Opinion

# Obama’s trip to India has a carbon footprint bigger than many US cities

Anthony Watts Meteorologist and Climate Blogger
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Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, wrote in January 2010 in the Huffington Post that President Barack Obama is “the greenest president ever.”

Well … maybe not. You see, today we have these headlines:

About 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents, US government officials and journalists, are accompanying the president on his trip to India. Several officials from the White House and US security agencies have been there for the past week with helicopters, a ship and high-end security instruments.

Of course, we know that US presidents don’t travel lightly, and they need security details and armored cars. But 3,000 people and forty aircraft?

Let’s do the carbon math:

Estimate of the carbon footprint of President Obama’s trip to India

We are constantly told how bad air travel is for the planet. For example, the UK has a whole organization, called “Plane Stupid,” dedicated to the issue. It is groups like this that enable us to calculate the carbon emissions of air travel using the handy dandy Terrapass web page.

1. If one assumes that all 3,000 people fly commercial from Washington, D.C., to New Delhi and back (and nowhere else), their cumulative carbon footprint can be calculated according to Terrapass at http://www.terrapass.com/carbon-footprint-calculator/#air.

Here’s the info on their calculation methodology.

So here’s what we get for the maximum number of people, ten, that we can select at one time on that website. Note that Bombay, India is now called Mumbai, but the airport code is still BOM in Terrapass:

Multiply 62,238 lbs of CO2 for ten people times 300 (to make three thousand) and we get 18,671,400 lbs of CO2, or 8,469 metric tons.

To get the per capita figure in metric tons, divide that again by 3,000 people, which gives us 2.823 metric tons per person for the trip.

2. The Brookings Institute did a survey in 2008 ranking major US cities by their per capita emissions. You can read the full report here. If we were to compare his trip to the city table:

Obama’s trip comes in between Memphis and Raleigh on a per capita basis.

3. Caveat: Of course, this calculation excludes the carbon footprint for also traveling to Indonesia, South Korea and Indonesia as part of this Grand Tour, as well as any other activity while in those places. Plus vehicles and other forms of travel.

If we figured in all the travel, it would well be higher.

The message? Travel lightly but carry a big hockey stick.

4. If Obama wanted to offset the carbon using the tool of choice of his buddy, Al Gore, the Chicago Climate Exchange, he could do so pretty cheaply since carbon offsets there are selling for five cents per metric ton.

So with 8,469 metric tons of CO2 emitted for the Washington-to-Bombay roundtrip, he could buy a carbon indulgence for a mere \$423.45. That’s chump change when you are blowing a cool \$200 million per day to keep everybody traveling in style.

Mr. Watts operates the most visited blog on climate science in the world, www.wattsupwiththat.com now with over 57 million visits. He has spent 30 years on air in radio and television as a weather forecaster, and still does daily radio broadcasts. In 2007, he founded the surfacestations.org project, which with the help of volunteers nationwide found that only 1 in 10 of the weather stations used for monitoring climate in the USA met the government’s own standards for station siting quality. He also operates a weather technology business, embraces energy efficiency with solar power on his home and drives an electric car.

Anthony Watts