Which is better: being smart in the car or traveling by plane?

Airplanes pollute more, but are used less in everyday life — the solution is to use cars less, in the name of sustainability

When we are doing the math on how to reduce our environmental impact in terms of transportation, which is more worth it: traveling less by car or by plane? 

Both burn fuel and release gases into the atmosphere that are not good for the environment and health, such as carbon monoxide and dioxide, methane, particulate matter, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons. But the answer to this question lies in the number of times you use one or another mode to get around. 

The point is that planes are much more polluting — but how many times do you fly per year, and with how many people? And how much do you use the car? Individually, the plane pollutes more. But, for a passenger, the villain could be the car. 

The National Civil Aviation Agency (Anac) estimates that, on average, each plane passenger “releases” 70 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilometer traveled. Despite having a greater polluting potential, as its tank holds many liters of fuel, the pollution emitted per capita is smaller than that of a car, which carries fewer people — a popular gasoline model emits 94 to 107 grams of CO2 per kilometer, according to Inmetro.

What to do then? “Within people’s reality, I believe that reducing car use would be a more viable and tangible attempt in terms of mobility. Mainly because the car is generally something that is there for your everyday use”, explains Bruno Yamanaka, content specialist at Instituto Akatu, to begin answering this dilemma.

How to use the car less?

To use the car less, you can give preference to non-polluting modes, like the electric car (unfortunately This is still a reality for few in Brazil), bicycle or your own feet — especially for very short distances.

Or you can “split” the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants that transport generates with other people, whether on public transport or hitchhiking with people traveling the same route as you.

In 2018, a study carried out by the Institute of Energy and Environment (IEMA) showed that in São Paulo, the city with the largest car fleet in the country (19 million in 2020, according to IBGE), automobiles were responsible for 72.6% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. High number for a vehicle that usually carries one person.

The mode is responsible for the 30% journey of the population of São Paulo and is, by far, more polluting than a motorcycle (the other individual mode) and the bus (which everyone thinks pollutes more).

Can you fly less?

Even though it is an expensive mode, the plane is a widely used means of transport in Brazil. Whether for business or pleasure, by sky you can reach destinations faster that take more than hours on land. If you can't give up completely, what can you do?

  • Reflect: does this trip need to be taken? If there is more than one destination, can it be done by combining another mode?
  • Replace: if it is a business trip, is it possible to hold the meeting remotely?
  • Planning: do you always use the plane to go to the same place? Wouldn't it be possible to reduce the number of comings and goings?
  • Fly little: prefer direct flights or flights with few stops, as landing and takeoff actions use a lot of fuel.

Why is it important?

Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases, responsible, as the name suggests, for the greenhouse effect and the global warming. The metric used to measure GHG is the ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2It is).

In 2018, according to the Our World in Data, transport (of cargo and people) in Brazil was responsible for the emission of 191.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

Transport is the third largest responsible for Brazil's share of air pollution. It loses to agriculture (496.1 million) and soil management and forestry (387.9 million tons).

When compared to the world, we are the eighth economy that releases the most these gases into the air from the movement of cargo and people. What about aviation and maritime transport? It is the 10th sector that emits the most CO2: 16.74 million tons

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