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Airplane travel and climate change

I spent the last 9 days traveling with my family in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and an unintended night in Cleveland, and like all of us who travel, helping the economy and adding extra greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Our family of four flew from San Francisco to Manchester, New Hampshire, with a layover in Cleveland each way. "A round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles on a typical commercial jet yields an estimated 715 kilos of CO2 per economy class passenger, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization."

"But due to the height at which planes fly, combined with the mixture of gases and particles they emit...that roundtrip flight's 'climatic forcing' is really 1,917 kilos, or almost two tons, of emissions."

Our flight was shorter than this coast-to-coast example but since ours was not direct, we had more take-offs and landings, so I suspect the numbers are comparable. That means about eight tons for our little family.

For comparison purposes, the average American emits about 20 tons of carbon dioxide every year. The average Chinese citizen only emits 4.6 tons. The average resident of Afghanistan, 0.03 tons and Chad, 0.02 tons.

by Doug Craig

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