Climate Change

The carbon footprint of transportation

As concern about climate change has grown, individuals are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment.

This infographic was presented by Visual Capitalist. It charts the carbon footprint of transportation per passenger, per kilometer, for different vehicles based on data from the UK Government’s methodology paper for greenhouse gas reporting.

They missed this significant category: wealthy folks in private jets. According to Peter DeCarlo an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University who studies atmospheric air pollution:

A short jump with a private jet requires lofting into the air a 10- to 20-ton jet… The act of taking a huge piece of metal and putting it up into the sky is going to be an enormous carbon footprint that’s really not necessary, especially for these kinds of short distances.

The Briefing:

  • Flying domestically and driving alone are the most carbon-intensive travel methods,
  • Taking a train instead of a short flight could reduce your emissions by 84%

Another category excluded from this infographic is the bicycle.

  • Cycling has a carbon footprint of about 21g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s less than walking or getting the bus and less than a tenth the emissions of driving.
  • About three-quarters of cycling’s greenhouse gas emissions occur when producing the extra food required to “fuel” cycling, while the rest comes from manufacturing the bicycle.
  • Electric bikes have an even lower carbon footprint than conventional bikes because fewer calories are burned per kilometre, despite the emissions from battery manufacturing and electricity use.

Categories: Climate Change

6 replies »

  1. Hi Norm.

    You are on a tear with your writing, lately!

    In your latest story, you say that cycling requires 21 g of CO2 per km… which is more than riding a ferry, according to the chart. Should it actually be 2.1…?

    ‘Less than a tenth of driving’ doesn’t calculate, either way. Please help my confusion.


    Sent from my iPhone



    • A good question. Having read a number of articles, I noticed details about carbon emissions are variable, depending on factors included or excluded. What I repeated comes from the linked sources.

      The European Cycling Federation says the manufacturing footprint of bicycles is 96kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. (Automobile manufacturing is 50x to 130x greater per unit produced.) The Guardian reported:

      Assuming a lifetime travel of 19,200km, a bicycle’s emissions come out at about 25-35g CO2e/km.

      (I’d bet most bicycles in Canada do not travel 19,200 km.)

      Some reports on the footprint of cycling includes carbon involved in producing food consumed by the cyclists powering that mode of transport. To me, that seems a step too far.

      Common sense would lead most of us to understand that cycling has a much lower carbon footprint than other forms of transportation.

      But until we get thousands of kilometres of additional safe bike lanes, maybe we in BC need to calculate the carbon footprint of emergency responders picking up injured cyclists, transporting them, and treating those people in hospitals. I read that emissions of the global healthcare industry are equivalent to more than 500 coal-fired power plants, so that would boost the carbon footprint of cycling.


  2. I’m not convinced that there is a growing concern but rather a ramping up of use of fossil fuels. I am seeing (as I drive the island highway in an EV on most trips) more large RVs on the roads than ever; more high powered (3 x 350 hp on 1 boat!) boats on the water and being towed behind massive pickups than ever, and that’s in a summer of high fuel prices and war; world travel revving back up in such a way that one realizes there’s no hope for minimized global warming. The world WILL be our playground, to heck with the climate!


    • I had similar thoughts while travelling in the past week on the mainland coast. On one ferry, I saw a heavily loaded one-ton truck pulling a trailer loaded with a 3/4-ton truck, also full of gear. Travelling to Horseshoe Bay just before 11pm, we were passed by a number of super-car racers that were speeding well over 150 km/h on the Upper Levels Highway.

      Here, I write about politicians subsidizing fossil fuel producers and failing to regulate the industry. But their worst behaviour might be failure to provide leadership. Self-involved young male adults who care nothing about their own carbon footprints are just like government members who say, in effect:

      We can do what we want today and ignore the consequences. Future generations can worry about these issues.


  3. Here we have the perfect example on government ignoring climate change when it comes to transportation and it is called the E&N Railway.

    For less than the cost of the 5.8 km $3 billion subway and $2.5 billion less than the 16 km Expo Line extension to Langley (both will not take a car off the road).

    A $2.5 billion rehab of the 289 km E&N Railway providing a minimum of 2 trains per hour per direction, connecting Victoria to Courtney and Port Alberni and providing a real alternative to the car, is ignored by the NDP.

    Nope, as long as politicians and bureaucrats fly for free in first class, nothing will change. Carbon footprint; what carbon footprint?


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