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Increases in tourism have led to increases in carbon emissions

Reducing the number of connecting flights can greatly benefit the environment, researchers say

Photo (c) senohrabek - Fotolia
With the busy summer travel season now in the rearview mirror, researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio have analyzed how increased travel is affecting the environment. 

The team found that excessive plane travel, particularly when consumers book flights that require a connection to their final destination, is increasing total carbon emissions. 

“This paper provides one of the first efforts to quantify the carbon emissions associated with tourist air travel in the continental United States,” said researcher Neil Debbage. 

Choosing non-stop flights

The researchers analyzed data from the International Civil Aviation Organization to get a better understanding of how consumers’ travel plans were impacting the environment. 

The study focused on plane routes (both connecting and non-stop flights) to 13 major tourist spots in the U.S. The list included Miami-Dade county and Los Angeles county, as well as 10 of the biggest cities in the northeast, like Boston and New York. 

Ultimately, the researchers discovered that air travel was a major contributor to an increase in carbon emissions, with connecting flights producing worse environmental outcomes than non-stop flights. 

The researchers explained that suggested emission limits have been put in place in an effort to keep pollution under control, with 575 carbon dioxide kg/person per year being the magic number. The study revealed that while many direct flights have been successful in staying under that figure, the same success hasn’t been possible with connecting flights. 

After analyzing all of the flights involved in this study, the researchers found that around half went above suggested limits. The findings emphasize just how widespread this issue is, as most consumers tend not to think past the price tag when booking flights -- especially when fares continue to increase over the summer months. 

While Debbage suggests that consumers “select nonstop routes whenever possible” as a way to cut down on carbon emissions, it’s crucial that lawmakers do their part to ensure that everything possible is being done to combat rising emissions levels. 

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