Planes vs. Trains vs. Cars

Old Oct 27, 19, 3:14 pm
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Planes vs. Trains vs. Cars

Do you have a personal calculus between the distance/time involved in a trip and the mode of travel involved?

For me, as someone currently based in the USA, I'm willing to spend up to three additional hours on a train if it means not having to fly. And I'll bike to work instead of driving if the weather cooperates. The carbon footprint involved is factor in both decisions.

That said, infrastructure matters. I'm from Tokyo and I always take trains and buses when I go back home - I haven't taken a single domestic flight in Japan. On the off chance that I would have to go to Sapporo from Tokyo or points further west, however, I'm sure I'd hop a one-hour flight instead of ride the 8+ hours of multiple trains such a trip would involve. I ride in a vehicle only with great reluctance, while I drive a lot in the USA.

So my personal calculus is location-dependent. I wish the long-distance train infrastructure in the United States was better-developed but we're generations away from that, if it ever comes. Japan may have spoiled me for train/bus possibilities but it's certainly a good aspirational goal.
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Old Oct 28, 19, 1:36 am
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I'd like to add ferry to this. Living in Finland you in practice have to make the desicion of flying or taking the ferry to get to the rest of Europe.

Also, with trains depending on how it is powered (green electricity? dirty diesel? electricity made from coal?) it may not always be a great choice: https://www.economist.com/gulliver/2...n-as-they-seem
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Old Oct 28, 19, 8:26 am
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I've been in the US my whole life. Be it for a daily commute, or running errands, or visiting friends and family, my experience has been that good public transportation options rarely exist. Drive for my daily commute, fly for any moderately long distance.

I do try to look into it and at least make sure I'm not missing an obvious alternative. For a trip to the northeast next year, options include:
  • Train, ~15 hours total transit time each way, ~$200+ round trip
    • Departure options limited to 0145 and 0645
    • Just not an option for how long it takes and how little time off I have from work
  • Drive, ~10 hours total transit time each way, ~$150 round trip in gas
    • Awfully long time for one person to be behind the wheel
    • If it's just me driving it's no better on an emissions basis than flying
  • Fly, ~6 hours total transit time (including getting to airport etc), $150-200+ airfare
I did visit Japan for the first time this year and was amazed how easy it is to go everywhere by train and on foot. Not to mention everything is on time, clean, and safe. If that infrastructure was more commonplace here I'd use it in a heartbeat.

The previous travel examples I gave are for a trip roughly the distance of Hiroshima to Tokyo, which would be ~4 hours on the Nozomi shinkansen for ~$360 round trip, and a train leaving every ~20 minutes. My daily commute is roughly the distance from Ueno to Kawasaki, which would be 35 minutes and ~$3.50 on one of the JR lines with a train leaving every ~5 minutes. I would happily take either of those options if they existed on just a basis of convenience and time, with environmental impact being a bonus.

But... different countries, geography, existing infrastructure (rail system dominated by freight travel), etc. I certainly wish there were more viable options, and that taking the train wasn't both slower and more expensive than driving!
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Old Oct 28, 19, 1:46 pm
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I'd like to see a computation about electric cars with respects to the carbon that must be generated in a power plant somewhere to produce electricity in the first place.
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Old Oct 28, 19, 2:20 pm
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Originally Posted by Gnopps View Post
I'd like to add ferry to this. Living in Finland you in practice have to make the desicion of flying or taking the ferry to get to the rest of Europe.

