Sitting in a jumbo jet five miles above the Sierra Nevada, I got to thinking. Now that I work at home and fly to work rather than drive to an office every day, has my carbon footprint increased or decreased?
Let’s lay down some facts for comparison:
- I rarely got on a plane for work until the last few years. At those jobs, I normally drove 30 miles per day.
- I now work from my home office but fly regularly. Over the past 12 months, I’ve taken 29 trips and flown 56,000 miles, and normally drive 100 miles (round trip) to the airport. Let’s leave it at 30 miles per day on the road, and 82 days on the road (thanks, TripIt).
- I’ll assume that my office was comparable whether at home or at the office park. They are probably very different, but for now I will ignore the many other confounding factors.
- I’ll also assume I never drove to lunch, spilled toxic chemicals, or chopped and burned rain forest trees.
- I’ll use a rate of 1.35 lbs of carbon per air mile and .70 per driven mile (thanks, b-e-f.org)
Ok, so let’s do some math!
- 250 work days times 30 miles driven to the office times .70 lbs of carbon equals 5,250 lbs of carbon – roughly twice the weight of my (tiny) car!
- 56,000 miles flown times 1.35 lbs of carbon plus 82 days times 30 miles driven plus 29 trips times 100 miles driven times .70 lbs of carbon equals 79,352 lbs of carbon
Being a “road warrior” or “nomadic worker” or whatever has multiplied by carbon emissions by a factor of 15! I bet I have had a greater carbon impact in the last year than I accumulated in the first 30 years of my life. How can air travel ever be sustainable?
Some more things to consider:
- My travel schedule alone is four times the average American’s annual carbon footprint of 20,000 lbs.
- My travel footprint this year was equal to the lifetime footprint of the average Moroccan, Costa Rican, or Fijian.
- A single seat on a single round-trip flight between Chicago and San Francisco (4,616 miles) has the same carbon footprint as the entire lifetime of the average resident of sub-Saharan Africa.