Planes, Trains, Automobiles – all bad, some less than others

From the American Chemical Society, a robust model of planes trains and automobiles heating the Earth. So much for Fahrvergnügen.

Traveling by car increases global temperatures more than by plane, but only in long term

Driving a car increases global temperatures in the long run more than making the same long-distance journey by air according to a new study. However, in the short run travelling by air has a larger adverse climate impact because airplanes strongly affect short-lived warming processes at high altitudes. The study appears in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-weekly journal.

In the study, Jens Borken-Kleefeld and colleagues compare the impacts on global warming of different means of transport. The researchers use, for the first time, a suite of climate chemistry models to consider the climate effects of all long- and short-lived gases, aerosols and cloud effects, not just carbon dioxide, resulting from transport worldwide.

They concluded that in the long run the global temperature increase from a car trip will be on average higher than from a plane journey of the same distance. However, in the first years after the journey, air travel increases global temperatures four times more than car travel. Passenger trains and buses cause four to five times less impact than automobile travel for every mile a passenger travels. The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.

“As planes fly at high altitudes, their impact on ozone and clouds is disproportionately high, though short lived. Although the exact magnitude is uncertain, the net effect is a strong, short-term, temperature increase,” explains Dr. Jens Borken-Kleefeld, lead author of the study. “Car travel emits more carbon dioxide than air travel per passenger mile. As carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer than the other gases, cars have a more harmful impact on climate change in the long term.”

###

ARTICLE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Specific Climate Impact of Passenger and Freight Transport”

DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT ARTICLE http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/es9039693

CONTACT:

Jens Borken-Kleefeld, Ph.D.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Laxenburg, Australia

Phone: 43 (2236) 870-570

Fax: 43 (2236) 870-530

Email: Borken@iiasa.ac.at

Leane Regan, Press Officer

IIASA

Tel: +43 2236 807 316 or Mob: +43 664 443 0368

Email: regan@iiasa.ac.at

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75 thoughts on “Planes, Trains, Automobiles – all bad, some less than others

  1. So, driving, or traveling short distances by air like most “common” folk do is bad and harms Mother Earth, but those long, long, transoceanic trips to places like Bali and Copenhagen and Mexico and such for climate conventions is A.O.K. Gotcha, I understand now.

  2. I have never been snipped on this site but if I expressed my true feelings about this report I think I would be banned!

  3. Being chemists you would think that they would check the temperature record just to make sure it was going up.

  4. Just perhaps if the money spent on this study and many more just like it went into research to save fuel, then the resultant products will just maybe be something that consumers and business want to buy, something they feel that they must have, because they save them money, and that in turn saves the country money. And it may create demand that saves a job or 2 or dare I say it create a job or 2. It may also contribute to less real pollution and with a side benefit of appeasing the warmists, because any reduction in fuel burn is the quickest way to reducing CO2 if you believe that it really matters.
    In the scheme of thing whilst we continue to fund studies that dish up useless information we will not develop the technology to move on. As and as an ex diesel engine engineer I’m appalled at the current diversion of resource trying to reduce almost zero harmful pollutants to less than zero. We are into diminishing returns and money now needs to be spent on properly focused research otherwise the lead the West currently has will disappear.

  5. So what happened to the “global dimming” effect of contrails that was supposedly cooling the earth? According to this study, aircraft only warm the earth now?

  6. More mere computer output. And for how long has CO2 stayed in the atmosphere for far longer than any other gas, and where is the proof that the same CO2 does the heating. If that were true, the greenhouses out in the countryside that pump in elevated concentrations of CO2 to promote plant growth should be flying about like hot-air balloons!
    The line that told me the ‘models are robust and the uncertainty low’ says it all!
    Fortunately for my PC, I had put my coffe cup down on the desk before I read that.
    And they all get paid for producing this horepuckey

  7. I couldn’t find anything about how they compute the person-kilometers for cars, i.e. how many passengers they assume. I wonder, because I find it quite offending that I pay huge CO2 taxes for my car and the diesel it consumes, while it actually is more energy efficient than almost anything else when we use it for long holiday trips: Since we travel 5-6 people in the car, the consumption per person-kilometer is very low even when e.g. driving at very high speed on the Autobahn. In fact (speaking of Germany…) the energy consumption calculator of http://www.bahn.de (“Vergleich” in the form on the left hand side) confirms what I knew: 5 people consume the least energy (by far!) per person if they travel by car (compared to train and air plane).