Also, with trains depending on how it is powered (green electricity? dirty diesel? electricity made from coal?) it may not always be a great choice: https://www.economist.com/gulliver/2...n-as-they-seem
I think the first step would be to check the ferry website for information on CO2 emissions. The information may not be there or tricky to use for a single trip calculation. Flights are easier to calculate now as more sophisticated calculators are becoming available. The calculator use is https://www.atmosfair.de/en/offset/flight. As for the train, the operating company might provide info on how it is sourcing its power and the percentage of renewable energy used.
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Old Oct 28, 19, 2:34 pm
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Originally Posted by joshua362 View Post
I'd like to see a computation about electric cars with respects to the carbon that must be generated in a power plant somewhere to produce electricity in the first place.
I recalled seeing this study recently.

https://www.dw.com/en/ifo-study-cast...als/a-48460328

A Tesla Model 3 has a worse life-cycle carbon footprint than a similar-sized Mercedes diesel car, the renowned German think tank [IFO] has found. It warns that electric vehicles are "no panacea" against climate change.
It looked at not just generating electricity but the entire life cycle including manufacturing of the car and the battery, the latter being the biggest culprit. It's just one study but my impression is that there doesn't seem to be much independent research being done into accurately tracking and comparing the life-cycle emissions to one, determine what the best solutions are and two, encourage transparency so that improvements can be made.

There are also serious environmental and human rights concerns with the mining of raw materials and production of batteries...which of course reaches beyond cars to our cell phones, laptops, etc. but is required in much larger quantities for a vehicle.

https://www.greentechmedia.com/artic...t-at-what-cost

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/...tric-vehicles/
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Old Oct 28, 19, 4:49 pm
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Until -- and unless -- there is a large mass movement against air or train travel, a person choosing one over the other is not going reduce his carbon footprint even an iota.

Let's say that Joe wants to go from NYC to DC and decides to take the train instead of flying. The same plane he would have boarded will still take off, albeit with one more empty seat. If he goes by air, Amtrak is not going to take one of the cars off of its train because Joe will not be there.

Getting on a bus to the airport instead of taking your car will make a (very tiny) difference but I am not at all certain about driving a Tesla vs a car with an internal combustion energy. Both will require the same amount of energy, be it produced by the car or transmitted over wires. In California, I suspect that most Tesla owners, given the large blackouts, have private generators to fill their batteries (an extremely fuel-inefficient method to produce electricity).

(A bit off-topic but I suspect that the wild fires in California are a major contributor of carbon -- and they double down on the damage by destroying forests which would otherwise be absorbing CO2 and replacing it with oxygen.)
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Last edited by Dovster; Oct 29, 19 at 1:15 am
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Old Oct 29, 19, 3:10 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster View Post
Until -- and unless -- there is a large mass movement against air or train travel, a person choosing one over the other is not going reduce his carbon footprint even an iota.
If you think slightly differently and consider your personal carbon footprint as a whole, every decision you make no matter how insignificant it might seem, will make a difference over your lifetime.
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Old Oct 29, 19, 7:00 am
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Originally Posted by Prospero View Post
If you think slightly differently and consider your personal carbon footprint as a whole, every decision you make no matter how insignificant it might seem, will make a difference over your lifetime.
I, admittedly, pay no attention to my carbon footprint. I make my decisions on a selfish basis -- what is good for me, not good for the planet.

That said, I believe that what I consider to be best for me very often turns out to be the most environment-friendly choice.

Some examples:

**Over a decade ago I forked out to buy, and have installed, a solar water heater on my roof. I did not do so in order to reduce the amount of fuel needed to heat up the water in my house. I did so in order to save money. For most of the year, I do not have to turn on my back-up water heater at all. For the rest of the year, turning it on for about 2 hours a day is sufficient.

**Long before various state governments began banning plastic straws in restaurants, I have refused all straws (plastic or paper) when ordering a cold drink in a restaurant or cafe. In Israel, they are served in the drink and, not being 7-years-old, I get no particular pleasure in sipping my drink through a straw. I would rather bring the glass (or the bottle) to my mouth. On top of that, if they bring my drink with a straw in it, I have to take the straw out and it drips all over the table.

