Traveling Thoughtfully

Some information to help

Carbon calculators used:

Carbon calculators vary in sophistication. For instance, Atmosfair’s climate impact calculator includes both the impact of carbon dioxide and methane emissions (“carbon equivalent”) as well as non-carbon emissions such as contrails and ozone. Please note I am not advocating buying their carbon offsets.

Keep in mind:

  • 5 metric tons annual carbon footprint of a person on earth (closer to optimal)
  • 8 metric tons average for a UK citizen
  • 18 metric tons average for a US citizen

(Sourced from the World Bank website at data.worldbank.org. The numbers are from 2010 and rounded for ease of remembering)

All carbon footprints below include radiative forcing.

Per-person estimates for non-stop economy round-trip flights in US:

  • San Francisco to New York City: 1.3 metric tons
  • Boston to Miami: 0.6 metric ton
  • Seattle to Miami: 1.3 metric tons

The carbon usage is higher with intermediate stops because aircraft use a lot of fuel climbing to their cruising altitude.

  • Portland OR to New York City (non-stop economy round-trip): 1.2 metric tons
  • With one intermediate stop in Chicago (not uncommon!): 2.5 metric tons

Per-person estimates for non-stop economy round-trip international flights:

  • Seattle to Amsterdam: 2.4 metric tons
  • Los Angeles to Guangzhou: 3.5 metric tons
  • New York City to Melbourne: 5.0 metric tons

Since business and first class passengers use more room than economy passengers, their per-person carbon-equivalent estimates are proportionally greater. For example:

New York City to Melbourne:

  • economy: 5.0 metric tons
  • business: 14.6 metric tons
  • first: 20.1 metric tons

A RESOURCE ABOUT GREENER TRAVEL:

http://greenwriters.com/?s=getting+there+greener

Climate Change and Travel References

Intoduction

The climate change letter on the home page of Greenwriters (http://www.greenwriters.com) has much detailed and organized references for climate change. The references here are more focused on travel and climate change.

IPCC discussion on the Carbon Cycle

2013 IPCC Working Group 1 Chapter 6, Carbon and Other Biochemical Cycles at http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter06_FINAL.pdf

In particular, Box 6.1 on page 8 makes these points:

Phase 1. Within several decades of CO2 emissions, about a third to half of an initial pulse of anthropogenic CO2 goes into the land and ocean, while the rest stays in the atmosphere (Box 6.1 Figure 1a). Within a few centuries, most of the anthropogenic CO2 will be in the form of additional dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean, thereby decreasing ocean pH (Box 6.1, Figure 1b). Within a thousand years the remaining atmospheric fraction of the CO2 emissions…is between 15 and 40%, depending on the amount of carbon release…. The carbonate buffer capacity of the ocean decreases with higher CO2 so the larger the cumulative emission, the higher the remaining atmospheric fraction….

Air Travel Non-CO2 Multiplier

While CO2 emissions for a plane flight are calculated based on fuel consumption (3.16kg CO2 per 1kg kerosene burned), there are a number of climate-change related effects not captured by CO2 by a simple formula. These effects include nitrogen oxide emissions which create ozone some of which destroys methane. Some of this good from a greenhouse gas standpoint, some is bad, some only lasts a few weeks, some lasts for a decade. Water vapor in the form of contrails and aircraft-induced cirrus clouds also have a mixed impact. Particulates are emitted by aircraft and their impact is poorly understood. The “Carbon Offset Research & Education” website (http://www.co2offsetresearch.org/) suggests using a multiplier of 1.9. Their aviation section has a wealth of knowledge (http://www.co2offsetresearch.org/aviation/) and goes into much more depth.

Recent US GHG Emissions

The recession brought a decline in per capita U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Based on EPA data, from 2007 to 2012 per capita GHG emissions fell 15 percent, from 24.5 to 20.8 metric tons. These emissions have since been increasing. From 2012 to 2013 they rose 1.2 percent from 20.8 to 21.1 metric tons. On an aggregate basis (not per capita) these emissions rose 3.9 percent from 1990 to 2012, then rose 2.0 percent from 2012 to 2013.

See http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/inventoryexplorer/index.html#allsectors/allgas/econsect/all

Earth’s Carbon Budget

An article on the earth’s carbon budget:

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/ipcc-climate-change-report-contains-grave-carbon-budget-message-16569

Discussion of Carbon Lifetime in the atmosphere

Stephen Gardiner, the author of A Perfect Moral Storm cites a publication by David Archer in 2009 as saying “The mean lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is 30-35 kyr.” He wrote a book titled The Long Thaw in 2009 and also co-authored an article on the topic:
Atmospheric lifetime of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide. D. Archer, M. Eby, V. Brovkin, A. Ridgwell, L. Cao, U. Mikolajewicz, K. Caldeira, K. Matsumoto, G. Munhoven, A. Montenegro, and K. Tokos, Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37:117-134, doi 10.1146/annurev.earth.031208.100206, 2009.

