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To help climate, fly less.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Kate Rogers Gessert

Even if you're a vegetarian and you dry all your laundry on the line, it's still not a good idea to fly to Tuscany for a week - even though you've always wanted to go.

You may ride everywhere on your bicycle, but you can wipe out more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions you save in a year of not driving with one round-trip flight to New York City - even though that conference on sustainable urban planning would enhance your professional growth.

Unfortunately, there is no technological fix for aircraft emissions anywhere in the near future. Moderate gains in fuel efficiency have been canceled out by ever-increasing numbers of passengers.

On U.S. airlines, passenger numbers swelled from 438 million in 1990 to 769 million in 2007. If we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels in time to save the lives of many people and countless creatures, most flying has to end quickly.

This is upsetting. Airplanes have made travel faster and more convenient. Perhaps most importantly, they have woven the world close together. Many of us have come to respect and love other cultures, people and places because we were able to visit them easily. The good news is that many of the adventures, diverse experiences, relaxation and beauty that we find in faraway travel also can be found close to home.

We're lucky we live in Oregon.

One huge sticking point is that many of our families are spread across the nation and the world, creating moral dilemmas about what one transportation expert calls "love miles." You miss your son who lives in Minnesota. Your best friend is getting married in Alaska. Your mother is battling cancer in Virginia.

It hurts the atmosphere to fly. It hurts loved ones if you don't.

I believe it is already time to reserve air travel for infrequent family trips and major necessities.

Here are the statistics. The United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, contributes 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. On average, each person in the United States is responsible for 25.5 tons a year, a quarter of which comes from transportation.

The average American travels 12,000 miles a year by car and 1,000 miles by airplane, according to This amount of travel adds six tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere: 5.5 tons for car travel, half a ton for air. (There is controversy about exact figures; this is a conservative estimate.)

If you fly across the country once during a year, you're already 5,000 miles and 2.8 tons above the U.S. average for air travel. And greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 in order to prevent catastrophic climate change.

That's not all. Jet fuel is made of kerosene, which releases not only carbon but nitrous oxide and other gases and particles high above the Earth; this increases the impact of flights on global warming. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the global warming effects of a flight are approximately 2.7 times those of its carbon emissions alone. Because of the long distances we fly and the cocktail of substances airplanes release, there is no way to hurt the climate more quickly and easily than by flying.

Whenever possible, it's best to travel on buses, trains and cars along with other passengers. When you must fly, reducing the number of changes is helpful: Short flights burn on average 60 percent more fuel than longer ones, because planes use a lot of fuel taxiing, taking off and landing. There is also some evidence that day flights hurt the atmosphere less than night flights.

On many Web sites, you can calculate the greenhouse gas impact of a trip and purchase carbon offsets to help with climate stabilization projects. An independent review by Clean Air Cool Planet gave the highest rating among tax-deductible U.S. offset projects to Sustainable Travel ( and to the Portland-based Climate Trust (

You also can purchase carbon offsets through many airlines.

The best solution is to stay home. We all need to limit our flights to those that are truly necessary, beginning now - unless we are willing to sacrifice the biosphere for our pleasure and convenience.

Kate Rogers Gessert of Eugene, a writer and teacher, is a member of Climate Crisis Working Group.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 16, 2008
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