Friday, December 03, 2004

Can you be a Frequent Flyer Environmentalist?

Or maybe a better title is: Can you be an anti-Hummer Frequent Flyer?

A while back I was reading an article on Congressman Jim McDermott and it struck me as odd for him to call himself a Prius driving environmentalist and at the same time brag about the 3 million frequent flyer miles he had wrung up. Doesn't the same oil that fuels Hummers also fuel airplanes?

Then I was listening to NPR and heard noted environmentalist David Suzuki. He had just taken his family of 4 to Dharmasala to talk with the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monks about science and the environment. Good, cool stuff, don't get me wrong. But I was thinking, how much fuel did it take for him and his family to experience this? It is a 16,000 mile round trip from Canada to India. The average airline gets around 50 passenger miles/gallon. That is 320 gallons of fuel per person or 1,280 gallons for the entire family. That is a lot of gasoline! To put it in perspective, the average American drives around 12,000 miles a year. A H2 Hummer gets around 10 mpg. Driving a Hummer for a year would use 1,200 gallons. So taking the family on the trip to India used more fuel then driving a Hummer for a year!

If Jim McDermott is flying 100,000 miles a year, that uses as much fuel as a Hummer driven 20,000 miles a year. Now who looks like the environmentalist?

I am a big fan of Tom Friedman. Recently he did a nice rant on Hummer driving "patriots" and where all the oil money that fuels their cars ends up. But what about jet set journalists? Where does all the money that pays for the fuel in their airplanes go? Flying from NYC to Baghdad is 11,000 miles round trip. 220 gallons if you are flying commercial, but much more if you are flying in a military plane with few passengers. How many madrassas have you personally supported with your flying Tom?

In a way it reminds me of dieters who are meticulous in counting every calorie, well except for those late night snacks when you are so hungry that you have to eat. Those calories "don't count". Why is it that environmentalists that are so anti-Hummer have no problem with people flying around the world?

I think everyone should be cognizant of all of the fuel that they personally use (both directly and indirectly). There should be labeling laws that require transportation providers to tell you how much fuel your trip is using. Manufacturers and merchants should be forced to put the amount of oil used on all products. Then consumers could determine how much oil they use and figure out the best way to reduce it. Instead of trading in that Hummer for a Prius, you might save more oil by reducing your trips overseas from 4 to 3. The goal should be to minimize your usage of oil however possible.

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