Adventure travel with a low carbon footprint

We in the U.S. have put more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than any other nation, by far. (See also: Putting ourselves on a low-carbon budget) For many of us, air travel is our biggest contribution to CO2 emissions. But reducing our carbon footprint doesn’t mean no more fun vacations. It does mean using different ways to get to our travel destinations. Here are some trips my husband and I are dreaming about, as recent retirees who love outdoor adventures and travels near and far.

1. Hike the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim

CO2 footprint: By car we’d go direct to North Rim. By bus to South Rim.
Drive an economy car & take shuttle bus rim to rim (4 people):
3,124 lbs. CO2  trip total
781 lbs. CO2 per person

Travel by bus:    2,111 lbs. CO2 trip total
528 lbs. CO2 per person

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim is at the top of our list, for the colors, the strata, the geological formations, and the vast deep wonder of it all. Our fantasy is to start at the north rim, go to Phantom Ranch and stay there two nights and then hike out the south rim. One long day hike downhill from the north rim to Phantom Ranch and then a shorter, but steeper day uphill to south rim.

This trip requires a reservation at Phantom Ranch, which is not easy to get. Alternatively there is a campground on the floor of the canyon, as well as others along the way. There is a private shuttle bus system for getting rim to rim. We are debating doing this as a car or bus trip with another couple. For more information check out these links:

Getting to Grand Canyon by bus: http://www.wanderu.com/home/

Phantom Ranch:

The hike and shuttle back:

Mileage and vertical gain:

2. Bicycle and Ferry Adventure

San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula Discovery Trail, Victoria, Sidney and back to the San Juan Islands.

This is close to carbon free.

A friend of mine raved about this trip and its beauty, panoramic views of mountains, water, wildlife and wonderful towns and cities to explore. The trip can be done as a camping/biking trip, or as a B&B, cabins or motels-style trip. If starting in Seattle bike to Mukilteo and take ferry to Clinton, continue on to Coupeville Ferry terminal. Adds about 114 miles of biking, including return to Seattle.

Here’s the preliminary itinerary starting from Orcas Island:

Day #1 – Orcas Island to Port Townsend. 47 miles by bike plus 1¾ hours on 2 ferry rides

To assure plenty of time for breaks along the way, we’ll begin the adventure with an early departure from the Orcas Island Ferry Terminal heading to Anacortes. The ferry ride may take as much as 1 hour 25 minutes. From the Anacortes Ferry Terminal there is a great 10-mile route to Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island. Deception Pass State Park is a stunning location, well worth hanging out for a long rest stop. Some people may choose to camp there for the night. We’ll press on after a long break, with a Port Townsend B&B as the evening destination. From Deception Pass we’ll bicycle another 37 miles, avoiding the main highway, to the Coupeville Ferry Terminal. From Coupeville, we take the ferry to Port Townsend, approximately a 35-minute ferry ride, and find a B&B (of which there are many to choose from). Two historic parks in the area, Fort Townsend and Fort Warden, have campgrounds.

Day #2 – Port Townsend to Sequim. 33.2 miles

Port Townsend is a much-loved tourist destination on the water with a vibrant arts and crafts community. It could be hard to pull away in the morning. Biking out of Port Townsend we’re now officially on the Olympic Discovery Trail, primarily a bike path, though be forewarned that some portions are not completed, which means at times the route has us on roads with narrow shoulders.

Day #3 – Sequim to Victoria. 20 miles plus 1 ½ hr. ferry ride

Another bike and ferry day! Sequim to Port Angeles is a 20 mile ride. Since it’s not a long day on the bike it’s tempting to make a side trip out to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, which is a 7 mile round trip addition to the day, from the Olympic Discovery Trail. That’s a glorious side trip. The ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria is a 90 minute crossing and the schedule varies seasonally, but if we do this in the late spring through early fall and are mindful of the clock we should be able to spend the night in Victoria. If not, there are options in Port Angeles.

These links give the bike route and the ferry schedule:

These links describe the side trip:

Day #4 and #5 – Victoria, Victoria.

This is definitely worth spending at least two nights. The Royal BC Museum could occupy us for most of one day. Old world charm, gardens, tea, Victoria has it all.