  8. “Although the exact magnitude is uncertain, the net effect is a strong, short-term, temperature increase,”

    A report based on unproven assumptions giving rise to uncertain outcomes, but they are still sure of a strong temperature increase. So that passes the “Can we have more AGW research funding please” test.
    Did they only measure plane journeys starting at night in a cold location and ending during the day in a warm one by any chance?
    I think if I measured the affects of travelling by plane from California to Alaska, I could show a strong cooling effect. Especially if the atmospheric conditions meant that the contrails spread out and blocked sunlight, causing cooling.
    I guess the American Chemical Society is as dedicated to propagating a non-scientific, hypothesis as the American Physics Society.

  9. First of all: I am happy to see that you are on board again, Anthony!
    Second, I completely agree with Peter Geany that money should be spent on constructive research which solves problems rather than on research which desperately tries to find problems – but never any solutions!
    Concernig the overall eco-balance of our means of transport: A lot would be gained if we asked our engineers to design vehicles in a way which makes upgrading to newer, more efficient engines possible. I find it hard to believe, that a car could not be designed in a way which allows engine replacement for lets say two modell generations. This could crate jobs locally – in your workshop around the corner – and save a bit of energy too – all the energy which goes into the production of the body & interior. If all the alarmist politicians really cared so much about our future, and if their catastrophist assumptions were realistic – then it would surely be in order to demand a more “sustainable” car design. But sustainability is not really on their agenda. They rather spent taxpayers money to wreck perfectly usable vehicles in order to stimulate sales…

  10. global cooling must have been very severe over the last decades to make up for the warming westerners have generated.

  11. “The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.”
    The findings are only as robust as the underlying assumptions. One of the assumptions is that warming is bad. That assumption is utter garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. Warming is beneficial. Higher CO2 concentration is beneficial. Thus the correct conclusion would be that travel by plane, train, or automobile are all beneficial but in the long term travel by automobile provides the most benefit.

  12. Del: You’re in a pretty lousy mood, huh?
    Neal: To say the least.
    Del: You ever travel by bus before?
    [Neal shakes his head]
    Del: Hmm. Your mood’s probably not going to improve much.

  13. I am reading the paper. There seems to be an awful lot of assumptions made. I don;t think that most of them are “provable” assumptions at first glance. I did talk to my Gerbil — he says they are wrong.

  14. They mention uncertainties but do not test those uncertainties in their assumptions in their model and produce a table of “absolute” values. For example, what range of values would you get using a range of values for CO2 residence time? The most uncertain assumption is the CO2/global temperature relationship upon which their calculations are based. Pick your assumption values and you can get what ever value you want to support your assumptions.

  15. This report should be given top priority, they have found a way to control the temperature of the Earth. Not only have they confirmed using cars and planes warm the Earth and for how long. They have found a way to cool the Earth!
    We just need to operate more passenger ships! A cruise for everyone!!!

  16. James Sexton says:
    October 21, 2010 at 5:07 am
    Just can’t quite get myself to read the pdf.
    ======================================
    ditto James
    Now I have to get in my plane and run to the grocery, 5 miles away……….

