There’s something almost refreshing about calculating something that the president of the United States would love to disdain publicly. Freeing. While President Trump has, at times, indicated that he’s concerned about climate change, his most recent position is that climate change is maybe not a real thing and probably isn’t linked to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and should not be something that the government of the United States spends a lot of time worrying about. Especially if stupid ol’ France wants us to worry about it.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg published a set of data that it had obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federal Aviation Administration. The data shows every logged flight taken by three Trump Organization aircraft from 2010 through 2016 — that is, from before and then through the 2016 presidential election. The availability of that data means not only that we can see where Trump (and crew) were headed over that period, but we can calculate precisely how much they contributed to climate change while doing so.
The period covered in Bloomberg’s data was mostly before Trump’s campaign announcement in mid-June 2015. If you look at where Trump traveled most frequently, though, a few things stand out. LaGuardia Airport, where his planes are based. Palm Beach — home of his resort at Mar-a-Lago. The early-voting state of Iowa. And St. Martin where, as Bloomberg notes, he briefly owned an estate.
In terms of international travel, there’s a destination missing: Russia, despite Trump traveling to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.
Before the campaign, Trump’s travels were fairly modest. (We didn’t include the flights Trump took on the Sikorsky helicopter below, since those trips were generally fairly limited in range.) Lots of visits to vacation spots and places with business interests like Istanbul and Dubai.
Once the campaign started, though, Trump’s travel picked up significantly. Or, we should say, the trips taken by Trump’s aircraft picked up, since we don’t know who the passengers might have been. Clearly, though, Trump was usually among them.
(The European trip on that map was Trump’s visit to his golf club at Turnberry during the campaign.)
With that data in hand, we figured out how many miles Trump’s aircraft covered both before and after the campaign. Including all of the flights for which start and end points were available, Trump’s three aircraft traveled more than 1 million miles. Most of those were in a 757.
To determine how much carbon dioxide those flights generated, we reached out to the aviation industry firm Conklin & de Decker, which tracks that data. William de Decker helped us break down those emissions by aircraft mile, using their proprietary data system. So:
In total, the three aircraft emitted an estimated 22,763 metric tons of carbon dioxide on those flights. More than 12,000 of those were before the campaign; on the campaign trail, 10,075 metric tons were emitted from the aircraft.
For perspective, a 2008 study calculated that an average American was responsible for about 20 metric tons annually. In other words, those flights contributed the equivalent of the annual emissions for 500 Americans while Trump was campaigning.
That said, those trips constitute a small fraction of the annual emissions in the United States, much less globally. Trump’s bigger effect on climate change comes from his policy decisions, including dropping out of the Paris climate agreement and rolling back an effort by President Barack Obama to curtail carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.
Put another way: Trump’s campaign flights had essentially no effect on the climate when compared to what he’s done while traveling no further than from the White House residence to the Oval Office.