Study Shows Pollution From Driving Worse Than Flying — The Road More Traveled Has Made All the Difference

To drive or to fly?  That is the question.  Researchers at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo have predicted that pollution from cars will be the chief global warming agent for the next 100 years.  So the green answer is to fly.

The study carried out by CICERO monitored known pollutants in different transport sectors (air, ground, rail, and shipping), and how the global emissions in the year 2000 affects current global temperature.  The good news is that pollution from aviation is rather short lived, and not directly linked to long term global warming.  According to researcher Jan Fuglestvedt, “air transport has several strong, but short lasting, effects on global temperature.”


The bad news is that automobile pollution has the ability to raise our temperature six times higher than airplane traffic.  I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we drive enough miles to pollute more than the countless flights that move in and out of our airports every day, but according to CICERO we do.  The high total fuel consumption and road traffic across the world is what causes greater pollution from cars.  Not to mention carbon dioxide from automobile traffic has a more lasting effect.

One of the biggest uncertainties that the study addresses is how do pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides intereact with one another in the atmosphere.  Over the past thirty years, shipping pollution has had a slight cooling effect on the atmosphere because of the high levels of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.  They also did not calculate pollution per person, which will be conducted in a later study.

Just some food for thought next time you’re deciding whether you should fly or drive this holiday season with your carbon footprint in mind.

Photo Credit: BecauseOf‘s Flickr photostream under a Creative Commons License.

Source: Center for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo

Anthony Cefali

Anthony is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in biology as well as English. He became interested in the biofuel initiative after getting a job in the Raines Lab of Petroleum Alternatives at the university turning sugars into biofuels. He is the first to admit that he doesn't fully understand everything that he does or is trying to do, but enjoys doing his bit to help the environment. Anthony has very few plans for his future, but is interested in how natural systems work and how urban development changes these systems. On a good day, Anthony enjoys riding his bike really far away and reading Kurt Vonnegut books.