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City of Angels: A Citizen’s Guide to More Sustainable Air Travel

August 4, 2011

Think about this:  at any given time, there are about 360,000 people in flight over the United States at one time.  That’s a small city in the air, a virtual city of angels.

And that is just over the United States.  There are several small cities in the air at any given time over the world; if one takes the worldwide airport passenger numbers (Airports Council International) for 2009, which was 4.796 billion passengers, and divide that by 365 days, we get an average of just over 13 million passengers per day.  Not all of those will be in the air at the same time, but think about it:  that is as if the entire populations of Orlando, St. Louis, Cleveland, Sacramento and Tampa were airborne.  At the same time.  In Canada, that would be the populations of Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  Or maybe the populations of either London or Rio de Janeiro suddenly sprouted wings?

Transportation is, by far, the most significant contributor to carbon emissions for meetings and events.  Travelers become temporary citizens of the City of Angels regularly as they attend meetings and events around the world.

To become more sustainable, what we want is to make citizenship in the City of Angels:

  1. Less frequent.  By choosing other means of transportation when possible, we can reduce our carbon footprint; a carbon footprint that has a greater impact because it is emitted so high in the atmosphere (for more information, see this link for a short explanation of radiative forcing).  Don’t be silly here; obviously things such as cost, time and availability of other options must also be considered.  Event organizers can plan events close to the majority of participants, increasing our transportation options.
  2. Shorter.  By choosing direct flights, we cut down on emissions, save time, and frequently, save lots of frustration because of lost baggage and missed connections.  Event organizers can ensure that the cities they choose, especially for large events, are hubs offering lots of direct flights.
  3. Less expensive.  Choosing economy seats is less expensive than business class, and it is also more economical in terms of emissions.  This is because the seats take up less room, enabling more people to fly.
  4. Lighter.  Of course, lighter luggage helps, because airlines can fit other stuff on board to reduce overall flights. But personal luggage is a tiny part of it.  To make a bigger impact around your event, if you are the organizer, reduce overall freight and shipments by sourcing and buying locally on arrival or simply reducing “stuff”.
  5. Certified.  Consider getting certified through carbon offsets, to help counteract the impact of your travel through reductions elsewhere. Think of it as a passport to the City of Angels.
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