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Getting There Greener

Chapter 1

Rules of the Road for a Greener Vacation Today’s American Vacation Can Mean Big Carbon


Total CO2 Emissions (Pounds)

Meet the Elsen family—our amalgam of a typical American family. Greg and Ann Elsen, daughter Sarah, and son Joey live in the suburbs of Chicago, and have recently taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint and save money at the gas pump. Greg, for example, leaves his sports car in the garage and drives a Chevy Malibu on his 10-mile round-trip commute to work. Sarah, meanwhile, just traded in their old Ford Explorer for a more fuel-efficient Ford Escape, and is now getting about 23 miles per gallon for her 25 miles of daily work and errand travel. Now Greg and Ann face another decision: how to travel on their vacation to Disney World during Sarah’s upcoming spring break. Despite the expense of flying, they have saved enough credit card points to afford first-class seats for the entire family, and an upgrade on a rental car. But to fly free from Chicago to Orlando, they have to take a connecting flight through a hub city—either Houston or Cleveland. Finding the comfort (and novelty) of first class too good to pass up, the Elsens go for it, and decide to fly to Orlando through Houston. What the Elsens don’t realize is that global warming emissions from one vacation without a plan to get there greener can greatly exceed emissions produced during a year of weekday commuting. It turns out that the emissions from flying first-class and making a significantly out-of-the-way stopover really add up (Figure 1). The Elsens’ story is being retold by millions of Americans every year. Vacations account for more than half the trips of 100 miles or more that Americans make each year.2 U.S. residents take almost 650 million trips of 50 miles or more every summer.3 In 2006, some 124 million Americans took a vacation, traveling an average of 1,200 miles.4

Figure 1. Elsen Family Commute vs. First-Class Vacation

10,000 8,000 6,000 4,000 2,000 0

Family Annual Weekday Commute

Family First-Class Vacation

Note: The comparison assumes that the Elsens’ Chevy Malibu gets 25 miles per gallon, their two-wheel-drive Ford Escape gets 23 mpg, and the family takes four first-class round-trip flights from Chicago to Orlando via Houston. Weekday commuting represents 35 percent of the Elsens’ average annual automobile travel.

The family car is still the king of American vacation travel, with 82 percent of us hopping in a sedan, wagon, minivan, or sport utility vehicle (SUV) to get away, though generally at least one vacation trip per year is made by plane.5 Conversely, travel on motor coaches (tour buses, intercity buses) and trains account for only 3 percent of all U.S. vacation travel.6 But these trends are not set in stone. Indeed, as the effects of climate change increasingly affect the way we live and travel, making carbon count as part of a vacation plan could, and should, spur Americans to rethink the way they travel. This report turns an analytical eye toward this enormous transportation challenge, with the goal of helping consumers evaluate the carbon footprint of their vacation travel. Of course, we recognize that people also care about the cost, speed, and flexibility of their trips. With that in mind, this report gives Americans a new analytical tool for identifying greener ways to travel

Getting There Greener - Travel Report  

While the idea of "green" vacations has attracted recent attention, most information focuses on what to do when you get to your destination,...

Getting There Greener - Travel Report  

While the idea of "green" vacations has attracted recent attention, most information focuses on what to do when you get to your destination,...