The Impact Your Daily Commute Has On Climate Change

Last Updated: June 09, 2019

The average commute in the UK now takes more one hour per day [1], up from 48 minutes in previous years, and with those in England spending more time commuting than in any other European country (the average UK worker will spend 400 days of their life commuting, which raises to 559 days for those living in London) your daily commute could be costing much more than time and money.

The True Cost of Carbon Emissions

Map My Emissions [2] a website that breaks down the carbon cost of your commute based on whether you travel by car, motor cycle, van, public transport, cycling or walking – created by Romany Webb, a Climate Law Fellow at Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law – predicts that a 30 minute car journey in a small car would generate 8.73 lb of CO2-e, costing 33p per day in terms of social costings. The same journey by public transport would generate only 3.95 lb of CO2-e at a cost of 15p per day. Social costings of carbon include losses in the farming industry due to crop failure, property damage due to flooding, forced migration due to drought and other climate change related eventualities.

The social cost of climate change means that global warming has been attributed to being responsible for much more than summer heat waves and melting ice caps. Researchers in the human impact of climate change have recognised links between the earths rising temperatures and the Syrian Civil War [3], increased global migrations levels and violent conflict [4]. Furthermore, countries in the global south, many of which are considered developing nations under the UN Country Classifications register, are set to suffer the most from the long-term effects of carbon emissions, driven by a predicted increase in rates of Malaria, negative socioeconomic conditions and climate change related famine. [6]

Tackling Carbon Emissions: What Can We Do?

The CO2 Emissions from a gallon of petrol amount to 8,887 grams CO2 – whilst one mile omits around 404 grams of CO2 [7]. CO2 isn’t the only harmful gas being released into the atmosphere from your vehicle, motor engines also produce methane and nitrous oxide, which absorb the suns heat and damage the ozone layer, preventing protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. [8]

It would be futile to suggest that we just ditch our cars/buses and cycle/walk to work and given that researchers recently uncovered that many cycle networks across the UK favour routes from middle-upper class areas, those already on a lower income can end up further isolated from and with less viable options for sustainable transportation [9]. Walking certainly wouldn’t be an option for many with the average journey to work each day taking 10.5 miles, and many families combine their morning commute with the school run, so what can feasibly be done to reduce the impact of the daily commute on climate change? [10]

Carpooling apps such as BlaBlaCar, Liftshare and SPLT offer users the opportunity to share the cost of commuting with others who work and live close by. And with as many as 90% of drivers travel to work alone meaning thatcarpooling not only offers a cost effective, but climate conscious means of travelling to work . [11]

Other means of ensuring your commute is as carbon conscious as possible include reducing weight in your car to alleviate fuel consumption and ensuring your car is running at its optimum effectiveness, as properly inflated tyres can reduce fuel usage by 3%, whilst general mountainous fixes and using the correct grade of motor oil and increase efficiency by up to 40%. [12]

For non-drivers, avoiding air travel and short journeys without stops can ease carbon emissions. If flying is essential, travelling in economy class is much more efficient that opting for business or first class as the flights carbon emissions are shared more evenly amongst the passengers. Those flying business class can increase their carbon emissions by 10% by opting for more space in each flight. [13]

If car pool apps don’t offer much choice in your area or if long journeys are essential to making a living, then carbon offsetting may be an option for you to ‘repay’ the carbon you have emitted during your travel. Carbon offsetting means paying or donating to a project which will ‘offset’ the carbon emissions from your commute by combatting the greenhouse gases through sustainable means, such as supplying energy efficient heating, planting trees, generating sustainable waste management or installing wind farms. [14]

Commuting and You

The effects of your daily commute don’t only impact negatively on the planet, commuting has been proven to be the most stressful aspect of the working day and those with shorter commutes or those who cycle to work often report improved levels of physical and mental health [15]. A long and stressful commute not only has detrimental consequences for mental wellbeing, with people who travel to work by train suffering with higher levels of anxiety and those who travel to work by bus or coach reporting lower levels of life satisfaction, it can also have devastating effects on physical fitness and lead to a surge in obesity rates. Long and stressful commutes increase snacking and encourage unhealthy food choices throughout the day as there’s less time to prepare or pre-plan food choices, whilst levels of caffeine consumption also spike in those with draining journeys to work. [16]

With meat and dairy production causing the most damage to the planet in terms of the creation of greenhouse gases caused by the food industry, and many convince foods being packaged in unnecessary plastic, all that snacking on the journey home is having as dangerous an impact on the planet’s health as it is on your own. [17]

Whilst not everyone has the capacity to cycle to work, pay for trees to be planted or commit to carpooling, taking smalls steps to reduce your carbon footprint throughout your commute can have lasting impacts. A minute action today could prove to be an investment in not only your own, but the earths future of tomorrow.


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