On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech on commuter issues in which he revealed a mind-blowing but not unsurprising detail about his personal travel habits:
"Now, there are a lot of rumors about how many trips I've taken on Amtrak. It's estimated that I've made roughly over 8,000 round trips. 250 miles a day. Average 210 days a year for 36 years. And the last six years since being Vice President not nearly as much."
The number is, frankly, absurdly high. And, from an sustainability standpoint, also admirable. Biden could have opted to drive, or take a commuter plane. But he didn't. He stayed true to his first love: Amtrak. So, we decided to do some nifty math to see how Biden's romance with trains has benefitted the environment.
We chose to focus on his daily roundtrips as Delaware's senator, when he would have been making a daily roundtrip from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C., everyday, 21o days a year. Using BeFrugal.com's travel calculator, we found that the same round trip by car would produce about 219 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, while the plane trip would produce 314 pounds. The train trip, however, only produces 100 pounds of carbon dioxide (per capita), according to Carbonfund.org's calculator.
That means that over 8,000 round trips, Biden would have produced 2,512,000 pounds (1256 tons) by plane or 1,752,000 pounds (876 tons) by car, but his decision to devote his life and his heart to the train means that he only produced 800,000 pounds (400 tons) of carbon dioxide as a result of his grueling daily commute.
In 2009, Biden spoke of a governmental push to implement a high-speed rail system across the country: "Investing in a high-speed rail system will lower our dependence on foreign oil and the bill for a tank of gas; loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways; and significantly reduce the damage we do to our planet.” Indeed, relying more heavily on trains would put a serious dent in reducing emissions.
In 2010, residents of the United States produced 35,200 pounds or 17.3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, with transportation taking up about 32 percent of total U.S. emissions. The U.S. Department of Transportation has written extensively on the benefits to commuter rails and increased public transportation. One info sheet on the topic reads:
"National averages demonstrate that public transportation produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles. Leading the way is heavy rail transit, such as subways and metros, which produce 76 percent less in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle (SOV). Light rail systems produce 62 percent less and bus transit produces 33 percent less."
If one driver per household took public transportation instead for a daily commute of 10 miles each way, they would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year, which amounts to an 8.1 percent reduction per household. So, we would all do well to follow Joe's example.