Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Photo by  Paul Jarvis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Paul Jarvis on Unsplash

I wrote the other day about carbon offset schemes, and how I bought some carbon credits to offset Mat's and my trip to Paris and the U.K.  This got me thinking about the different modes of travel, and their relative environmental impact.

I went to and did some calculations on a hypothetical trip - one way from Paris to Brussels.  The impact?

  • By plane: 0.02 metric tonnes of CO2.
  • By car (Fiat 500): 0.04 metric tonnes of CO2.
  • By rail: 0.00 metric tonnes of C02. 

Wait, can that be right?

Skeptical of the numbers, I did a bit more reading on the subject. 

The calculation above doesn't take into account a number of variables.  While it's true that driving a car solo has a greater impact than taking a full, medium size aircraft, if you have more passengers in your car, your individual impact decreases significantly.  If I take my husband along with me on the drive to Brussels, our individual carbon impacts are no greater than if we'd taken that flight. 

And what about that zero number next to rail travel?  Trains do give off carbon dioxide, right?  Yes, and so do diesel buses, but the fact that they are both able to carry a full passenger load makes each individual rider's carbon impact very small.  One problem with this, though, is that, according to this article on the Mother Nature Network, the average train or bus on any given day has only 40% occupancy, which increases each passenger's impact.  Even so, trains and buses are still the cleanest way to go.  Believe it or not, with a full load, a diesel bus is actually your best bet. 

So while the numbers may not be exactly accurate, the above calculations do correctly show that if I'm trying to get from Paris to Brussels, of the above three options, taking the train is my most planet-friendly transportation option.  And if I must drive, having a full car is the best way to minimize my impact.