(Blog post: November 25, 2018)
I stopped flying about a year and a half ago after learning — just before hopping on a plane — that air transit produces roughly 10x the emissions of ground transit (distances and volume being equal).
As the plane hurtled down the runway burning jet fuel, I grappled with the knowledge that this, multiplied times many millions, was doing ambiguous yet serious harm.
The wake-up call was louder still on the return flight. There would be no more planes (and I’ve since fallen in love with rail travel, but that’s another post).
I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t fly (Friday’s federal report on climate will take care of that).
Instead, I’m here to share information that most of us haven’t been taught, which is that the 10x emissions factor for flying also applies when *other* things get put on planes.
It didn’t always used to be this way: Mail came by covered wagon or train or truck. It might take weeks or days. FedEx Overnight was expensive; you paid extra.
Today, speed is treated as essential: American purchases are Urgent! We Need These Things, and the company that’s quickly taking over the world even ships our purchases in two days, free if you choose to subscribe to this convenience.
The painful truth, however, is that there’s no such thing as free: only trade-offs. And when the trade-offs aren’t explicit (that thing you bought is put on a plane at a cost of 10x as much CO2-e), and because speed is the new standard, we’ve learned that it’s normal to have things put on planes and delivered to us in two days whether we need it on Tuesday or not.
Chances are good that if we understood that these types of choices (made by millions of people more days than not) were the same ones producing the catastrophic effects of otherwise manageable fires and floods, we’d think differently about our options as we make them.
And so: as we prepare for the biggest online shopping day of the year, we encourage you to do better now that you know better:
Request ground transit.
Keep all those things out of the air — and do it because people like us who care about each other (and about ourselves) make choices like these.
And yes, more will be required of us: small changes aren’t enough.
But for now, since the problem we’re addressing is one of cumulative effects, and choosing to reduce the transit footprint of that holiday gift or pantry item by 900% is a significant move of the needle, let’s start there.