Monday, September 27, 2010

The ecological footprint of a flight


All our actions, including the mere fact of breathing, have an impact on the environment. Food produce, moving around, dressing up, having a house or warming up… all these actions have an effect on our environment because we need mineral extraction, fuel consumption or land occupation to build up a house, build roads or grow crops. This impact is not necessarily bad in itself: the rest of animals and plants also have an effect on the environment, and even the impact of one species may help another survive.
Therefore, all living beings are bound to leave an ecological footprint, that is, some repercussion of our actions on the environment. However, the activity of a person living in Peru, just to set an example, has a different impact than the activity of a person living in Canada, who consumes much more in general (more food, more fuel, more water, more land, more objects, more everything). A Peruvian’s ecological footprint is not so significant.
Needless to say, some of our actions have a greater impact than others. A common example is travelling by plane, which is one of the highest energy expenses. To put it clearly, let’s see the environmental impact of a domestic flight from Barcelona to Seville in a medium-sized plane like Airbus A-320. Both airports are at 908 km distance, so a return flight would mean an emission of 0.542 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per passenger. This half tonne per passenger fills the volume of two double-decker buses (at a pressure of 1 atmosphere and 15ºC temperature) –quite an astonishing comparison but useless in terms of its real impact. Let’s make it easier: the impact of half tonne of carbon dioxide is the same than all the emissions of an average European person for his/her nourishment, warming up, moving around and dressing up for a couple of weeks. In the case of an American, half tonne is the amount of his/her carbon dioxide emissions in one week… but in the case of an Indian, it stands for one year. Half tonne of carbon dioxide is also the amount necessary to produce 2,350 kg of potatoes, 600 kg of bread or 50 kg of beef.
Finally, if we travel by train, the same amount of CO2 emissions would be enough to go 8 times from Barcelona to Copenhagen, which is way past Seville.  
Is it really necessary to fly? Well, depending on our priorities, but anyway, we should bear in mind that our daily actions have consequences and, at least, it is our duty to be aware of them.    

Sources:
  1. Definition of ecological footprint: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint
  2. Web to calculate CO2 emissions into the atmosphere: http://carbonfund.org/index.php?option=com_zoo&task=item&item_id=4&Itemid=216
  3. Web to see the real magnitude of any amount of CO2 on a London map:  http://carbonquilt.org/gallery/images
  4. Some examples of actions emitting a tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere: http://blogs.elpais.com/eco-lab/2010/04/una-tonelada-de-co2.html


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