When reporting on environmental topics, I do my best to avoid thinking I know the solutions to any eco problem. Here's why: environmental topics are tricky. Just when you think you know something is bad for you, it turns out to be good. Just when you think you've found the solution to a problem, it turns out your solution has a whole host of other problems.
Here again, is another example of that trickiness: a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, did a full life-cycle analysis of emissions generated by different modes of transportation. And guess what? The study found that in some cases, riding the train could be just as bad or worse for the climate than riding a plane.
This article, from NewScientist via the Environmental News Network, does a nice job of summarizing the information.
The researchers looked at 11 different modes of transportation - like the car, train, bus or plane - and then looked at emissions considering aspects like building and maintaining the vehicles and infrastructure, in measuring their effects on the climate.
According to the actual study, "Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure, provision and fuel production required for support... We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 64 percent for on road, 155 percent for rail and 31 percent for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation."
NewScientist explains the train vs. plane item: passengers on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train, were found to emit as much or marginally more than those on a mid-size and large aircraft. This is partially because 82 perent of electricity in Massachusetts is generated by burning fossil fuels.
Occupancy also turned out to be a deciding factor. The researchers found that traveling 1 kilometer on a nearly empty bus during off-peak hours emits eight times more per month than taking the same bus at rush hour. Busses with only five passengers were less efficient than cars, including SUV's and pick-up trucks.
To read the study, click here.