  17. So, if this is true, then the sharp drop-off in air travel immediately after the events of 9/11 should have resulting in a sharp drop in temperatures, since the airplanes were no longer doing their trick of “strongly affect(ing) short-lived warming processes at high altitudes”. I don’t remember hearing about a record cold snap in the winter of ’01…

  18. Obviously we need to ship more goods to offset our other uses. If we ship enough temperatures should go down. Wait …

  19. James Cameron, director of Avatar, is testing energy usage by different means of transport and in various living conditions….. all at his own expense. I expect he’ll issue guidelines, for us, at some future date.

  20. “The researchers use, for the first time, a suite of climate chemistry models…”
    “The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.”
    Are there any validations using measurements?
    And, I understood from a previous IPCC report that aviation adds Ozone to the atmosphere, which I thought in the upper atmosphere was a good thing. Does that mean if the reduction in CFCs brings about an increase in Ozone this will contribute to Global Warming?

  21. John Day says:
    October 21, 2010 at 5:24 am
    Anthony, are you suggesting that we ditch our petroleum-powered transports?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle

    This study does not indicate that there is anything other than petroleum-powered transports, thus this “Bicycle” thing does not exist except as a skeptical fantasy.

  22. To Jens Borken-Kleefeld and colleagues, please let go of the binky(AGW). It’s time to grow up and admit you have no need for the binky. It’s retarding your growth and clouding your ability to think freely. So, come on and let go of the binky, you will feel as if a load has been lifted off your back and blinders have been removed from your eyes.

  23. Sinners! Repent of thy fuleish habits! Give up thy Mustangs(both flying and driving kinds), thy Boeing 707’s! are you listening Travolta?! Kneel at the feet of the Profit! ask Gaia’s forgiveness!
    Get on thy donkey cart and sin no more!
    -Oh and don’t forget to fill the coffer for indulgences as you leave-
    (the Profit needs an overhaul on the Gulfstream…)

  24. Not more models and “robust” results despite the uncertainties! What happened to the scientific methodology?

  25. BUT — They were the most broadly encompassing models ever used. This must mean they are better. We don’t have to verify the models you know. We just have to make them all encompassing.
    Massimo Paggliuci tells us that we engineers and scientists who aren’t specialists in global warming can’t have an opinion about the methods used.

  26. As their initial assumption is that COo2 drives the climate, their conclusions are a foregone conclusion. And their conclusions also have to be wrong.
    How on Earth can their findings be robust when the factors they are considering are so poorly understood or simply misunderstood?
    Why do we waste so much money and time (I put time second as it’s obvious that they put no value on their time, wasting it this way) on computer models that suck beginning with the basic premise?
    They also really have no idea what effect plane exhaust will have on ozone. Just as the chemistry of the ozone scare was fabricated, I have little faith in their understanding of the chemistry at that altitude and those temperatures, all under solar irradiation.
    Waste, waste, waste. It’s becoming a national pastime in climate science.

  27. Cross country rail in America is the worst.
    How to fudge:
    Model costs based on seats and not passengers. If they use a train and it holds 300 people, they assume it is full. If they compare an SUV, the assume it has 1 passenger and not 10.
    Since trains are very heavy and stop often, discount airlines beat rail all the time. They fly non stop and use their energy going up to cruise speed and altitude.

  28. Well, something has to be going wrong with the climate. If AGW is true as the warmists suspect, then their immediate concern is not rising seas, but the growth of stupid. Appears to approach HS proportions. I need a multi-year mega-grant. We have to determine whether the rise in stupid is responsible for un-precedented AGW.

  29. The norwegian prime minister says reducing CO2 is extremely important.
    At the same time the norwegian sosialism is financed by fossil fuels.
    I call it fossil-socialism.
    So when asked why they do not reduce oil production he answered that reducing it would be damaging to the sosialist-idea. It would be harmfull to the poorest in society.
    There you go.
    Either you believe in Global Climate disruption, or you dont. If you believe in it, you should reduce CO2 “pollution”.
    My conclusion is that they dont believe in it, but it is a good money-machine for the government.

  30. “The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.”
    ______________________________________________________
    O_o Say what?? There must be a new definition of that hackneyed term, ‘robust’. Why not simply use the more accurate word, ‘gar bahj’?

