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Traveling Green (And Not First Class)

The Union of Concerned Scientists have compiled a guide to green travel -- favoring buses, coach airline seats and trains -- to create a smaller carbon footprint.

Some of the findings:

  • First-class seating takes up more space than coach seating, so the average first-class passenger on a domestic flight is responsible for generating twice as much carbon as someone seated in coach. Budget airlines with no first-class seats can lower a plane's per-person emissions 10 to 15 percent.
  • Compared with flying coach, a couple traveling on a bus will cut their trip's carbon dioxide emissions 55 to 75 percent, depending on the distance traveled.
  • Trains emit 60 percent less carbon per passenger-mile than a typical car with a single occupant. Trains also can save money by dropping you in city centers, so you don't need to get a taxi or rental car to get into town.
  • If a trip is more than 1,000 miles, a single person or couple flying coach or taking a bus is greener than a train or car.
The report varies its green scale on a family of four versus a couple -- families are more likely to get the green light for driving than singles or couples.

I had a few problems with this report, mainly because it says that flying first-class, or even flying coach on a plane with a first-class section, is less green than an all-coach plane. The reasoning is that first or business class takes up more room, therefore it causes a bigger carbon footprint.

Most consumers pay for the cheapest ticket available, on a plane with first-class seating or not. So basing one's green-ness on some mathematical formula with jet emissions divided by the number of seats is silly. Passengers flying coach on a divided-class plane are in no way worse than any other passenger in coach.

I like the idea of scientists calculating emissions and pollution on everyday situations and travel, but I think conservation should be proactively based on less emissions, or alternative fuels, rather than pinning the blame on passengers rubbing elbows with first-class passengers.


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