, air travel has doubled since 2003. By continuing to fly, we are encouraging the airlines to keep investing in planes and airports, when we really need to decrease that investment.
Sometimes you can’t avoid flying. My granddaughter has an internship in China, so she has no choice. A group I meet with once a year is gathering in Bakersfield, CA, this year. When we’ve met in Florida and Maine in the past, I’ve taken a train. But getting to and from Bakersfield by rail would take three or four days each way, so instead I’m flying, and I feel guilty.
We have to figure out ways to fly and drive less frequently. Remember that every trip you take is gouging out a huge area of Arctic ice. Everything each of us does matters, each time we drive, and each time we fly.