Environmental Impact: Boat vs. Plane Emissions (2022)

In 2019, after boycotting air travel on account of its colossal carbon footprint, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg set sail on a 15-day transatlantic voyage from the U.K. to New York for a U.N. Climate Action Summit. Her widely publicized endorsement of slow, carbon-neutral travel shone a light on theenvironmental impact of flying, ultimately leading to a whole flight-free movement. But alas, traveling a la Thunberg (i.e., via sailboat) is perhaps too technical and time-consuming to be considered a viable means of transportation, and trading airplanes for cruise ships can lead to an even bigger problem, consideringboats are on par with planesin their greenhouse gas emissions. In some ways, watercraft can be evenmorepolluting.

Several factors should be considered when weighing the emissions rate of boats versus planes, such as the vehicle's age, its fuel type and efficiency, the length of the trip, number of passengers, and so forth. Learn more about the different kinds of gasses passenger planes and cruise ships emit, the environmental impact of those gases, and which of these notoriously dirty modes of transport is greener.

Airplane Emissions

Environmental Impact: Boat vs. Plane Emissions (1)

Of the reported 16.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions for which transportation, in general, accounts, air transport (of both people and freight) isresponsible for 1.9%.A 2018 report from the International Council on Clean Transportation said passenger transport accounted for81% of total aviation emissions—that's 747 million metric tons of secreted carbon dioxide per year. The International Council on Clean Transportation says if the aviation industry were a country, it would be thesixth top greenhouse gas emitter. In the U.S. alone, emissions from domestic flights have increased by 17% since 1990, andpassenger air travelcontinues to have a positive growth rate globally, interfering with efforts to slow global warming.

Carbon dioxide makes up about 70% of aircraft emissions. CO2 is the most widely understood greenhouse gas, which is produced by the consumption of jet fuel. The type of plane, number of passengers, and fuel efficiency are all factors in exactly how much CO2 a plane emits, but the Environmental and Energy Study Institute defines the ratio as about three poundsper pound of fuel consumed, "regardless of the phase of flight." A chunk of the gas emitted by a single flight, the nonprofit notes, can linger in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In addition to CO2, though, burning jet fuel also generates nitrogen oxides, classified as indirect greenhouse gases because they contribute to the creation of ozone. Although still a relatively small component of total aviation emissions, NOx emissions from air travel are increasing at a faster rate than CO2, doubling from 1990 to 2014. That increase can be attributed to a growing aviation industry—one whose primary environmental mission is to curb emissions from the more notorious CO2.

Of course, not all planes are created equal, and while none are truly eco-friendly, some are greener than others. The Airbus A319, for instance, outperforms the classic Boeing 737 of its size (the 300 model) in fuel efficiency. It consumes about 650 gallons of fuel per hour compared with the latter's 800 gallons per hour. The Airbus A380 was briefly marketed as a "Gentle Green Giant," but the ICCT notes that the Boeing 787-9 was60% more fuel-efficientthan the A380 in 2016.

(Video) Environmental Impact Of Aviation Emissions & CO2 On Climate Change

The Effects of Radiative Forcing

TheEESI says only 10%of gases produced by planes are emitted during the takeoff and landing (including the ascent and descent); the rest occur at 3,000 feet and higher. This is especially damaging because of radiative forcing, a measure of how much light gets absorbed by Earth and how much is radiated back to space. The contrails—vapor trails—planes leave in their wake cause radiative forcing and trap gases high in the atmosphere, where they cause more damage than at the ground level.

Boat Emissions

Like planes, boats also emit a cocktail of toxic greenhouse gases—including but not limited to CO2 and NOx. The amount emitted, likewise, depends on the ship's size, age, average cruising speed, number of passengers, and length of trip. There are all sorts of watercraft, but when comparing the footprint of maritime transport—accounting for 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions—to that of air travel, it's perhaps most logical to analyze the vessel most similar in size to a passenger plane: a cruise ship.

Traditional cruise ships run on diesel, one of the most CO2-producing fuel types available. According toSailors for the Sea, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization affiliated with Oceana, marine diesel generates 21.24 pounds of CO2 per gallon of fuel. What's more, cruise ships emit black carbon—soot produced by the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass—and almost six times as much as an oil tanker emits, at that. According to a 2015 report from the ICCT, cruise ships account for 6% of marine black carbon emissionsdespite making up only 1% of ships globally. The warming effect black carbon has on the climate is thought to be up to1,500 times stronger than that of CO2.

