With the holidays coming up, it may be time to resurrect the eternal (usually unpleasant) debate about climate change, ethics, and travel options.
This data is from Canada’s latest submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):
There are a few interesting things in there, but the most interesting to me are the figures on greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-kilometre, for different transportation options.
According to this chart, going 1km by car produces an average of 0.14 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. Taking the train is just as bad. Flying is about 18% worse per kilometre (though flying certainly encourages people to travel farther, since it is so fast). The bus is the clear winner, in this analysis, producing 0.05 kg per passenger kilometre.
It seems to me that bus travel has two significant things going for it:
- It seems to emit the least greenhouse gas per distance traveled
- Because it is slow and unpleasant, people choose to travel less by bus
That said, a case can be made for rail as well. While it may be no better than driving right now, increased use might eventually drive the development of an electrical rail network, powered using zero-carbon forms of energy like nuclear fission and renewables.
Another interesting aspect of the table is the figures on passenger activity. Between 1990 and 2008, the number of passenger kilometres traveled by light truck (pickups, SUVs, etc) went up 179%. Aviation went up 77%. Both of those are above the overall average increase of 56%.
Ultimately, all sectors of our economy will need to become carbon-neutral. Inter-city transportation may be one of the most challenging areas in which to achieve that.