  31. I find the humor from the folks in the comment sections is hilarious! WUWT is the best site to read for several reasons, one being the intelligent sense of humor of the average contributor.

  32. Below is a quote from I cut and pasted full article .pdf document
    …”The combined uncertainty is ±44% in the case of road transport and 1 order of magnitude higher in the case of aviation and shipping. The uncertainty for rail transport is in between these values. Similar uncertainties apply to our impact estimate per passenger-hour and volume-kilometer, as they are based on the same sources. Notwithstanding these significant uncertainties, the qualitative statements below remain robust.”…
    Does the 1 order of magnitude mentioned there not mean that there is an error bar og +/- 440% on some of the numbers they use or am mistaken ?
    How can any numerical result with a plus or minus error of almost four and a half times the it’s size be claimed as a foundation for a robust conclusion.
    To me at least it sounds like “sorry we dont know a s… about what we are talking about , but we will conclude what our sponsors want to hear, (” and we are veee..rry happy to have them spend their pecunia on us “).
    But then again maybe am just being unfair, as I did not bother to read further on.

  33. The researchers use, for the first time, a suite of climate chemistry models to consider the climate effects of all long- and short-lived gases, aerosols and cloud effects, not just carbon dioxide, resulting from transport worldwide.
    As Dr. Zeus explained, “Holliday Inns now have the only remaining suites safe from the Forbidden Zone. This time we chose Mars Bars over the Hostess Cupcakes.”

  34. ‘regards’
    Apologies for the misspelling.
    I am a 2-fingered typist and pressed send before I checked…
    O silly me-o

  35. I got as far as “The researchers use, for the first time, a suite of climate chemistry models ……” before I quit.
    Nothing following on from this statement would be worth my reading any further as I know it would be a complete waste of my time.

  36. When one assumes that an unproven hypothesis is true and uses it as the premise, the logical conclusions reached are arguably irrefutable. However, logic is a process that does not guarantee that conclusions reached are correct.
    Where is the proof that anthropogenic CO2 emissions trap heat that is dangerous to our planet and its biosphere?

  37. Anthony hope all is well for you and your wife? Now my comment on the “robustness” of the article in question BWHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, man what a load of “CR@P!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. #
    #
    Paddy says:
    October 21, 2010 at 10:16 am
    “When one assumes that an unproven hypothesis is true and uses it as the premise, the logical conclusions reached are arguably irrefutable. ”
    Well said.
    Every study like this should begin with the phrase,
    “I and only if our theories are correct, then …….”

  39. “Passenger trains and buses cause four to five times less impact than automobile travel for every mile a passenger travels.
    What a coincidence.
    Do they know any good train cos (cough CSX cou gh)the taxpayer can subsidize?!**
    Do they know any good UNIONS who can run all of our public transportation and shipping for us?!
    Do they know any good Public Employees Retirement programs for all of these train and bus operators and maintenance workers we can pay for?!
    **The federal government’s RR losses per passenger:
    Amtrak $32
    Cascades line $32 per passenger
    Coast Starlight $100
    Sunset Limited $462.11

  40. Enclosed motor scooters, with a side car, are definitely the way to go. In a pinch, we can flip the pedels out and/or just use a good $550 European racing bike. The newly-retired can get a little extra money peddeling the old folks around in Ric-Shaws. Ain’t the future so bright and shiny?
    PS: If the DC Mob were serious about getting off foreign oil, don’t you think we’d have the French, Japanese, and Chinese over hear building us some NucPolwer Plants while we all laid bact sipping our MintJullips watching from a nice easychair under a shady Magnolia? Need I say more America? It’s a hoax, nothing but a blooming hoax.

  41. “The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.”
    Never has there been so much bad science celebrated in so few words.

  42. Is this for a virtual world in cyberspace? Maybe a game of Scotland Yard, global warming edition? You have X amount of carbon units to spend before they can track you by heat signature.

