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How our travel choices affect our air and our climate

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Our fossil fuel addiction has profound effects on both our health and the planet’s. Transportation alone is responsible for approximately a quarter of global CO2 emissions, and the sixth mass extinction of species approaches as the planet heats up. Especially in cities, fossil-fueled cars also cause air pollution. Already, 9 out of 10 people on the planet breathe toxic air. Today technology supplies us with adequate solutions. Maybe the time has finally come to review our travel choices. 

Both our own and our fellow species’ health are directly affected by our daily travels, and fossil fuels are the common cause. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 1 in 9 deaths can be linked to air pollution, and traffic in cities plays an important role in this alarming statistic. Citizens around the world recognize this problem. According to a recent survey, conducted by WWF in the US, Mexico, India and Sweden, respondents rate clean air as a top priority for their health and well-being in a sustainable city. They also recognize the importance of fossil-free public transport, bike paths, and other alternatives to car-congested streets.

Cities can do a lot to supply infrastructure that nudges us into the right behavior, but only we can change our everyday habits.

Various means of transportation

Have you ever wondered about the environmental impact of your travels on your fellow citizens? In the graph, we compared some emissions to trigger your thoughts.

You see the most common means of transport, including four well known car models – The Hummer H2 represents a large car with very low fuel efficiency, Toyota Corolla, stands for ‘Joe Average’ as one of the most common cars in the world, Toyota Prius, is an iconic electric hybrid, and finally fully electric vehicles are represented by Tesla X.

As you can see tailpipe emissions, or in-use emissions, approach very low CO2 levels per km for electric cars, trains and other means of transport, if powered by 100 % renewable energy sources, otherwise electrified vehicle emissions need to be adjusted for the energy mix in your country.

Go fossil free

The data are clear – public transportation, electric cars or ideally cycling (where available and efficient) are much better choices for the climate and for you. The road to sustainable mobility might seem long but it is one we need to travel.  

When less is more

Most people will not be surprised by the results of this graph. Time, money and family commitments are obstacles on the road to behaviour change. Additionally, there is more to behaviour change than rational needs.

Conspicuous consumption is a sociological term coined over a hundred years ago, and basically stands for consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one’s prestige – cars of course are the most conspicuous of items. We can all be guilty of such behavior from time to time. It can even be argued it is part of our nature. After all, there is little practical reason for owning a large, expensive car that triples the amount of petrol used compared to the average model. But things change and our behaviour can too.

In the last decade or so we have seen the rise of consumer groups that put sustainability front of line in their status hunts. Green luxury is on the rise and sustainability is becoming core even to brands such as Gucci or YSL. Targeting status groups was also a very important part of taking both the Toyota Prius and Tesla to market.

So why not be inspired by this knowledge in your daily travel choices. Define your status differently from the mainstream: Perhaps seeing it as contributing positively to your own health, as well as protecting your fellow citizens and our wildlife. Be proud to be on that bus!

More information

About the infographic

This infographic was produced for We Love Cities – a campaign linked to the WWF’s cities program. This year the initiative features 50 cities on 5 continents, representing nearly 100 million citizens. It’s main aim is to reinforce political leadership, strengthen local democracy and to highlight solutions to the problems cities are facing around the world.

About the survey

The survey was conducted by Syno International and Sifo, and includes 4 000 national representatives and randomly selected respondents in the United States, Mexico, India and Sweden.

Data and car specification used for the infographic

Hummer H2 6.2 V8 Adventure 412g CO2/km
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 3.6 237g CO2/km
Toyota Corolla 1.4 VVT-i 5dr 162g CO2/km
Toyota Prius T4 Hybrid 1.5 VVT-i 5dr 104g CO2/km
Small motorcycle 2-Stroke 50-125cc 51g CO2/km
BUS Diesel, Urban use with 75% occupancy (per person) 34g CO2/km

NB: When we talk about air pollution this is most often defined as Particulate Matter (PM). Tiny pieces that when inhaled cause health problems ranging from cancer to heart disease and asthma. Particles are generated from fossil fuels, especially diesel, and also to a varying extent from bio-fuels. But particle tail-pipe emissions from various car models are harder to come by and therefore not on display above.

Find details for your own vehicle


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