Ah, the family road trip: getting car-sick trying to entertain myself with a book, smashed up against the window because the younger brother is taking up a little more than his fair share of space and Mom has been in charge of the radio for the last hour, transfixed on old Hall and Oates and Jimmy Buffet albums. The air conditioner doesn’t work on one side and the batteries in the Walkman are dead. Are we there yet?
My memories of piling into my family’s Ford van to drive around the Northwest are not all bad, and many Americans feel a certain sentiment for getting out on the open road. But with gas prices at more than $4.00 per gallon in much of the country, seeing America from its winding highways and bumpy back roads may be a thing of the past. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that travel for the Independence Day weekend will be down 1.3 percent from last year due to gas prices. As costs continue to rise, public transportation begins to look pretty good and a vacation on the road is no longer within the budget. So, is the fact that people are less likely to take a vacation by car a good sign for the environment? Yes and no. Mile per mile, air travel gives off almost twice as much greenhouse gas as driving an average car the same distance. So while the costs of driving versus flying may be comparable in today’s fuel economy, driving may be more beneficial to the atmosphere if all other factors are equal.
This was a good factoid for me to learn, as I am defying the gas price gods and embarking on an epic road trip to end all road trips: a two-and a-half-week New York City to Seattle journey, hitting major cities and a few of this nation’s most beautiful national parks in between:
Take that, $4.00 per gallon gas! In the roughly 5,000 miles of travel by car, the two-door 2006 Chevy Cobalt we’ll be driving -- at 33 miles per gallon on the highway -- will spew 1.33 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to carboncounter.org. If I were to fly that same distance, 2.96 metric tons of greenhouse gas would be let into the atmosphere -- more than twice the emissions of driving. Along the way we are also tent camping more than we will be staying in hotels, we are keeping the eating-out to a minimum (PB&J, here we come) and hopefully in the larger cities we’ll be taking public transport as much as possible. Can Americans still enjoy the geographical diversity and beautiful wilderness America has to offer from the road without breaking the bank and damaging the planet? Yes. But it’s not going to be easy. Check back at The Perch to see my stops at Badlands National Park, Zion National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and other classic road trip destinations.
Find out what your summer travel emissions are at carboncounter.org, and check out the average gas prices state by state at the AAA website Another emissions calculator and more about efficient travel is available at Terra Pass, an organization offering carbon offsets for purchase.