Day #6 – Victoria to Friday Harbor – 17 miles plus 2 ferry rides approximately 2 hrs 50 minutes(Sidney to Friday Harbor, transfer to Orcas Island)

Bicycle about 17 miles from Victoria to Sidney and return to the San Juan Islands on the Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor. There’s a bicycle trail most of the way from Victoria to Sidney. The ferry to the San Juan Islands departs from Sidney. Note: The ferry doesn’t run between Sidney and Friday Harbor between late December and late March.

Here’s the link for the bicycle trail and the ferry back to the San Juan Islands.

3. Seattle to: Heart Mountain Internment Camp and Rocky Mountain National Park

By Bus and Rental Car

CO2 footprint: bus & rental car vs. all by car

Bus to Billings, MT & rent an economy car (2 people):
2,797 lbs. CO2 trip total
1,398 lbs. CO2 per person

 

Total trip by economy car (2 people):
4,084 lbs. CO2 trip total
2,042 lbs. CO2 per person

Here’s an adventure to really stretch ourselves on the carbon footprint goal. Doing this trip by train isn’t feasible and the only way a car trip would be low-carbon footprint is to travel with four people.

So we took a deep breath and came up with a different approach: Bus to Billings, Montana with an overnight stop in Spokane to sleep in a bed. An early morning bus from Spokane to Billings has us arrive in Billings in the early evening. From Billings we rent a car the next morning, with the best footprint we can get.

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is our first destination, located outside Cody, Wyoming and winner of multiple awards for excellence. It is one of the more fully reconstructed internment camps where Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated and confined behind barbed-wire fences during World War II. Like all the internment camps, we know to expect a remote location and desolate environment. We hope for a long contemplative stop, to imagine what this time must have been like for the Japanese internees and staff who worked here, including my own mother, who taught school there in 1942-43.

Approximately a two-hour drive from Billings, MT to Cody, WY. See the link for details: http://www.heartmountain.org/index.html

From here on we’re camping and taking a couple days to get to Rocky Mountain National Park: http://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm.

We’re in our element here, seeking out hikes, being in nature day after day, wildlife, and starry nights.

The options for side trips that call to us:

Hot Springs:

U.S. History:

4. Other “Getting There Greener” Options

The low carbon footprint possibilities keep surfacing:

  • Seattle to San Jose on Amtrak or bus, with a car rental in San Jose. Explore the coast from Big Sur to San Francisco. We love the ocean wildlife opportunities: brown pelicans, whales, seals, sea otters, and sea lions.
  • Alaska adventure by ferry and bus. Opportunities for stunning mountains and marine wildlife experiences.
  • Canadian Rockies by train or bus. Glorious hiking and scenery.
  • Green Tortoise Charters – http://www.greentortoise.com/hostels.html -We’re told to give this a chance– intriguing charter trips to great destinations.
  • North Cascades Institute – http://ncascades.org/ operates the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake in the heart of the North Cascades. Great programs, food & lodging.
  • Kayaking & camping the Gulf Islands in B.C. or the San Juans

Resources:

Union of Concerned Scientists, “Getting There Greener”:

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/what_you_can_do/greentravel/getting-there-greener.html#.VLBSqvldWSo

Carbon Footprint Calculators:

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/ind-calculator.html

http://www.terrapass.com/calculate/

Note: calculate air travel on TerraPass and add it to the EPA figure to get the full footprint.

Putting ourselves on a carbon footprint budget

Calculating our household’s carbon footprint[1] was an eye-opening experience. Seeing our footprint displayed on the screen was humbling, and at the same time motivating. Humbling because we looked like pretty average Americans. Motivating, though, since we could see our improvement opportunities more clearly. We’d already made considerable headway on our home energy consumption, plus we are fortunate to live in an area where the vast majority of electricity comes from renewable energy (hydroelectric, problematic, but far better than fossil fuels). We live in a major metropolitan area and have reduced our day-to-day car travel, doing more errands by walking or taking the bus. But, when we looked at the breakdown of our carbon footprint one major “aha” jumped out–air travel. This past year we celebrated our 30th anniversary by taking a 21-day trek in Nepal . The Nepal trip nearly doubled our carbon footprint in 2014. Mind you, we’re not regretting the trip, but looking forward we are taking on the challenge of putting ourselves on a carbon footprint budget. We’re saying,” let’s try living like Brits.” The 2011 British per capita greenhouse gas emissions were 8.59 metric tons per capita which is less than half of the American footprint of 21.02 metric tons per capita, according to the World Bank.

