Driving A Hummer is More Carbon-Efficient than taking a Flight

Analysis by on July 3, 2007 at 6:10 pm

Are frequent fliers worse than Hummer drivers?

I recently became disturbed by the carbon footprint of my air travel after playing around with ZeroFootprint’s carbon calculator. I had scarcely considered the impacts of my air travel and had focused much of my energy conservation efforts at home. The carbon contribution of my air travel dwarfed all other sources.

Let’s say you wanted to take your family of 4 from SF to Disney Land. You’d generate nearly twice as much carbon emissions by taking the flight than you would if you drove an 07 Hummer H3. And the contrails/emissions left by jets at high altitude are estimated to magnify the impact on global warming by as much as 2 to 4 times. All told, your impact on the environment is as high as 8x that of the road-trip in the Hummer.

A bit sensationalist? It’s not that Hummers are good for the environment, it’s just that planes aren’t that good either. Here are the numbers:

  • Unleaded gasoline generates 8.87 kg of CO2 per gallon burned. (Source: Carbonfund.org)
  • Airlines generate 0.24 kg CO2 per passenger mile for short flights (0.18 for long flights) (Carbonfund.org) times 4 for our quintessential family
  • 408 miles on the road (Google Maps), 362 miles in the air between SF and Anaheim (Webflyer)
  • 18 MPG of 2007 Hummer H3 (EPA). I also included an estimate of 10.7 MPG for the H2 in the graph below (wikipedia)

Here is what your carbon emissions would look like if you drove an Hummer or took a flight.


OK, I know you’re thinking “This is silly. No way I would fly a family of 4 from SF to Disney Land. It’s only a 6 hour drive.”

How about a trip to Disney World instead? The H2 clearly sucks wind (but not by much), but the H3 still does better than the flight. If you consider the 4x factor of jet contrails, you’re better off driving the H2.


The key assumption in all of these calculations is the ‘family of 4’. But all of the Hummer drivers I see are moms shuttling their kids around. Besides, you wouldn’t really drive the 42 hours to Disney World by yourself would you? Because that would be sketchy. Have a fun 4th!


  1. Mr.vent — July 4, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

    I know for fact that aside from the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon… The HUMMER H3 will also be benefited by more displacement this fall when General Motors rolls out the 2007 models. GM’s new Vortec 2.9L inline-four and Vortec 3.7L inline-five, which produce 10 and 22 more hp and 10 and 17 additional lb.-ft of torque, respectively, are given more displacement by bored-out intake and exhaust valves, variable valve timing, an upgraded GMC air filter recharge kit, and other changes. In the case of the 3.7L inline-five, a larger and more refined catalytic converter helps it meet new BIN 5 emissions requirements, as well… I can say that this is one of the Greenest SUV indeed…

  2. nitwit88 — July 7, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

    Well, you’ve got to take into account that there’s going to be let’s say a hundred people on a plane. Compare that to a Hummer whatever model and divide to find the carbon per person on that specific mode of transportation. I think you’ll find that the plane looks a lot better.

  3. Dave Naffziger — July 7, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

    The calculations are per passenger seat mile, so they already take into consideration passengers per plane, loading, etc. So, the carbon emissions are actually a per person metric.

  4. royalestel — July 11, 2007 @ 11:06 am

    Let us not forget all the costs of hotel stays, extra meals, etc. when driving a long distance.

    This is a simplistic comparison. Fun, though.

  5. […] of my own posts that seemed reasonably interesting: Hummer vs. Plane & ISOs vs. […]

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