  43. lath says:
    October 21, 2010 at 11:15 am
    Is this for a virtual world in cyberspace? Maybe a game of Scotland Yard, global warming edition? You have X amount of carbon units to spend before they can track you by heat signature.

    priceless….that made my day, thanks!
    However, on the bright side, the game is based on “robust” data if we base it on this study!

  44. I feel much better now knowing that I didn’t have the report shipped to me by overnight air and driven to my house so I could read it in a timely manner.

  45. And this is what passes for science?

    The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.

    TRANSLATION: The numbers look good, whether we add 2+3 or 3+2, we keep ending up with 5. As far as the climate is concerned, we haven’t got a clue.
    and

    Although the exact magnitude is uncertain, the net effect is a strong, short-term, temperature increase.

    TRANSLATION: Hey, you stand behind a running jet engine and tell me that all that hot air isn’t having any effect. So, all those jets flying around in the sky gotta be heating the air some; we just ain’t got a clue as to about how much.

  46. Zeke the Sneak says:
    October 21, 2010 at 11:10 am
    They world is upside down. Can’t believe that, in the land of free market. Now that you are proudly becoming a “Banana Republic” most probably temperatures will increase accordingly 🙂

  47. Interesting. So in the virtual world of their models, a virtual trip by auto raises the virtual temperature of their virtual world more than the equivalent virtual train or bus trip. Well I for one am totally convinced: The next time I take a virtual trip it will definitely be by virtual bus or train.
    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just drive my real car to a real bar and reward my green virtue with a real beer. 🙂

  48. Enneagram says:
    October 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm
    Now that you are proudly becoming a “Banana Republic” most probably temperatures will increase accordingly 🙂
    You are right, I never thought of it that way. Maybe some rich tourists will come here for the warm climate!*
    *Warm climate based on models not guaranteed. Some restrictions may apply. See local area for details.

  49. “So, if this is true, then the sharp drop-off in air travel immediately after the events of 9/11 should have resulting in a sharp drop in temperatures, since the airplanes were no longer doing their trick of “strongly affect(ing) short-lived warming processes at high altitudes”. I don’t remember hearing about a record cold snap in the winter of ’01…”

    As a result of the crystal clear skies over the USA in the aircraft-free skies in the days following those attacks, the temperature across the USA was increased.

  50. Severian says: October 21, 2010 at 5:07 am
    So, driving, or traveling short distances by air like most “common” folk do is bad and harms Mother Earth, but those long, long, transoceanic trips to places like Bali and Copenhagen and Mexico and such for climate conventions is A.O.K. Gotcha, I understand now.

    Long trips are the most fuel efficient for aircraft, as mileage in the high, thin air is much better than down low. Back when I worked for a living, I calculated a Boeing 777 on a flight Houston to London, average passenger load, had about the same passenger-miles per gallon as my 21 mpg-city Avalon with two passengers. Most cars I see usually have only one occupant, so I slept well at night.
    Farther back, back in my 727 days, the most fuel efficient profile for shorter trips was climb to midpoint, then idle descent glide to landing.
    .
    Djozar says: October 21, 2010 at 10:03 am
    (sarc on) How about hydrogen peroxide powered vehicles? Wasn’t this used in some submarines? (sarc off)

    The rocket boosters that launched the V1 buzz bombs in WWII were powered by hydrogen peroxide. The boosters were recovered after launch and reused.

  51. The locomotive in the picture at the top of the post is a famous Pennsylvania RR electric. I’d get up and find the model number in my train books but I can’t. Bete Noir the CAT is on my lap.

  52. Djozar says:
    October 21, 2010 at 10:03 am
    (sarc on) How about hydrogen peroxide powered vehicles? Wasn’t this used in some submarines? (sarc off)
    That’s never going to work. We’re supposed to be going green not blonde.