The European Federation for Transport and Environment found in a continent-wide study on luxury cruise ship emissions thatthe amount of NOxreleased by these hefty liners was equivalent to 15% of Europe's entire car fleet. It also found that port cities throughout Europe suffered from air pollution caused by extraordinarily high levels of sulfur oxides generated by the ships. In Barcelona, for instance, ships are generating five times more SOx than cars.

Large cruise ships designed for long-haul trips even have their own incinerators. The average cruise ship producesseven tons of solid wasteevery day, which leads to a reported 15 billion pounds of trash being dumped into oceans (as ash, mostly) per year. Besides the direct impact this has on marine life, the incineration process itself generates additional emissions of CO2, NOx, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and other toxic compounds.

Ocean Acidification

In the same way planes intensify their emissions by belching greenhouse gases at altitude, emissions from ships are extra harmful because the CO2 that escapes their exhausts is promptly absorbed by seawater. Over time, this can change the pH of the ocean—a phenomenon calledocean acidification.Because increased acidity is caused by a reduction in the amount of carbonate, shells made of calcium carbonate may dissolve, and fish will find it difficult to form new ones. Ocean acidification also takes a toll on coral, whose skeletons are made of a form of calcium carbonate called aragonite.

(Video) Is it Wrong to Fly? - Glad You Asked S1

Which Is Greener?

Environmental Impact: Boat vs. Plane Emissions (3)

A2011 case study of cruise shipsin Dubrovnik, Croatia, estimated that the average CO2 emitted per person, per mile on a medium-sized 3,000-passenger cruise ship was 1.4 pounds. By that calculation, a round-trip cruise from Port Canaveral in Orlando, Florida, to Nassau, Bahamas—a popular, 350-mile transatlantic route frequented by Royal Caribbean International, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line—would equal about 980 pounds of carbon emissions per person. That same return route, if traveled from Orlando International Airport to Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport in the economy class of a passenger aircraft, would add up to only 368 pounds of CO2 emitted per person, according to theInternational Civil Aviation Organization's Carbon Emissions Calculator.And that'sonlyemissions from carbon, not NOx or any other gases.

Of course, a case can be made that ferries and other, less-polluting boats provide eco-friendly alternatives to air travel. This could be the case for overwater routes that ferries can handle, such as the heavily trafficked route from Melbourne to Tasmania, Australia, or the shorter-but-equally-busy route between Morocco and Spain. But the slower-moving vessels that boast entire waterparks and golf courses on board are likely to always trump aviation in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint While Traveling

  • Before booking a flight or a cruise, do your research on which airlines and cruise lines are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. Friends of the Earth regularly creates "cruise ship report cards" in which all the major cruise operators are given a grade based on air pollution reduction, sewage treatment, water quality compliance, and other factors. Atmosfair has released a similarranking of airlinesbased on fuel efficiency.
  • Whether traveling by air or water, remember that the shorter the trip, the greener. Choose direct flights over ones with multiple stops to minimize mileage.
  • Consider carbon offsetting your travel. Many airlines are now offering this as an additional service, but you can also donate to a carbon offsetting program of your choice, such asCarbonfund.orgorSustainable Travel International.
(Video) How bad for the environment are cruise ships? | Global Ideas
(Video) Why Cruise Ships Are Terrible For The Environment | NowThis Earth

FAQs

Is a boat more environmentally friendly than a plane? ›

Cruise ships emit more carbon per passenger kilometre than flying, even considering the extra damage that emissions cause at high altitude. It's thought that the Queen Mary II emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile – that's even worse than the 0.257kg for a long-haul flight.

What is worse for the environment plane or ferry? ›

Some high-speed ferries use double the fuel of conventional ships, making them several times worse than planes for carbon emissions. Ultimately, experts admit that given the right circumstances, any method of transport can be made to come out on top.

Are cargo ships more eco friendly than planes? ›

As we've seen, cargo ships themselves are no less polluting than airplanes, in fact using about 8 times the fuel of an airplane for the same journey. They therefore only count as an environmentally friendly option as long as the passenger does not contribute significantly to the reason the ship travels.

Which mode of transport is worse for the environment? ›

Rail and waterborne transport have the lowest emissions per kilometre and unit transported, while aviation and road transport emit significantly more. While the efficiency of rail and aviation improved markedly during the 5-year period covered by the study, the efficiency of other modes appears to have stagnated.

