Last week I attended a memorial service for an old friend in the Slocan Valley. As many of you know, I’ve maintained a strong anti-flying stance for years in order to minimize my CO2 footprint. As usual, I intended to drive to the service, thinking this to be the most carbon-responsible means of travel.
However, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to test that assumption. To calculate the relative carbon costs of driving versus other options, I went to CarbonFootprint.com, a popular UK-based site (https://www.carbonfootprint.com/ ). There were additional factors to consider: driving all the way to my destination would entail a ferry ride in both directions, and flying would include the rental of a hybrid car at the other end.
To my surprise, flying turned out to be the preferred option. A round-trip flight from Comox to Vancouver to Cranbrook, with a car rental during my visit, would result in a total carbon cost of 0.32 tonnes (based on the average number of passengers occupying those flights). A round-trip in my car, including the ferry ride both ways, would cost 0.52 tonnes (based on myself as sole occupant of the vehicle, which was the case; an additional passenger would cut our individual footprints by half).
So on this occasion, I broke with my usual custom and flew. This resulted in quite a discussion back at the office, and we decided to do some further calculations to see what it would cost Marusha and her spouse to visit family in Toronto (a round-trip of 9370 km) using all the available options. Again, each one would include a ferry trip each way. The results, from most to least carbon-costly, were as follows:
By bus, return trip: 2.74 tonnes of CO2 (1.37 tonnes per person in a regular-sized coach)
Driving: 2.06 tonnes (1.03 tonnes per person in a 2008 Toyota Yaris)
Flying: 1.56 tonnes (0.78 tonnes per person)
By rail: 0.78 tonnes (0.39 tonnes per person)
The takeaway from all this is that the no-fly position isn’t always black and white, and it may actually make more sense to fly in some circumstances. It’s also clear that going solo is far from optimal in any case, and that rail travel is a much-undervalued (and undeveloped) choice in this country.
It’s important to use the available tools to inform our decisions when planning to travel, and to try to limit the number of unnecessary trips we make in a year. This involves some hard questions – how often do we need to see family or friends? Is our presence at that cross-Atlantic destination wedding really important? What about the costs and benefits of voluntourism? As always, I welcome your comments and insights!