We love adventure, and the idea of reducing our air travel was hard. But in the spirit of trying to embrace being on a carbon budget, we started seeking out ideas for adventures with a smaller footprint. A list of great trips emerged that don’t involve a large carbon footprint. See Adventure Travel with a Low Carbon Footprint.

To help create a list of low-carbon footprint adventures, we found an excellent resource by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for understanding vacation travel carbon footprints. As they are quick to point out, the concept of traveling green almost always focuses on having a low carbon footprint once you arrive at your destination. In reality getting to the destination typically contributes the most to the travel footprint. Check out their document, “Getting There Greener”:

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/what_you_can_do/greentravel/getting-there-greener.html#.VLBSqvldWSo

To determine our carbon footprint we used the EPA calculator below, and added the air travel calculation from the TerraPass site:

It’s important to include the air travel, since for many people that’s their biggest area of CO2 emissions.

[1] The term carbon footprint refers here to all greenhouse gas emissions — primarily carbon dioxide and methane.

Attempting to create a low fossil fuel investment plan

For a variety of reasons (to be covered in another article elsewhere), I have decided on investing my retirement savings in low-fee index funds that broadly reflect the US and international stock markets (leading me to Vanguard). At this point in time, I’d like to be able to do this by removing as many of the large carbon emitters as possible, particularly the energy companies.

I also want to spend little time or money of setting up and maintaining my allocations.

If I ignore the fossil-free goal, I would have my US holdings in the Vanguard Total Index Stock Market.

To pull out the particularly terrible actors:

  1. Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund (VFTSX) for large cap — this doesn’t quite work, as it also has some mid-cap, but pulls the largest oil and gas companies.
  2. Vanguard mid-cap blended.
  3. Vanguard small-cap blended.

Percentage-wise, you could be a bit more agressive with the a Morningstar report (PDF) recommendation and go 40/30/30%. If you want to be closer to the actual Vanguard Total Stock Market index, the split will be closer to 70/20/10%.

My current international strategy: currently stymied. The Vanguard Total International Stock Market index includes Shell and BP in the top ten holdings. :(

Bonds: the Vanguard Total Bond Market index is pretty much federal government bonds with a smattering of corporate and other bonds. The only tinkering I would do here would be adding in some state and municipal bonds, on the theory that cities and states are usually doing good work with their bonds.

Got other options? There are a couple of different indexes being currently created that may get picked up by Vanguard for a low-fee fund, and I keeping my eye on them.

Example of air travel impact

About 20 years ago, I (Bill) earned a company-sponsored sabbatical, 4 weeks of extra vacation. Jan and I wanted to travel somewhere that was off the usual travel paths and see something different. We settled on Tonga, an archipelago about a third of the distance between New Zealand and Hawaii. Tonga is a kingdom that has never been colonized. Once there, we planned to visit each of the three main island groups in the country.

Traveling to Tonga required 2 flight segments:

  1. United Airlines from Portland to Honolulu
  2. Air New Zealand from Honolulu to Tongatapu, Tonga (Fuaʻamotu International)

From the main island of Tongatapu, we visited the other two main island groups over the following two weeks. We flew on Twin Otters on the now defunct Royal Tongan Airlines.

  1. Tongatapu to Vava’u Island
  2. Vava’u Island to Ha’api Island
  3. Ha’api Island to Tongatapu

For the two of us, the international flights (all emissions data courtesy of atmosfair with a radiative forcing index of 3) emitted an estimated 4.8 metric tons CO2e, to Honululu and 6.2 metric tons CO2e to Tonga.

The inter-island flights were much less. This is badly estimated at 0.6 metric tons CO2e. I could not find any data on the Twin Otter model and used a roundtrip to Vava’u with a 20% increase to account for the stop in Ha’api.

So together we accounted for 11.6 metric tons of CO2e. That is a substantial fraction of the 2009 US annual per capita CO2 emissions (17.2 or 38.4 for the two of us).

For comparison, estimates for other long-haul flights are Seattle to Heathrow for 2 people emitting 9.7 metric tons and Los Angeles to Singapore for 2 people emitting 25.2 metric tons.

A Climate Change Letter for All of Us

This is a multifaceted letter for you to read in any way that works well for you. Feel free to follow the links that currently speak most to you. You are welcome to send this link to the letter to anyone whom you think would find it helpful. You are also invited to thoughtfully use any of our written material. We see it as part of The Commons to help all of us better care for our small planet.

