How high are the carbon emissions from flying, compared to other forms of consumption?
Carbon footprints of manufacture of products, and their life cycle carbon footprints, are not easy to measure – and there are a limited number of figures around. Calculations are complicated, and there are huge numbers of variables and imponderables. But it is illuminating to compare the carbon emissions of some of our regular consumption items. For example, taking the emissions from one person flying, return (including the non-CO2 impacts) from London to Rome, economy class – that is approximately equivalent to leaving a 20 watt light bulb on, all the time, for over 5 years. Or buying more than 500 loaves of bread. Or buying around 500 pints on beer in the pub. Or buying a £600 gold and diamond necklace. Or the manufacturing emissions of making a new laptop computer. Or about a quarter of the average UK household’s use of electricity for a year. One person flying return, economy class, to New York would be about the same emissions as 760 machine loads of clothes washed, and dried in a dryer. Or about the same as the electricity to power a modern laptop for 8 hours a day, for 18 years. Or getting on for half of the average UK home’s gas usage, or almost the average UK home’s electricity usage.
How high carbon is flying, compared to other forms of consumption?
Carbon footprints of products, and their life cycle carbon footprints, are not easy to measure – and there are a limited number of figures around. Calculations are complicated, and there are huge numbers of variables and imponderables.
But below are some comparisons from information available.
Taking data from the (excellent) book by Mike Berners-Lee “How Bad are Bananas?”:
(CO2 e = CO2 equivalents)
Some consumption examples:
A carpet – good quality. 4 x 4 metres. 290 kg CO2 e
100 loads of washing, at 40 degrees C dried in a vented drier. 240 kg CO2 e
100 baths, generously filled, heated by an efficient gas boiler. 260 kg CO2 e
100 loaves of bread, from a supermarket. 100 kg CO2 e
A Mac laptop – its manufacture. Between 200 – 700 kg CO2 e
A Mac laptop – electricity consumption in use. ? 20 – 50 grams CO2e per hour. Average ? 35 grams CO2 e ie. using laptop for 8 hours per day that, per year, comes to perhaps about 102 kg CO2 e
Expensive gold and diamond necklace. Per £500 of cost. 400kg CO2e
Average UK Christmas (presents, extra food, trips, decorations, lights…) 280 kg CO2 e per adult
300 pints of beer (local bottled beer from shop, or foreign beer in a pub) – 150 kg CO2 e
300 showers (3 minute shower, efficient gas heated, aerated showerhead) – 27 kg CO2 e
300 showers (6 minutes, typical electric shower) – 150 kg CO2 e
Leaving a 20 watt light bulb on all the time for a year 100 kg CO2 e
Lavatory paper use for a year (one person) – ? 200 – 300 kg CO2 e
Driving 5,000 miles (around half UK average annual car use) in a car that does around 35mpg (about 15 km per litre – or 187 gCO2/km ). Around 3,000 kg CO2 e
Flight London to Rome return (one person – economy class) – 280 kg CO2 e without including non-CO2 impacts (= radiative forcing), and 530 kg CO2 e including them (multiplier of x 1.9). see link for calculation
Flight London to Rome return (one person – First class) – 790 kg CO2 e including non-CO2 impacts see link for calculation
Flight from Manchester to Barcelona return (one person, economy class) – including non-CO2 impacts – 510 kg CO2 e
Flight. London to Glasgow return. (one person – economy class) – including non-CO2 impacts – 370 kg CO2 e see link for calculation
Flight London to New York return (one person – economy class) – including non-CO2 impacts – 1,840 kg CO2 e
Flight London to Thailand return (one person – economy class) – including non-CO2 impacts – 3,160 kg CO2 e
Flight London to Hong Kong return, in a 747. Economy class. 3,400 kg CO2e (taken from “How Bad are Bananas”)
Annual gas and electricity consumption:
Calculations from Mike Berners-Lees book, and others done by AirportWatch using data from sources to which there are links above.