Thanksgiving travel’s carbon footprint covers a lot of territory

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    It’s one of the biggest travel times of the year. And with gas prices low, AAA is expecting even more Thanksgiving motorists than last year. But all that driving isn’t great for the environment.

    Nearly 42 million Americans are expected to drive more than 50 miles this year to feast on turkey, about a 0.7 percent rise over 2014. In the Philadelphia area alone, more than 200,000 cars will be on the road.

    “It’s almost 400 million gallons of gasoline, and that would result in about 4.2 million metric tons of global warming emissions,” said Dave Cooke, a vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, of the national carbon footprint for cars over the holiday.

    That’s about what a coal-fired power plant cranks out in a year, he said.

    Driving is more efficient than flying, unless your destination is more than 500 miles away. But individual road trips are far more energy intensive than public transport. Especially in the Northeast, with its extensive network of railroad tracks and electric-powered trains, Amtrak is one of the greenest options. Taking the bus, particularly for destinations away from the congested Northeast corridor, is likely to be even better.

    But for those who insist on driving, Cooke advises taking the most efficient vehicle for your trip — and being wary of the inevitable gridlock.

    “If you’re not in a hybrid, when you’re sitting there in traffic,” he said, “you can as much as double fuel consumption.”

    Based on traffic patterns from last year, the navigation app Waze suggests hitting the road on Thanksgiving Day.

    For fliers, too, day-of holiday travel can be both a sanity-saving move and a slight environmental boon. Delays on the tarmac and in the sky rack up more than 5 percent of all airplane emissions, and the least-busy day is typically Thanksgiving.

    A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia International Airport said this year about 37,000 passengers are expected on Thursday, fewer than half of the peak forecast for Sunday.

    Emissions-conscious fliers can also cut down their carbon footprints by flying direct and sticking to economy class.

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