In less than 3 weeks each of us will take our last final, sell our books back for a little cash, clean out the rotten unidentifiable foods in the back of our refrigerators, and prepare to say goodbye to SLO-town for the holiday season. San Luis Obispo hosts an airport, bus station and rail station providing many travel alternatives for students and citizens alike. In an age of three dollar a gallon for gasoline, congested freeways and increasing pollution linked to many problems such as global warming, it is important to examine your travel options this winter.
Travel by flight in undeniably one of the greatest discoveries in the 20th century. Imagine telling Christopher Columbus that his long voyage across the Atlantic could be completed in half a day. The ease and convenience of air travel is hard to ignore, but unfortunately comes with a cost to the environment. For a typical cross country flight from San Francisco to New York, you can expect to burn around 100 gallons of jet fuel per passenger. It is estimated the aviation contributes anywhere from four percent to nine percent of global climate change. This includes the emitted greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide along with the contrails jets create increasing the overall cloud cover, trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Though jet air travel is undoubtedly necessary in many situations, there is something you can do to neutralize your environmental impact while flying. Companies such as Terrapass allow you to balance your “carbon footprint” by purchasing a flight “terrapass,” which will reduce carbon emissions elsewhere by funding renewable energy projects around the country. Terrapass (available for cars and homes too) has received much attention the past couple of years and has formed partnerships with Ford Motor Company and Expedia in an effort to curb pollution and global warming. Air travel will always exist, but thanks to more fuel-efficient planes and companies like Terrapass, the environmental impact of aviation is starting to make a change for the better.
Taking a bus has been one of the cheapest and easiest ways to travel for many years. Combined, companies like Greyhound and Amtrak can get you virtually anywhere in the country. Taking a bus is just like carpooling with 30 to 40 other people and splitting the gas tab. As a result, your ticket and your environmental impact are less than if you were to drive yourself. For example, a car occupied by one person would produce 15.06 grams per passenger mile of carbon monoxide and 2.09 g/pm of hydrocarbons. A bus would produce 3.05 g/pm and .2 g/pm of the same pollutants, respectively. A bus with as few as seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than the average automobile used for commuting. Also, with an increasing number of clean natural gas buses, bus travel is increasingly becoming a more economically and environmentally viable option.
Hopping aboard a train is one of the oldest ways to traverse the country and still one of the most efficient methods of travel. Passenger trains can carry thousands of passengers to destinations all over the country. Train travel gives you the freedom to walk around, go grab a meal at a diner car and take a nap in the sleeper car. Not only is a train a relaxing mode of travel, it is also even more efficient than bus travel. For example, a fully loaded bus would produce 3.05 g/pm of carbon monoxide and .2 g/pm of hydrocarbons compared to a full passenger train which produces only .02 g/pm and .01 g/pm of the same pollutants. With fuel efficiency of a full passenger rail car being 15 times greater than the average commuter’s automobile, it is no surprise that rail travel has been deemed one of the greenest ways to travel.
OK, so maybe you have a fear of trains, don’t like the smell of buses, or just want to have your car at home for the holiday break. If you must drive an automobile it is good to know there are many things you can do to increase your car’s efficiency and ease your environmental impact while you drive. For starters, try to carpool. Filling the four empty seats in your car will divvy up the gas tab and ease traffic by keeping four other cars off the road. Also, be sure your car is properly tuned by maintaining a clean air filter and fuel injectors. Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by three percent or more. Driving at 65 mph instead of 75 mph can increase your fuel efficiency up to 15 percent, reducing emissions (and speeding tickets). With every gallon of gas burned creating 19 pounds of carbon dioxide, it is easy to see how little changes can make a big difference.
As the quarter wraps up, be sure to keep the environment and your wallet in mind as you make your travel plans. SLO hosts three airlines; a Greyhound bus station, Amtrak bus and rail stations and thousands of students who will likely be headed in the same direction as you. So, however you travel, have a fun and safe holiday.
Chad is a fourth year industrial engineering major and a member of Empower Poly and the Hydrogen Energy Club.