Travelling is an essential part of many people today, me being no exception. Well, that is what I thought.
“Around 10% of the global population account for 80% of total motorized passenger‐kilometres (pkm) with much of the world’s population hardly travelling at all.” IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Chapter 8, p. 9
While I took the luxury in the past to nearly always take the train or the bus, now I am working fulltime. Uhm, more difficult – therefore I have been thinking about faster means of transport. For that I felt it would help to understand the impacts better. One way of calculating that is the Social Cost of Carbon related of travelling.
This fits quite well with SCI now running a worldwide campaign on climate justice – “Create a Climate for Peace”.
Here the calculator:
And here the explanation:
What are these Social Costs
Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) are a way to measure and approximate the impact of travelling related emissions onto society, including environmental impacts backlashing at us.
“When a polluter makes the decision of whether to emit, s/he does not take into account the cost their actions will have on the environment. The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a monetary estimate of the cost imposed upon society by GHG emissions.” Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs – The Social Cost of Carbon, p. 12
This can be done by expressing all kinds of impacts, especially different greenhouse gases (GHG) caused by travelling expressed as damage-equivalent amount of CO²: The Carbon Dioxide Equivalent.
“The SCC matters because it signals what society should, in theory, be willing to pay now to avoid the future damage caused by incremental carbon emissions.” same as above, p. 2
The United Kingdoms have published a lot of data on this, which we can use to create a basic calculator for social shadow costs. A basic introduction into the relation of social shadow costs and climate change can be found here. Furthermore, the famous Stern review offers an indepth official review regarding nature and impact of climate change. Note that the Stern review is criticised by many as being too pessimistic – I take that as a sign that at least it is not too optimistic and does not try to downplay the effects of climate change too much.
“As noted above, the SCC varies depending on which emissions and concentration trajectory the world is on: the higher the concentration, the higher the SCC, since there will be more damage from climate change.” same as above, p. 4
From the numbers in this report, again by the UK government http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13625-emission-factor-methodology-paper-110905.pdf. a rudimentary cost calculator can be created that takes into account the average passenger load of the different vehicles or in case of cars offers a very basic way to adjust the number of passengers.
Explaining the numbers
The combination of all greenhouse gases emitted is expressed in the equivalent of grams of CO² per kilometer per passenger – gCO²e / km.
For cars, this leads to 204.6 gCO²e / km per car (p. 27). Since the used dataset did not take into account the number of travellers in one car (p. 22), I added a very basic way to adjust by dividing the resulting car emissions total by the indicated number of passengers. The additional weight of passengers cannot be taken into account that way.
Local buses in the UK emit around 147.5 gCO2e per passenger km while long distance buses (coaches) are much more efficient with 30 gCO²e per passenger and km (p. 31).
Trains (p. 35) in the dataset emitted 15.1 gCO²e (international trains, though in this case that only meant the EuroStar from Brussels to London) up to 56.5 gCO²e per passenger and kilometer (the average for trains operating within Great Britain). For the calculator I took the average between the two – 35.8 gCO²e
Airplanes emissions (p. 57) are between 164.8 gCO²e / p * km for short distances and 111.5 gCO²e / p *km for long distance flights of more than about 6-7 hours. For calculations I chose the average of about 133 gCO²e / p *km. Since the impact on the atmosphere is much higher because the emission occurs partly directly in the atmosphere, generally there seems to be agreement of applying an uplift – so I multiply that number with 1.9 (see this DEFRA paper, Methodology Paper for Emission Factors, 2011, p. 59).
Essential now is the actual monetary value used to estimate the costs.
“Uncertainty is an argument for setting a more demanding long-term policy, not less, because of the asymmetry between unexpectedly fortunate outcomes and unexpectedly bad ones.” Stern Review, p. 291
According to the Stern Review, a rise in temperature of about 2° would lead to worst-case costs of about 4% of the gross world product to mitigate the impacts. However, we are already at more than 400 ppm of CO² (http://co2now.org/Current-CO2/CO2-Now/) – a number that brings us closer to exceed 3° and at that we face a possible amount of 9.1% of the gross world product to be needed to mitigate climate change effects (see Stern Review Chapter 13 p. 295).
For that reason I assume that choosing the highest estimate of the social costs of carbon is a viable and more realistic choice than choosing the mean. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides recent numbers for the SCC trying to take into account higher-than-expected impacts and estimates the SCC in 2015: ~116$ per tonne CO² ~ 82€
“The SCC increases over time because future emissions are expected to produce larger incremental damages as physical and economic systems become more stressed in response to greater climatic change.” U.S. Government Technical Support Document: Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis, p. 28
Alright, so I have the costs of a tonne of carbon in Dollar, the CO² equivalent emissions of the travel vehicles in gram per kilometer and passenger and want to get transform that into €, so I divide the grams by 1000 to get the amount in tonnes and then multiply the result by 82€. Done.
My very own Summary
Expressing the damage that travel does to the environment using monetary value does not imply that money can redeem anyone. The damage remains, with some reagents according to estimations for several decades at least until they vanish again. Aviation does impact the livelihood of this planet in negative ways and therefore should be avoided. All sources agree that buses and trains are much better alternatives for traveling than flying. Does this mean we have to change from fast to a bit slower in life? Probably.
Can you “repay” a sunken island, an extinct living form, dead and suffering humans? Is this an ethical issue? Sure yes. Does it mean people who fly are doing something immoral? Who knows… I am not going to say something like that. Moral decisions are up to the individual in my believe – there is no way to take into account individual circumstances. One thing is certain though, travelling is more expensive than usual thought of – and it is necessary to think about it. Is the personal solution to travel less, donate more money and time? Probably all of the above.
Therefore, instead of passing judgement I believe it is more important to inform people and maybe this post can help a bit in that direction. Mankind should not self-destruct together with our home planet. On the other hand I strongly believe and hope that by gaining understanding (admittedly very fast since climate change does not leave us much time) we can together reach consensus and save this damn planet of ours.
I am not sure what the impact of all this is going to have on SCI. Is travelling less a good option? Can we argue for avoiding planes when we are promoting long distance travels? Is it necessary for us to fly to reach our organisations aims? Regarding our work and aims it can only bring us further to know about social cost of travelling and take them into account. The direct effect of travelling is counterproductive as it damages environment and strains society (and usually those parts of society already under pressure will have to carry an unproportional part of that burden). So we will have to be sure that the indirect effects of our activities outweigh the direct effects – otherwise we are working against our goals. Finding measures for that is going to be difficult but I believe it will be necessary to reflect on this in order to stay to true to our vision of a world of peace.