I’ve been increasingly thinking about human-caused Climate Change, what it means to us and to future generations, and what I can do to improve outcomes. I know some of you have been deeply involved in these issues for years and others are just beginning to grapple with these challenges. For those of you who have been deeply involved in these issues, I offer only my thanks and appreciation. I invite the rest of us to more deeply join together to work on Climate Change solutions in whatever ways best suits each of us. This is likely the biggest issue affecting life on earth in the last 66 million years (see The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). In writing this, I also want to acknowledge that many of you are working on crucial issues, such as social justice, peace work, sustainable population and education, among others. Virtually always, I think all this work benefits Climate Change solutions and vice versa.

This letter is dedicated to all young people on earth and to future generations with love. May we all wake up more and act in ways that give them more sustainable futures.

It’s been a challenge writing this as I know so many very different people. It seems like what would speak to some of you would not be helpful to others. Yet, we all inhabit this one small, currently fast-changing planet. What to do…?!

In view of our differences in how we prefer to approach Climate Change, I decided to divide possible approaches into what I call Portals. Hopefully, at least one of the 8 Portals below will speak to you and you can follow those link/s.

To help orient you, the rest of this letter is divided into 3 main sections. It includes many links, so you can follow the ones that interest you, somewhat akin to a “Create Your Own Adventure” book.

Section 1: The Portals
Section 2: Information and Resources
Section 3: Beneficial Actions

This is far too much to take in at one sitting. I’d suggest that you start by visiting the link/s that interest you the most. Please consider using anything on these pages and writing your own letter or forwarding this one to those you know and care about. Or use it in any other way that seems good to you. This writing is not mine; it is all of ours.

The Portals

PORTAL 1 “Just the facts, doc…” This is a link to key statements about Climate Change.

PORTAL 2 “Tell me a story (or two)…” has stories to help you think more about Climate Change.

PORTAL3 “Does this make economic sense…?”

PORTAL 4 “Hope, I need hope!”

PORTAL 5 Things I have learned that have forever changed how I look at us and our earth

PORTAL 6 “I need a spiritual approach…”

PORTAL 7 “Hey, give me humor!”

PORTAL 8 Mystery, Wonder, Astonishment, Terror, Beauty, Imperfection, Never ending

I hope you have found at least one Portal that is helpful to you. Please let me know if you have ideas for other ones.

Information and Resources

Key statements about Climate Change 2014 has been an extraordinary year for getting much more unequivocal, important information.

Why is it often so hard to recognize what’s happening?

Why is it so hard sometimes to do something positive? And how might we get beyond that?

What is our timeline? And how might we think about it?

My carbon footprint and why does it matter? Carbon footprints of different countries.

Other pertinent websites

Beneficial Actions

Now is the time to think and act in a both/and fashion, rather than an either/or approach. Individual actions AND group actions are both important. And enough individual actions can add up to a large group action. Group bottom up AND top down actions can both be important. Let us acknowledge and appreciate the importance of many people working on these issues in many different ways.

What speaks to you? What interests you? What gets you excited? You don’t need to do the ones that get you totally bogged down! Other people will find them exciting. Find what energizes you!

Individual Actions
Doing something in this arena is I think important for all of us. Given the magnitude of the issues, I wouldn’t want to wait for the politicians to take the lead. And certainly not the fossil fuel corporations. However, the more they notice our money going toward renewable energy, the more they are likely to shift to better directions.

Find ways each day to continue to notice what you’re doing that uses fossil fuels. And that does not use fossil fuels. Be creative! Find new ways to live. Create low-carbon adventures! Share them with others. Live like we only have 1 planet, instead of the 4 that will be needed if everyone lived like an American (WWF 2014 Living Planet Report). The more of us who join together on this, the more we can have an enormous effect. Around the world all our individual decisions about travel, housing, food, products and services pay for 70% of global emissions (see shrinkthatfootprint.com/about).

Group Action, Bottom-Up
Do you especially enjoy being part of grass-roots organizations? Or perhaps even think it would be fun to start one related somehow to Climate Change solutions?

Group Action, Top-Down
Are you a politician? Or in some leadership position that potentially could have a positive impact? If there ever was an issue the size of an asteroid and with enormous potential one way or the other for future generations, here it is! Go for it! And tell the rest of us what you need to be effective.

For the rest of us, certainly one of the most important things we can do is let our elected officials repeatedly know that this is THE important issue and we will support them. This is something we can do individually and also in groups.

This Beneficial Actions link offers many suggestions for ways you can help work toward solutions.It is meant primarily as a springboard, so don’t feel limited by it! Keep in mind that many areas of interest, such as social justice or peace work, most likely will directly or indirectly help with Climate Change solutions. Find the area/s that most suit you. Please let me know if you have additional ideas.

To the countless friends, family and others who have helped with this project I give enormous thanks!

Appreciatively,

Jan