“Why does air travel get left out of the mix when we’re talking about reducing our carbon footprint?” asks Megan McArdle:
Only about half the country takes as much as one flight a year; I’m willing to bet that virtually every U.S. citizen gets in a passenger car at least once per annum. And while most of those car trips are the business of everyday life – getting to work, procuring food, etc. – most of those flights are either vacations, or elite workers flitting to conferences and business meetings.
Those trips are simultaneously less necessary and more carbon intensive; almost eight times as many passenger miles are traveled by car as by plane, but passenger car travel only accounts for 3 to 4 times as much greenhouse gas emission. Moreover, while we may eventually wean cars off of gasoline, air travel will, I’m told, pretty much always require hydrocarbons; nothing else can contain so much energy in so little weight, which means they’re the only way to get the plane off the ground. Air travel is not only bad for the environment now, but also will be bad for the environment 30 years from now.
So why, pray tell, do we spend so much time talking about suburban sprawl and sport utilities, and so little time talking about FedEx and European vacations?
The question answers itself, doesn’t it? Giving up air travel and overnight delivery is much more personally costly for the public intellectuals who write about this stuff than giving up a big SUV. [Bloomberg, August 12]