What Mode Of Transportation Is Greenest? As thousands of travelers take to the roads, rails and sky this holiday season, we take a look at the traveler's carbon footprint. Taking the bus, it turns out, is just about the most environmental method.
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What Mode Of Transportation Is Greenest?

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What Mode Of Transportation Is Greenest?

What Mode Of Transportation Is Greenest?

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So, what about going green when you travel? The Union of Concerned Scientists ranked the best and worst ways of getting from point A to point B in terms of your carbon footprint. They considered distance and the number of people traveling. Jim Kliesch is the study's main author. We asked him to give us the ranking from worst - that is, biggest - carbon footprint to best for a hypothetical family of four traveling 1,000 miles. The worst?

Mr. JIM KLIESCH (Senior Analyst/Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists): Flying first class.

BRAND: Our hypothetical family can't really afford to fly first class. Anyway, still, why is first worst?

Mr. KLIESCH: First-class seats take up more room on a flight. So, they're actually responsible for more of the jet fuel being burned. The more jet fuel being burned, the more carbon dioxide you're putting into the atmosphere. The next worst is taking a diesel train - just a little bit better than driving a large 12-mpg SUV.

BRAND: Now, remember, we're talking about a family with kids traveling 1,000 miles by train. How many hours is that?

Mr. KLIESCH: Gosh. You know, off the top of my head, I really couldn't answer that question.

BRAND: Well, we figured it out. That's 20 hours of quality family time, the kids kicking the seat in front of them, begging for yet another trip to the snack car, all while you're trying to sleep sitting up. Next?

Mr. KLIESCH: Flying economy, nonstop.

BRAND: Much better.

Mr. KLIESCH: People flying should try to fly direct. If you have to take a layover, take one that keeps you traveling in a relatively straight line.

BRAND: And the next best? An 18-miles-per-gallon SUV followed by...

Mr. KLIESCH: Taking the family road trip. Putting a number of people into an efficient passenger car can actually make some pretty good sense when it comes to carbon footprint.

BRAND: All right, the moment we've all been waiting for: the number-one most environmentally friendly way for a family of four to make a trip of a thousand miles?

Mr. KLIESCH: By bus.

BRAND: A bus?

Mr. KLIESCH: They're a great low-carbon option. On a per-passenger basis, they omit only 15 percent - that's one-five percent - as much carbon as a typical, solo-driven, 23-mpg car.

BRAND: Kliesch reassures us bus travel has gotten better.

Mr. KLIESCH: Touch seat-back video and satellite radio and coffee bars and a number of other amenities. So, it's not exactly the old, smelly bus that consumers may recall from, you know, decades past.

BRAND: OK. Here's a slight problem. If you're planning on getting there by Christmas, 1,000 miles, well, you would have had to have started days ago. You can find a link to the "Getting There Greener" guide at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of song "Bus Stop")

THE HOLLIES: (Singing) Bus stop, wet day, she's there. I say, Please share my umbrella. Bus stop, bus go, she stays, love grows, Under my umbrella...

BRAND: Have you ever taken an endless family trip by bus, plane, train or automobile? Maybe you tried a 20-hour train ride with your kids, thinking it would be romantic, and well, the reality was something different. We're sharing holiday-travel horror stories at our blog, Daydreaming. Tell us about a trip you took that made you wish you just stayed home. Come to our blog, npr.org/daydreaming.

(Soundbite of song "Bus Stop")

THE HOLLIES: (Singing) All the people stared as if we were both quite insane Someday my name and hers are going to be the same

That's the way the whole thing started. Silly, but it's true, Thinking of a sweet romance beginning in a queue. Came the sun, the ice was melting. No more sheltering, now. Nice to think that that umbrella led me to a vow.

BRAND: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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