Climate Matters•November 25, 2014
Seasonal holiday decorations are popping up everywhere, which means the heaviest travel season of the year is upon us once again. Over Thanksgiving alone, some 46 million Americans will be taking trips of 50 miles or longer to visit friends and family, according to AAA. And a whopping 89.1% of them will be driving, with another 7.7% taking to the air. The rest will travel largely by bus or train.
But while the holidays themselves will be joyful, getting there will not necessarily be half the fun. Holiday traffic can be a nightmare even when the weather is good. And this week, a storm will be tracking up the Eastern seaboard on Wednesday, bringing rain and snow to much of the I-95 corridor. Travel delays both on the ground and in the air are almost guaranteed to be worse than usual.
Still, November isn’t the worst month for weather-related flight cancellations. As the graphic shows, the winter months of December, January and February are the riskiest times — no surprise, since that’s when major airline hubs are most likely to see snow and ice. We also take a look at weather-related delays per month. Throughout the year, no matter the season, weather causes less than half of all delayed flights.
Cancellations or not, transportation accounts for 28% of Americans’ overall greenhouse gas emissions. Since this is the primary cause of global warming, many people might wonder how their travel choices will affect the climate. For many of us, of course, there’s not a lot of choice in how we get from here to there since planes, trains and busses don’t go everywhere. Still, it’s useful to know how different modes of transportation stack up.
As you’ll see, driving is the most carbon-intensive way to go in terms of CO2 emissions — that is, if you assume just the driver and no passengers. That’s unlikely to be the situation for many holiday travelers, however. If you add just one passenger it cuts each person’s carbon footprint in half. In that situation, going by car is actually better than flying. But non-holiday travel often does involve just one person per car, which comes out to .802 pounds of CO2 emissions per mile of travel. For other modes of travel, based on an average capacity, the CO2 impact per person is .505 pounds per mile for medium-haul plane flights, .408 for trains and .236 for busses.