Dubious Green Summer Travel Tips

The media is promoting tips for a “Low Carbon Footprint Travel” for the upcoming summer vacation season. I saw it posted in NerdWallet and a couple other places. The facts & thinking look like they are pulled from an insipid White House press release.

They highlight that cars emit 3x as much carbon as trains per passenger mile (.47 vs .17). There is no reference to airplanes. They also don’t tell you how many people they assumed are in the car – a solo driver, a couple, a family of 6? There is no detail or context.

To help, I calculated the carbon emissions to go from Minneapolis to St. Louis this summer. I’m making this trip with my son in June. It’s about 600 miles each way, so it would generate about 564 pounds of carbon, based on their numbers. Using the TerraPass ‘carbon offset ‘ price of $16/ton, the carbon offset cost of my trip is $4.81. Peanuts.

To make the same trip by train, as the author recommends, the carbon offset cost would be $1.63. A whopping savings of $2.88 in carbon offsets. I’m not sure if I could even by a cup of coffee on Amtrak for that much. Of course, the Amtrak train doesn’t run from Minneapolis to St. Louis, so I’d have to travel an extra 500 miles to switch trains in Chicago. I don’t think I could even get to St. Louis on the same day after going to Chicago, but I will have saved $1.53 in carbon costs to the planet. Very efficient.

Of course, the article also warns me to avoid cities that aren’t “robust with public train networks”. I guess that means St. Louis. I should pick somewhere else. It suggests, “New York City or Tokyo, instead”. You would think they would realize that Tokyo isn’t the easiest city for Americans to get to for their summer vacation, but maybe that’s giving them to much credit.

I looked up Tokyo, as well. It’s a 6,000 mile flight from Minneapolis, which would be an additional ~$48 in carbon cost by air. The article cheerfully states that going to Tokyo “isn’t a sacrifice”, as “the high-speed trains there are a tourist destination in their own right.” OK.

Since EV cars are all the rage, another of their ‘helpful’ ideas is renting a Tesla through Hertz. Instead of using my gasoline-powered vehicle, I can cruise down to St Louis in a car powered by clean coal, common in the Midwest. Apparently Hertz bought a fleet of 100,000 of Tesla Model 3s (subsidized by the government, no doubt).

There’s no mention of what the carbon footprint of these vehicles are in the article, but Googling it, I came up with an average of 0.22 pounds per passenger mile, or a carbon cost of $2.11 for the trip. That average seems to be based on a weighted average of electricity generation sources, not just coal. To achieve that savings, Hertz charges $78/day plus taxes and fees to rent the car, which is about 26x the carbon cost savings. No thanks.

The funniest recommendation from the article is a toss-up between “traveling in groups” or to just “stay put”. For group travel, it cheerfully recommends that buses use only 0.39 pounds of carbon per passenger mile. That means instead of spending $4.81 of carbon to get to St. Louis in my car, I could instead spend $3.99 on a bus. A savings of almost a whole dollar.

Perhaps the greenest low carbon footprint trip of all is just to “stay put”. I love that their low carbon travel trip is not to travel at all. Like that is a helpful travel tip. I guess they think the $4.81 in carbon cost to just drive to St. Louis should be enough guilt me into staying home.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the bureaucrats in Washington and people in the media that report these dumb facts will be flying to Tokyo and patting themselves on the back for planning a green vacation for themselves.

Where are you heading this summer?

Image: Midjourney Bot

7 thoughts on “Dubious Green Summer Travel Tips

  1. My family is driving to Sonoma with our six family members consisting of four humans, our Rottweiler, and our Doberman in our Ford E350 that weighs around 6,000. I don’t think any of the green weenie travel options would accommodate our Rottweiler and Doberman?

    Here are several of the negative inputs going into the Tesla vehicle. The cobalt for the batteries comes from the Congo which utilizes slave child labor, China which is the world’s leading polluter manufactures the batteries, and you have to change out the batteries which aren’t currently being widely recycled and represent some really toxic waste.


    Here is the kicker, the batteries have to be changed out every 100,000 at a cost of $25,000 per change. I calculated my fuel cost for driving 100,000 with my not great 13.5 miles per gallon vehicle and I come out around $33,000. Thinking of the Tesla batteries as a fuel cost and adding it into the cost of charging, and the fuel cost for my 1 ton vehicle and the Tesla are about the same. I save a ton of money on depreciation, other maintenance, and insurance and get to ride in a more comfortable vehicle.