  53. Another attempt to vilify CO2 without which this planet would be a lifeless lump of rock. If these people spent as much time and money working out a good way to give the whole of the third world potable water and reliable plentiful electric power all would be better off and the planet a better place.

  54. Contact info looks borken:
    Laxenburg is not in Australia.
    Well, not that one.
    Try “Austria”. IDD prefix matches.

  55. Sandy says:
    October 21, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Who gave those idiots computers?

    Sorry about that. I was an engineer in the PC industry from 1975-2000 with the final 7 years at Dell Computer which during my time there attained and probably still has the lowest cost PC production & distribution in the world. Who knew what it would lead to? As a hobby starting in the mid-1990’s I also authored one of the first social networking sites and built one of the first large instances of ad hoc peer-to-peer networking so that my bandwidth cost to keep the network alive was almost inconsequential. It became more than a hobby when during the gold-rush of banner advertising. For a couple of years at the turn of the millenium I was serving up 4 million banner ads each month. They only paid about a tenth of a cent per ad but few million pennies here and a few pennies there eventually adds up into some serious coin. Who knew what it would lead to? I was just earning a living and having fun doing it. Now my wife, who thought I was nuts talking to so many people electronically through text messaging 20 years ago, has a crackberry permanently attached at the wrist and spends more time at it than I ever did. Go figure.

  56. “They concluded that in the long run the global temperature increase from a car trip will be on average higher than from a plane journey of the same distance. … Passenger trains and buses cause four to five times less impact than automobile travel for every mile a passenger travels.”
    So it appears airplanes fall between cars and trains and buses in terms of long-term impact, the “best” being passenger trains and buses. So the tens of thousands of planet-saving people making trips to places like Bali and Copenhagen and Mexico and such for climate conventions should be travelling by passenger train or bus.
    Gets my vote!
    “The findings prove robust despite the scientific uncertainties in understanding the earth’s climate system.”
    Or, “Trust me, I’m a Doctor! OK, I’m NOT a Doctor but I play one on TV! Why yes, I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Why do you ask?”

  57. This looks like a good place for this. The tips & notes is a bit full, and a long wait.
    They’re back!
    Green Wing Aerodynamic Side Skirts > Ridge Corporation – Next Generation of Premium Sideliners
    http://ridgecorp.com/green-wing-aerodynamic-side-skirts
    They tried these 10 years ago, at least something similar, maybe not this exact particular manufacturer. They look great when they’re new, but soon become rag tag torn up junk! They were eventually abandoned. Trailer jockeys and spotters seem to have a knack for crumpling them on humps, docks and curbs. Some steep railroad crossings damage them. Have you ever seen a semi with a 53′ trailer get into a tight spot, or go down the wrong driveway and try to turn around in it? I’ve seen plenty, and they usually emerge with a torn or crumpled up skirting. The mounting brackets are flimsy, because most cash strapped transport companies can’t afford beefy skirts like you see on Fed-Ex trailers, for example. Their trailers are mostly short pup-trailers anyway, so they can get away with them. But even Fed-Ex leaves a sizable gap at the bottom.
    I’ve seen several of these things flapping loose while traveling down the interstate at speed limit or above and some of them partially breaking off and flying like a high speed frisbee!
    Can you imagine riding along on your Harley Davidson motorcycle and next thing you know a chunk of fiberglass or sheet metal sideliner is sticking in your chest or cut your throat???
    Oh, boy! Here we go! I thought they would trash can this idea! Wrong! (see below)
    Innovative Fleet Installing 3,500 Sets of Trailer Aero Improvers
    http://www.truckinginfo.com/trailer-talk/detail.asp?news_id=71661&news_category_id=115
    Not only do these things also appear flimsy sheet metal, but just wait until there are some collisions into these! Especially in tight turns on multiple lane streets and highways. Lawyers will have a field day, I’m afraid. It is Insane!
    Also, strong crosswinds make high profile vehicles unstable, now they’ve just made them more of a beast to keep steady.

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