Carbon emissions: Icelandic volcano vs. European flight cancellations


Today UK airports have started to reopen following the widespread northern European flight ban that has been in place for the past 6 days. Travel plans for many have been thrown into disarray and thousands of are still stranded across the world.

To balance this chaos (although for some this is surely just an extended holiday) it has been suggested that the fight ban has had a positive environmental impact.  In other words that the grounding of European planes has significantly reduced carbon emissions that would otherwise have been emitted.  So what are the numbers?

According to informationisbeautiful.net, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull volcano is emitting around 150,000 tons CO2 per day and this compares to 344,109 tons CO2 saved from the European aviation industry not flying.  This works out that flight cancellations have saved around 206, 465 tons CO2 per day.  N.B. this calculation includes the cooling effect of the SO2 released.

A final thought.  The actual carbon saving will probably be slightly lower due to the number of travellers who have had to make indirect overland journeys to get home.  While many of the journeys have been by train (seat61.com has reported record visitors seeking train information) anybody reading the news lately has probably not failed to notice the wacky stories of committed travellers travelling hundreds of miles by hire car to reach Calais!  While the overall environmental impact appears positive, the absolute carbon truth seems as elusive as ever.

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