Carbon Footprint of Michelle Obama?s June 2011 Africa Trip

Source:  SPPI Blog

First Lady Michelle Obama has returned home from her week-long trip to South Africa and Botswana?a visit focused on ?youth leadership, education, health and wellness.?  Mrs. Obama was accompanied on her travels by her two daughters, her mother, a niece and nephew (and a group of support and security staff).

While global warming is a significant concern of her husband, Michelle?s interests lie more towards promoting education, healthiness, and nutrition. And as such, the carbon dioxide released by the approximately 18,000 flight miles logged during her trip probably contributed more to her causes, than to his.

Here is why.

In the table below, I step through the calculations that I use to derive the carbon footprint of Michelle Obama?s trip using the itinerary as posted by the White House, ( and assuming that she flew aboard a military C-32A aircraft (the typical plane that would be used to transport the First Lady on an international flight).


Total miles on military C-32 aircraft:                                                     18,000 miles

Fuel use of a military C-32 aircraft:                                                       0.4 miles/gallon

Total consumption of jet fuel:                                                                45,000 gallons

Carbon dioxide emissions per gallon of jet fuel burned:                       21.1 lbs/gallon

Total CO2 emissions of the trip:                                                            949,500 lbs CO2

Average Annual Per Capita CO2 Emissions in U.S.:                            43,560 lbs CO2

So, just using the carbon emissions from a single C-32A aircraft alone (and not counting the carbon emissions from any other aspects of the trip) Michelle Obama, in just under a week, produced about 22 times more carbon dioxide emissions than the average American produces in a single year.

Clearly, such jaunts don?t fit well into the President?s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?apparently some issues are just more important that others. And just as the First Family prioritizes its actions and activities, so too must all Americans. And where cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions fits into that ranking system is up to each and every one of us.  My guess, is that just as is the case with the First Family, most of us don?t really much change what we?d otherwise be doing on account of the carbon footprint it leaves (with perhaps very minor and inconsequential exceptions).

However, Michelle Obama can rest assured that while her trip to South Africa and Botswana may have produced the same amount of carbon dioxide that several American families produce in an entire year, that in doing so, she helped (in a small way) to bolster the health and nutrition of vegetables and other food crops the world over.  After all, atmospheric carbon dioxide is an effective plant fertilizer. So, while she may have crossed her husband?s climate initiatives, she did help support her efforts to promote gardening and healthy eating! (


We calculated the fuel use of a C-32A aircraft using the specifications available at by dividing the maximum range by the maximum fuel capacity.

The number we used for the carbon dioxide emitted per gallon of jet fuel burned came from the Energy Information Administration ( as did our number for America?s per capita CO2 emissions (

For more information about carbon footprints, see our previous articles, including:

?Nancy Pelosi?s Giant Carbon Footprint?

?Who Really Worries About Carbon Emissions??

And for more information of the benefits of carbon dioxide for food production, see SPPI?s new book:

The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment