(Infographic) Putting Travel Footprints and Carbon Emissions Calculators into Perspective

Recently, a friend asked about the inherent value in knowing one’s carbon emissions rate. She was not being callous in asking the question as much as frustrated by a lack of understanding about carbon emissions and how to evaluate carbon offsetting schemes.

Short of growing or raising her own food sources, using bicycles as her only mode of transport, employing solar power for all her electrical needs, buying only gently used clothing, and vacationing in her backyard, all she felt was constant guilt for living her life and doing what she loved to do – travel! So, let’s put things into perspective.

Understanding carbon emissions

Basically, carbon emissions are calculated as pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) released as a result of an action by an organization, event, product, person or even natural occurrence.

What does one pound of CO2 look like? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it helps to think of CO2 as gas trapped inside a balloon. Filling a balloon with one pound of CO2 would swell the balloon to about the size of a rubber exercise ball (about two and a half feet across). Each day, the average American fills up about 57 of these balloons.

How does travel factor in to CO2? According to Mother Nature Network, traveling 2,000 miles in an airplane produces 1 ton of carbon dioxide and driving 1,900 miles in a mid-sized car also produces 1 ton of carbon dioxide. If you want to determine your approximate carbon emissions, jot down your travels in the last year, locate your latest utility statements and fill in the carbon calculator.

For more information, you can also view two infographics that illustrate the carbon footprint for every country in the world and the comparative carbon footprint for planes, trains and automobiles.

Why you should travel green

While some industry policies, such as the European Union (EU) requirement that airlines offset their carbon emissions for continental flights, are helping to curb carbon emissions, it is also important to be aware of how responsible travel choices, such as taking trains rather than flying or driving, can also greatly reduce your carbon footprint.

Understanding carbon offsetting schemes
As discussed in a previous article about carbon offsetting, specifically for tourism, it presents an opportunity for people to counter their carbon emissions prior to taking their trips, by investing in certain forestry, renewable energy, or development projects.
According to Mother Nature Network, an average tree will absorb more than 650 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) over its lifetime. Therefore, to offset the average 740 mile flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles, you would need to plant (or enable the planting of) one tree for every passenger on the flight. Airlines such KLM, Qantas and United also offer carbon offset programs to allow consumers the ability to offset their flight at the point of sale.
How does one select a good carbon offsetting project? Other than reading through our extensive list of eco-travel tips, another is to check the credentials for the carbon offsetting scheme by looking for the Clean Development Mechanism Gold Standard, which essentially is an independent certification for carbon offsetting projects.
What are your thoughts about carbon footprints and carbon offsetting schemes?

2 Responses
  1. Avatar

    Interesting article. I’m a supporter of carbon offsetting. It’s a long way to make carbon offsetting actually work. In Germany just a tiny number of tourists travel carbon neutral. In a first step we need to increase the visibility of the CO2 problem by publishing the tons of CO2 that a tour particpation would generate. WIth this awareness little by little carbon offsetting will become more popular.

  2. Avatar
    Time Travel Plans

    These infographics are an awesome way to get ecotourism novices such as myself to understand how we can participate in sustainable, green tourism. It’s also very helpful to know which companies and airlines support green travel.