Which mode of transport is the most environmentally friendly? ›

Cycling and Walking

It comes as no surprise that bicycles and walking are the most sustainable methods of transportation. Not only do they produce 0 carbon emissions at every stage, but they are also enjoyable and good for you!

Do cruise ships pollute more than planes? ›

Cruise ship vs airplane pollution

Research shows that cruising emits up to four times more CO2 per passenger than flying. While air travel costs between 0,11 and 0,16 kg per passenger per kilometer – a significant amount -, taking a cruise ship adds up to a staggering 0,40 kilograms per kilometer.

Why are boats better than planes? ›

Boats and airplanes are a lot safer than cars. There's only a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying on an airplane and only 5-6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational boats. In comparison, 18 people in 100,000 die from road accidents per year globally.

What is the most environmentally friendly way to travel abroad? ›

Plane travel is often the only viable way to reach some of the world's great destinations, but one of the easiest ways travelers can offset their carbon footprint is by selecting an eco-friendly airline. Look for a carrier that uses sustainable aviation biofuel—like United, Qantas, and KLM—and fly direct when possible.

How much CO2 does a boat produce? ›

Greenhouse gas emissions from ships and boats in the United States were 32.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2020.
...
CharacteristicEmissions in MMtCO2e
201940
201841.1
201743.8
201640.7
3 more rows
21 Jun 2022

What percentage of emissions is from planes? ›

In 2018, aircraft were responsible for about 3 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and nearly 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Commercial air travel accounted for most of the aircraft carbon dioxide emissions, with military and general aviation making up the rest.

Is air freight or sea freight better for the environment? ›

Air freight is bad for the environment

It showed that using air freight would produce 31 times more emissions than sea freight. For context, a freight train produces 1.6 times as many emissions as a cargo ship, and a truck 10 times as many.

How much CO2 does a cargo plane emit? ›

A reasonable estimate for aviation CO2 emissions is therefore 250 kg i.e. 1/4 tonne CO2 equivalent per hour flying, i.e. the same figure as obtained by basis 1 above.

What's better for the environment driving or flying? ›

When comparing the number of emissions per person, it may seem like flying is better than driving. However, when more people share the drive, emissions per person are reduced, making driving more environmentally friendly than flying. But if you are driving cross-country solo, you are better off taking to the skies.

Does flying pollute more than driving? ›

Admittedly, air transport is extremely polluting – but so are cars. Air traffic represents less than 2-3% of the global CO2 emissions whereas road traffic accounts for around 10% of these direct emissions. Still, planes remain among the most polluting means of transport, together with cars.

What is the most carbon neutral way to travel? ›

Average CO2 Emissions

As you can see, traveling by bus or train is a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly than either driving or flying. Both buses and trains not only use a significant amount of fuel less, but they also release much lower amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Which way of traveling is better for the environment? ›

Since takeoff is the most fuel-intensive part of a plane trip, longer flights emit fewer greenhouse gases per mile than shorter ones, and nonstop flights are greener than ones that require connections. For this reason, a single traveler is better off flying directly from New York to Los Angeles than driving.

Which mode of transport does not cause pollution? ›

Car, bus and bike releases smoke and some hamful gases to the atmosphere thereby causing air pollution. Bicycle is the only means of transport that do not release any pollutants.

Which is better for the environment trains or planes? ›

According to the National Geographic Green Guide, which is no longer in publication, you roughly double your emissions if you cancel your plane reservations and drive across the country instead. If you take the train, then you'll cut carbon dioxide (CO2) by half compared to the plane.

Are planes or cruise ships worse? ›

Mile for mile, the carbon footprint for a cruise ship is worse than flying. A cruise liner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg of CO2 per passenger mile for a long-haul flight. In the rest of this article I will compare the pollution produced from ships and planes.

Are cruise ships the biggest polluters? ›

Cruise Ship Pollution

Although cruise ships make up only 1 percent of the global fleet, they account for 6 percent of black carbon (BC) emissions. This reveals how disproportionately bad for the environment cruise ships are, releasing the highest amount of black carbon per ship of any vessel.

What is the environmental impact of cruise ships? ›

Cruise ships are a catastrophe for the environment — and that's not an overstatement. They dump toxic waste into our waters, fill the planet with carbon dioxide, and kill marine wildlife. Cruise ships' environmental impact is never ending, and they continue to get bigger. They once were small ships, around 30,000 tons.