**For many years I had to go to/from Tel Aviv once a week. I could either drive 2 hours in each direction or go to a local airport and fly 20 minutes to Tel Aviv. The latter, obviously, was much easier for me so I chose that. Clearly, the flights gave me a much smaller carbon footprint than driving would have.
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Old Oct 29, 19, 7:12 am
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Originally Posted by joshua362 View Post
I'd like to see a computation about electric cars with respects to the carbon that must be generated in a power plant somewhere to produce electricity in the first place.
A lot of that would depend upon the method of power generation.

In my area, the majority of power is produced by burning coal. Therefore, an electric vehicle is literally running on coal. We are slowly trying to generate more through hydro, wind, and solar, but, for now, TVA (our power generator) is 37% nuclear, 24% coal (my area), 20% natural gas, 9% hydro, 3% wind.

Nationwide:

63% fossil fuel (27% coal)
19% nuclear
18% renewable

I don't think anyone has done a study on the percentage of power generation emissions can be allocated to electric vehicles (probably a tiny amount) and compare that to traditional vehicle emissions. I would bet it is much smaller, but it most certainly is not zero.
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Old Oct 29, 19, 7:15 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster View Post
**For many years I had to go to/from Tel Aviv once a week. I could either drive 2 hours in each direction or go to a local airport and fly 20 minutes to Tel Aviv. The latter, obviously, was much easier for me so I chose that. Clearly, the flights gave me a much smaller carbon footprint than driving would have.
How do you figure that?
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Old Oct 29, 19, 8:15 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster View Post
I could either drive 2 hours in each direction or go to a local airport and fly 20 minutes to Tel Aviv. The latter, obviously, was much easier for me so I chose that. Clearly, the flights gave me a much smaller carbon footprint than driving would have.
Originally Posted by Gnopps View Post
How do you figure that?
If I had driven in both directions, the plane would still have made the flights. The addition of my weight in the plane made only a minuscule difference in how much fuel the plane consumed during the flight. My driving for two hours each way would have consumed much more fuel.
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Old Oct 29, 19, 10:24 am
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Originally Posted by Dovster View Post
If I had driven in both directions, the plane would still have made the flights. The addition of my weight in the plane made only a minuscule difference in how much fuel the plane consumed during the flight. My driving for two hours each way would have consumed much more fuel.
As far as emissions go, for such a short distance a gas guzzling BMW M5 driven with a heavy foot probably compares quite closely to one passengers share of emissions in a brand new A319 neo
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Old Oct 29, 19, 10:33 am
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Originally Posted by Prospero View Post
As far as emissions go, for such a short distance a gas guzzling BMW M5 driven with a heavy foot probably compares quite closely to one passengers share of emissions in a brand new A319 neo
The question is not how much one passenger's share of the emissions is. The question is how much there would be in additional emissions if that person flew instead of driving.
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Old Oct 29, 19, 11:11 am
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Originally Posted by bitterproffit View Post
A lot of that would depend upon the method of power generation.

In my area, the majority of power is produced by burning coal. Therefore, an electric vehicle is literally running on coal. We are slowly trying to generate more through hydro, wind, and solar, but, for now, TVA (our power generator) is 37% nuclear, 24% coal (my area), 20% natural gas, 9% hydro, 3% wind.

Nationwide:

63% fossil fuel (27% coal)
19% nuclear
18% renewable

I don't think anyone has done a study on the percentage of power generation emissions can be allocated to electric vehicles (probably a tiny amount) and compare that to traditional vehicle emissions. I would bet it is much smaller, but it most certainly is not zero.
This is part of the reason for me I'm staying with internal-combustion cars, in that there is still environmental impact from charging electric vehicles. What I do is walk, bike, and use public transport when I can. I also maintain my car regularly, and drive carefully to save fuel.

Where I see benefit to electric vehicles is in local commercial traffic, including buses, mail/package delivery, and airport service vehicles. Electric commercial vehicles would help improve local air quality by taking burning fuel and engine idling out of the equation, and might save money.
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