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Reduce your holiday travel carbon footprint

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Unless you live on the same street as your closest family and friends, enjoying a festive meal with them at Christmas or Hanukkah likely means gearing up for a road trip or hopping on a plane. Americans travel an average of 275 miles during December holidays, a longer distance than any other time of the year. Though US holiday travelers primarily move from one place to another via planes and private vehicles, modes that have a far smaller impact on climate change—buses, trains, and public transit—can shrink both holiday travel budgets and carbon footprints.[1] So whether you’re going abroad to be with long-lost relatives or heading to a neighboring city to visit your parents, let GY help you green-up your travel and reduce your overall environmental impact.

How to reduce your holiday travel carbon footprint

Sure, your holiday travel patterns may not rival Santa’s estimated 218 million miles in the span of 31 hours to deliver over 400,000 tons of gifts, but curbing your holiday travel emissions will still have a big impact on whether or not your holiday is a green one. Here are a few ways to begin cutting your holiday-related carbon footprint:

  1. Choose a central location: Most people travel by personal vehicle (cars and trucks) to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, but the impact is still significant. Every gallon of gasoline burned releases 20 pounds of CO2, and, because no combustion is perfectly clean, cars are also a primary source of local air pollution.[2] So choose a destination for your holiday get-together that is closest to all those involved to reduce the combined fuel consumption. This in turn will reduce demand the hazards of the petroleum industry, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution.
  2. Take public transit to the other side of town: If you're staying within the city limits, leave the car at home and take the bus (or subway or commuter train if they're available) to the family meal or gift-opening event. Trains carry 200 car-loads of people, making them the most efficient transportation option. Buses are another good choice since they emit 80 percent less carbon monoxide than the average car and can carry the equivalent of 60 car-loads of people.[3] If just 10 percent of Americans used public transit every day, the US would decrease its reliance on foreign oil by 40 percent.[4]
  3. Get out of town by train or bus: Is your destination out of town? Then consider this: Comparatively speaking, air travel and car travel—both heavy greenhouse gas producers—use equivalent amounts of energy to transport one passenger 1 mile.[5] On the other hand, traveling by train or bus (motor coach) creates fewer emissions per passenger than traveling alone in a car or taking a plane. According to Amtrak, which operates train service across the US, the carbon emissions per passenger mile when traveling by plane is .48 kg compared to only .21 kg when traveling by train.[6] A report commissioned by the American Bus Association says buses produce the least—just .056 kg of carbon emissions per passenger mile.[7] Plus, if you choose the train or bus, you’ll have a less stressful trip than if you drove yourself since you’ll avoid the hassle of traffic and navigating through inclement weather.
  4. Fly an airline with environmental policies in place: Airplanes contribute to global warming by producing 600 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and US airports generate approximately 425,000 tons of garbage. But if you can't take the train or the bus, fly airlines that have environmental policies in place, such as fuel-efficiency and recycling programs, reduced energy consumption and use of renewable energy sources. This’ll cut the impact your holiday trip has on climate change and the environment.
  5. Buy carbon offsets: Regardless of how you travel, you can help to neutralize any environmental impact you have by purchasing carbon offsets. In essence, carbon offsets are a way to financially support carbon-cutting projects (like wind farms, biomass ventures, and initiatives that destroy the potent greenhouse gas methane) to help negate the carbon emissions created by your travel. Some airlines provide the opportunity to buy carbon offsets when you purchase your ticket. Independent organizations, such as TerraPass, Carbonfund.org, and GreenLife, sell carbon offsets for both plane or car travel.