What is safer plane or boat? ›

Air travel is the safest form of mass transportation. We're far more likely to die on a train or a passenger boat.

What is the difference between ship and airplane? ›

The most significant difference between plane and ship travel is the amount of time it takes to reach your destination. ... Ship travel, on the other hand, always involves multiple days to reach an overseas destination. .

Which mode of transport emits the most CO2 per ton km? ›

The carbon footprint of a domestic flight (flights less than 1,000 kilometers) was the highest of all transport modes, with 225 grams of CO2 emitted per passenger kilometer.

What is the most sustainable public transport? ›

Hong Kong has been ranked the top city worldwide for sustainable transport in the 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index from Arcadis. The research examined 100 major cities across 23 different indicators to give an indicative ranking of the mobility and sustainability of their transportation systems.

How do you fly environmentally friendly? ›

Actions you can take include:
  1. Fly in Economy Class.
  2. Choose to fly with more environmentally friendly airlines.
  3. Lower shades and open vents when flying.
  4. Purchase carbon offset credits.
  5. Fly with a no-frills, low cost airline.
  6. Take a non-stop flight rather than one with a layover.
  7. Pack light.
  8. Bring in-cabin items.

What are the eco-friendly ways of transport? ›

Examples of sustainable transportation include walking, cycling, transit, carpooling, car sharing, and green vehicles.

How much CO2 do planes emit per year? ›

Airplanes emit around 100 times more CO2 per hour than a shared bus or train ride, and the emissions of global aviation are around 1 billion tons of CO2 per year — more than the emissions of most countries, including Germany.

Do ships pollute more than cars? ›

Carrying more than 90% of the world's trade, ocean-going vessels produce just 3% of its greenhouse-gas emissions. But the industry is dirtier than that makes it sound. By burning heavy fuel oil, just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world's cars put together.

How can we reduce CO2 emissions from ships? ›

Reducing CO2 emissions is possible by many ways:
  1. Route planning optimization.
  2. Transition to renewables and cleaner sources of fuel.
  3. Efficient port operations.
  4. Slow steaming.
  5. Energy on board saving.
  6. Battery technology adoption.
14 Mar 2022

What causes the highest CO2 emissions? ›

Energy consumption is by far the biggest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for a whopping 75.6% (37.6 GtCO2e) worldwide. The energy sector includes transportation, electricity and heat, buildings, manufacturing and construction, fugitive emissions and other fuel combustion.

How do airplanes and ships cause pollution? ›

Airplanes burn fossil fuel which not only releases CO2 emissions but also has strong warming non-CO2 effects due to nitrogen oxides (NOx), vapour trails and cloud formation triggered by the altitude at which aircraft operate.

What is the biggest contributor to global warming? ›

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. As greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun's heat.

Is it better to ship by sea or air? ›

Air freight is faster than ocean shipping, hands down. Ocean shipments can sometimes take weeks to arrive. Air freight can reach its destination in only a day or two. While ships are getting faster and ocean shipping routes are being constantly optimized, there is still no beating the speed of air freight.

Which transport mode has the highest CO2 emissions for freight transport? ›

Indeed, road transport is the main CO2 emitter in international trade-related transport due to its high emission intensity per tonne-kilometer compared with other modes, producing over half of all trade- related freight emissions.

Which form of transport has the smallest carbon footprint? ›

Over short to medium distances, walking or cycling are nearly always the lowest carbon way to travel.

Do private jets pollute more than commercial? ›

Compared with fuel-efficient commercial planes and climate-friendly cars, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, the emissions per passenger mile are substantially higher for private jets, which typically carry few passengers and travel shorter distances, Field said.

Is sea freight more sustainable? ›

Sea freight is much more environmentally friendly than air freight.” “Sea freight is much more environmentally friendly than air freight,” she said. “The emission levels involved when using aeroplanes are much higher.”

Are airplanes bad for the environment? ›

Flying takes a lot of energy, which means releasing a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There's just no way around it, creating the thrust necessary to push a 130,000 pound airplane 35,000 feet above the Earth, keep it there for a couple of hours and then bring it down safely takes a lot of jet fuel.

Why are boats better than planes? ›

Boats and airplanes are a lot safer than cars. There's only a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying on an airplane and only 5-6 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational boats. In comparison, 18 people in 100,000 die from road accidents per year globally.