    Here is a link to a fleet management publication that pegs the cost for EVs at 3X the cost of internal combustion vehicles. These guys know the cost, because it is their job to manage a fleet of vehicles and mark them up enough to make a reasonable profit.


    A couple years back I read the book, “Inconvenient Facts” by Gregory Wrightstone. I found the two following arguments he made against manmade global warming to be the most compelling. During the Roman Empire it was warmer than today’s warm trend as evidence by tax records that showed olives being grown in Germany and citrus in the UK. You can grow neither of the crops in these countries today. The Vikings colonized Greenland around 900 A.D. and had to abandon their colony due to crop failure caused by global cooling around 1300 A.D. (coincides with the Dark Ages). The Viking’s villages were discovered under permafrost.

    I lay the blame for this bad science on our politicians who are mostly math and science phobic attorneys who lack the necessary background to make proper decisions in these areas. They are blindly followed by equally math and science phobic journalism majors in the MSM.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. While I certainly wouldn’t rent an EV to save a minuscule amount of carbon, I am bullish on where the technology is going. One of the reasons that Tesla is valued so highly is that they have hit many of the issues you raise head-on. First, their batteries last a whopping 300-500K miles – much longer than the competition. Real world testing has shown just 10% range reduction over 160K miles. Batteries aren’t typically replaced until that have degraded by 30%. Second, costs are coming down. It costs between $11K-$14K to replace the batteries in a Model 3/Y. It’s about $4K more for an S/X. That’s great progress. Third, Musk has pledged to go cobalt free. In fact, more than half of the Teslas built in 2022 were cobalt free. He’s trying to do the same with nickel, as well. While I don’t own an electric car, want one at this point, or want the government to subsidize them in any way – I am excited to see the progress they are making and expect them to make more progress soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Chief,

        Here is a story about a brother and a sister who rented a Tesla from Hertz to try one to drive from Orlando to Wichita. Because of the cold weather they had to stop 6 times to recharge it. The story explains that they drove for an hour and a half and then had to stop for an hour charge.


        Even if they get the batteries figured improved, then they have to figure out how to charge the batteries without coal. Yes, you can use solar but to have electricity 24 X 7 it would require really large batteries, which require maintenance.

        The other question, is what size of KWH rated battery are you getting for the quoted price.

        AAA did independent testing of electric cars and found that none of the current ones get the advertised mileage and that the mileage is worse during cold weather. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/06/aaa-confirms-what-tesla-bmw-nissan-ev-owners-suspected-of-cold-weather.html

        I have a problem with science and math phobic politicians trying to forcing us to switch to technology that isn’t ready yet. Electric vehicles need to earn their own way in the marketplace.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Range continues to be a big issue for EVs. None of them could replace our highway-cruiser … a BMW X5. That is the perfect road-trip vehicle: comfortable, smooth, quiet, and powerful. For us, an EV would only fit in as a around-town “grocery getter”.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We generally stay close to home in the summer to avoid crowds and allergies. The subject of carbon offsets was recently front and center for me. British Air offered to sell them on both my Amman to London and London to Los Angeles flights. I have to say that given I had been exposed to hundreds of two cycle motorcycle engines in Egypt not to mention outboard motors running very rich in Aswan that I wasn’t concerned about my flight causing much pollution.

    The air in Cairo between dust from the desert, fumes from traffic and fumes from charcoal cookers caused me to wear an N95 mask outside!

    Their is an argument to be made that if we are serious about cleaning the air, western counties should accept our advances and concentrate effort’s helping the polluted areas of the world clean the air.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agree – different parts of the world have completely different standards when it comes to air pollutants and greenhouse gases. I went to an air pollution conference at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in X’ian once for MegaCorp. Throughout the day, speakers bemoaned the polluted air in Chinese cities and the need for “new solutions”. A fellow traveler – a scientist from the University of Minnesota – pulled me aside and said, “Just so you know, no new solutions are needed. China today is London in the 1950s or Los Angeles in the 1970s. All the technology they need – low-sulfur gasoline, clean coal/scrubbers, and other filtration – are widely available in the world. They just need to spend the money to apply them to their own country. It’s will power, not know-how.”


    2. The US is at the point of diminishing returns until there are advancements in technology. Third world countries are where the US was back in the 50s.

      Liked by 1 person

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