From the Blog

Planes, Trains and Automobiles



We had a conversation in my office about the best holiday movies, and the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy was brought up as a contender.  A rousing discussion ensued as to whether this movie should qualify as a holiday movie along the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, White Christmas. The argument against its inclusion the movie’s only connections to the holidays were the attempts of the main characters to get home for Thanksgiving Dinner.

The conversation then turned to how much traveling the comedic duo had to endure just to get home, and the different modes they utilized (hence the name of the movie). So being energy geeks, we began to discuss the energy and emissions related to the characters trip home, and thus this blog post idea was born.

How much transportation based carbon was emitted during the travels of Steve Martin’s and John Candy’s characters in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles?  Considering we were discussing this on our lunch hour and did not have the time and resources to devote a university level examination of all modes of transportation, we made some general assumptions and did some calculations. Below are our guesses:

Plane: NY to Wichita. The original destination was Chicago, but it was diverted due to a blizzard:   1,270 air miles

Train: Wichita to Jefferson City, MO. (The original destination was Chicago, but the train broke down). 355 miles via train.

Bus: Jefferson City to St. Louis, MO. 137 miles via bus.

Rental Car/Refrigerator Truck: St. Louis to Chicago. 310 vehicle miles.

Getting pulled over by the police in their rental car that caught fire.

Jet fuel gets .2 miles per gallon for the entire plane, and for simple math, we estimated that diesel and gasoline vehicles used both got 20 mpg. We also assumed the following amounts of CO₂/lb: jet fuel = 21.10/gallon, Diesel at 22.4/gallon and finally gasoline at 19.6 lbs. of CO₂ per gallon.  Based on those assumptions here were our findings:

Plane: 133,985 lbs. of CO₂

Train: 22.4 lbs. of CO₂

Automobiles: 437.08 lbs. of CO₂

Totaling: 134,444.48 lbs. of CO₂ were emitted to get two guys home for turkey dinner.

To give this some perspective, the average human expels 389.5 lbs. of CO₂ per year by breathing.

Interesting side notes: We learned that many airlines including Delta and United both have carbon offset programs, and the “Fly or Drive Calculator” on the Be Frugal website can tell you whether plane travel or car travel is better for the environment based on your trip.

Feel free to weigh in on the discussion whether Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a holiday movie by joining the conversation @scott_rupp on Twitter. If you want to question our math feel free, but our calculations and notes were destroyed due to a freak taco sauce incident during the same lunch break. All of them and had to be thrown away. Happy Holidays.

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