Which is worse for the environment driving or flying? ›

When comparing the number of emissions per person, it may seem like flying is better than driving. However, when more people share the drive, emissions per person are reduced, making driving more environmentally friendly than flying. But if you are driving cross-country solo, you are better off taking to the skies.

Is a ferry environmentally friendly? ›

Research has shown that slower vessels emit less exhaust gas compared to high-speed ones. According to Oceana, even a 20% reduction in the ferry speed can lead to a 50% reduction in air pollutants.

How much CO2 does a boat produce? ›

Greenhouse gas emissions from ships and boats in the United States were 32.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2020.
...
CharacteristicEmissions in MMtCO2e
201940
201841.1
201743.8
201640.7
3 more rows
21 Jun 2022

What is safer plane or boat? ›

Air travel is the safest form of mass transportation. We're far more likely to die on a train or a passenger boat.

Do cruise ships harm the environment? ›

Cruise ships are a catastrophe for the environment — and that's not an overstatement. They dump toxic waste into our waters, fill the planet with carbon dioxide, and kill marine wildlife. Cruise ships' environmental impact is never ending, and they continue to get bigger. They once were small ships, around 30,000 tons.

Are planes worse for the environment than cars? ›

For example, a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute states the energy intensity of car transportation is on average 57% higher than air transports. In other words, a car emits more CO2 than the average planes because they consume more energy to transport the same amount of passengers.

How much CO2 does a flight produce per person? ›

Using a seating capacity of 164 [Wikipedia, viewed 28.2. 08] and an average seat occupancy (or 'load factor') of 65% [14], this gives a fuel use of 36.6 g per passenger km. CO2 emissions from aviation fuel are 3.15 grams per gram of fuel [38] , which gives CO2 emissions from a Boeing 737-400 of 115 g per passenger km.

How much CO2 do airplanes emit? ›

On average, global passenger aircraft emitted 90 g CO2 per RPK in 2019. That is 2% lower than in 2018, and 12% lower than in 2013. Smaller regional aircraft that are used on shorter flights emitted nearly 80% more CO2 per RPK than the global average for all aircraft.

What is the environmental impact of flight? ›

Emissions from aviation are a significant contributor to climate change. Airplanes burn fossil fuel which not only releases CO2 emissions but also has strong warming non-CO2 effects due to nitrogen oxides (NOx), vapour trails and cloud formation triggered by the altitude at which aircraft operate.

Are trains better for the environment than planes? ›

While over the course of a train's lifetime it will generally produce fewer carbon emissions than a plane would, the infrastructure needed for a rail system – including things like parking lots, train stations, and the rails themselves – can badly damage their environments.

Which mode of transport emits the most CO2 per ton km? ›

The carbon footprint of a domestic flight (flights less than 1,000 kilometers) was the highest of all transport modes, with 225 grams of CO2 emitted per passenger kilometer.

Are trains better for the environment than cars? ›

Mathews points to research showing that trains emit the lowest of CO2 per passenger mile at 177 grams per passenger mile. Buses come in at 299 grams per mile, second-worst only to cars at 371 grams.

Do ships pollute more than cars? ›

Carrying more than 90% of the world's trade, ocean-going vessels produce just 3% of its greenhouse-gas emissions. But the industry is dirtier than that makes it sound. By burning heavy fuel oil, just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world's cars put together.

Are ships the biggest polluters? ›

Larger ships make up the vast majority of black carbon emissions, with container ships, bulk carriers and oil tankers emitting 60 percent of all BC emissions, according to the 2021 European Maritime Transport Environmental report.

How can we reduce CO2 emissions from ships? ›

Reducing CO2 emissions is possible by many ways:
  1. Route planning optimization.
  2. Transition to renewables and cleaner sources of fuel.
  3. Efficient port operations.
  4. Slow steaming.
  5. Energy on board saving.
  6. Battery technology adoption.
14 Mar 2022

Videos

1. WISA Talks: Environmental Initiatives in Aviation
(Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics)
2. How Much Do Rockets Pollute? Are They Bad For Our Air?
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3. Should We Stop Flying? | Climate Change & Airplanes Documentary
(Java Discover | Free Global Documentaries & Clips)
4. Are Electric Cars REALLY Better for the Environment?
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5. Environmental Impacts of Airports and Aviation
(London Assembly)
6. Are eco-friendly flights impossible? | CNBC Explains
(CNBC International)

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