How easy would it be for you to give up flying? Would you be willing to drive or even take a train to go across the country?

Since flying is so common as a way to get places across our vast country (and world!), it’s challenging for many Americans to consider giving up any bit of air travel. Flying is fast and convenient, and relatively cheap. It seems like a given that someone would fly to go on a trip to New York, Chicago, or even Los Angeles.

However, flying in an airplane is one of the most polluting activities an individual can do, even more than commuting in a large truck or SUV, for example. So, how can one still travel long distances and over oceans and still stay environmentally conscious?

This dilemma appears to have no easy solution, which is why Cool Davis as part of the Yolo Earth Day Pledge held a “Share” gathering this past September 27th to discuss this important topic. Yolo Earth Day Pledgers gathered to share stories about their experiences using alternatives to air travel, the barriers and triumphs they faced, and their opinions and expertise on the topic. While several community members shared their thoughts and experiences in detail, others mostly listened in on the group discussion after introducing themselves.


  • Planes produce more emissions per mile than any other form of travel
  • Global carbon dioxide emissions from aviation have increased 4 to 5% per year since 2010
  • One flight to the East Coast can equal a full month’s worth of emissions (using Cool California carbon calculator and Google Flights). Even 10 short hours of flight can add a 13th month of emissions to your year!
  • #1 way to reduce air travel emissions? Reduce air travel 😉 

Carbon Offset Illusions

The share took off with Mark Huising, a professor at UC Davis. Mark once traveled a lot for his work, so he decided to “offset” the flights in order to help reduce his carbon footprint. He thought, “Why don’t I just offset all the flights that I have to take? Because wouldn’t that be a nice thing to do?” And indeed, it did sound like a nice thing to do: a carbon offset is an extra charge added to your ticket that goes to fund greenhouse gas reduction projects, in an effort to “offset” the carbon emissions that one is contributing to by flying. However, many people these days, Mark included, are now critical of these offsets. Over time, Mark’s view began to change: “Initially, you think, oh, this is good. And as the years continued, and particularly as I started traveling more, it became obvious pretty quickly that these offsets are junk.”

You might be wondering why isn’t donating money to an environmental cause a good thing to do. Well, we might actually be looking at offsets through rose-tinted glasses. According to Mark, “[Offsets for air travel are] actually invented by oil companies and airlines to try and greenwash that image. And the fact of the matter is, there is no way around that flying in an airplane is about the most carbon intensive thing you can ever do.” (Greenwashing is a marketing strategy where a company tries to sell its products or practices as environmentally friendly in order to distance itself from its actually harmful environmental practices.)

Individual Actions Versus System Change

Frances Tauzer, a volunteer on the Cool Davis Household Engagement Task Force addressed a common refrain among folks resisting change that individual action does not make a difference, and recent discussion has pointed to an emphasis on individual action by corporate polluters as a convenient distraction tactic. In general terms, “Individual action can account for about 25% of emissions, and then the companies and governments account for the other 75%,” she said.  This breakdown shows that while responsibility is primarily on big institutions to reduce carbon emissions, individuals still have an important role to play.

Frances also said, “I think we need to reiterate that fact that we need to keep up with individual actions and encourage individuals to take actions. We just also need to maybe be a little bit more community driven and see if we can come together in our actions to make the bigger shift of pushing government and companies and everybody else to make those changes that are going to have the greater impact.” In other words, we can all do our own individual part and come together to put pressure on these systems that have the most impact.

Train Travel Enjoys Ocean Views and Cheesy Popcorn 

Although it may seem difficult to make an impact in something as pervasive as flying, it’s still do-able. Mark said that the best thing we can do is avoid or limit flying, a thought that may seem daunting to us modern-day wanderlusts, not to mention the logistical aspect of things. “Not all of us can not fly, but [we should] normalize the conversation about not flying or be a little more conscious about it, because there are lots of people who are conflicted about this, and they may not yet be at that stage.”

The alternatives to flying may seem slow and cumbersome, but Lisa Baker, Cool Davis board member, told wonderful stories about her experiences taking the train instead of an airplane. Taking a train has been much more relaxing and enjoyable than cramped, noisy flights, jet lag, and dealing with TSA. Lisa reminisced, “[The train] is even better because you read a novel, you stare at the ocean, you drink a beer and have cheesy popcorn, and then you take a nap, and then you arrive, which is, like, way better than the alternative, anyway.”


  • Take 1 or more fewer flights per year
  • Replace at least one flight with a lower impact mode of travel if possible (train, full car, carpool, etc.)
  • Take the train! Link to Amtrak
  • Use Google Flights to plan for your next trip; you can choose flights based on time/date, cost, and emissions … and more efficient aircraft
  • The most eco-friendly planes are
    • Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 and the 737 MAX
    • Airbus A320 neo family and A35-900
  • Select Economy instead of Business class to increase the number of passengers per flight

Getting Creative

Community member and Cool Davis volunteer Bernadette Balics also has her sights set on finding alternate ways to see the world. Cruise ships emit an enormous amount of fuel into the oceans for the sole reason of entertainment, which make them less than desirable if you’re trying to be more environmentally conscious. However, people might not know that you can actually ride on a cargo ship, which already serves a purpose. Bernadette plans to take full advantage of this, saying, “I’m now working on my cousins to see if we can do a reunion that involves something closer to recreating our parents’ immigrant footsteps in coming from Europe to the US on a freight ship. So, a ship that’s actually not designed for hedonistic pleasure cruises, but has a double value.”

The Rome2Rio app is a super useful tool to chart out creative transit options across the globe!

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Not a Comprehensive Solution

Bernadette also pointed out a key weakness in the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) effort, which was recently significantly bolstered by the recent federal Inflation Reduction Act. According to a 2022 report by the Center for Biological Diversity and John Fleming, Ph.D., a scientist at the Center’s Climate Law Institute and the lead author of the report, “sustainability and supply issues will make it impossible to reach the Biden administration’s goal to meet 100% of U.S. jet fuel demand with aviation biofuels by 2050,” Based on current biofuel supplies, “the Biden administration could only hope to meet 4% to 38% of the predicted 35-billion-gallon-demand in 2050.” Also, “municipal solid waste, wastewater sludge and crop residues are potentially sustainable, but they don’t yield enough supply to meet Biden’s biofuel target. … There’s only so much sewage sludge and crop cuttings, and most other biofuel feedstocks aren’t truly sustainable,” said Fleming. “Biden’s got to get serious about setting airplane emissions standards and advancing electrification, or else his aviation climate goals could vanish into thin air.”

Frances summed it up in a way that makes tremendous sense: “I agree that it’s not enough, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

The #1 Way to Reduce Air Travel Emissions? Reduce Air Travel

Unfortunately, air travel seems to be the current norm for almost any trip longer than a few hundred miles. Fortunately, we have the power to shift this paradigm and change the conversation. As Lisa thoughtfully pointed out, “We’re never into the journey, we’re always into the destination, and that’s a really modern construct.”

If we make transportation part of the adventure, then we’ll have a much more fulfilling journey.

Avoiding Palm Oil Share!

Sign up for the Avoiding Palm Oil Share, set for Wednesday, October 25, at 6:30pm online via Zoom.


Pledger Share gatherings are opportunities to ask questions, meet other pledgers, share success stories and strategies, and work through barriers. Cool Davis staff, board, and/or volunteers will be present to introduce our topics and resources, but the format will be informal and responsive to your questions and ideas. Open to residents countywide!

Article Sources,needs%20after%20a%20drastic%20reduction%20in%20energy%20demand.