Adding once again to our ever-present debate about the ethics of air travel, a study from the University of California, Berkeley concludes that the major reason planes are more problematic than trains or buses is that people simply travel farther in them. This has two major implications.
For one, it suggests that efforts to curtain short-haul air travel may have limited benefits. If a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto and Montreal would only lead to incremental improvements in emissions reductions, the better course may be to try to discourage as much travel as possible. This may be especially true given another major conclusion of the study: that a very significant share of the environmental impacts of travel arises from the infrastructure (roads, rails, airports), rather than the emissions of vehicles themselves.
For another, it suggests that investing the time and money to travel by bus or train may likewise be less green than would be ideal. The problem may not be choosing to go from Ottawa to Vancouver by air; it may be an inescapable problem of making the trip in the first place.
It is well worth having a look at the webpage for the study, as it contains a lot of additional information. The study’s conclusions were also described on Slate.