What's the environmental impact of all those World Cup flags?

Flags on cars
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

Driving on the highway yesterday, it seemed like half the cars were sporting at least one flag on their car, most had two. They are tiny things, but that flapping consumes energy, and has to be compromising aerodynamics, but it has to be trivial, right?

Not necessarily. During the 2006 World Cup, Dr. Antonio Filippone of Manchester University calculated that those little flags caused the burning of an extra 1.22 million litres of fuel and led to three million extra kilograms of carbon emissions in England alone. Fortunately this year the English were dispensed with early and will no longer be doing this. However anyone still sporting a flag and driving at 65 MPH is burning an extra quart of fuel every hour.

A Canadian engineer, Dr. Peter Ostafichuk, told the Vancouver province that the increased drag kicks in as low as 40 km/h (25 MPH) because flags flap at that speed. "You don't have to be driving on the freeway."

Readers often have complained that environmentalists, and this TreeHugger in particular, do not know how to have any fun. They might argue here that it is good to let loose occasionally. Dr. Ostafichuk would agree: "It's certainly not doing the planet any good, but it doesn't outweigh the short-term good that comes from the sense of community that comes from supporting [your team.]

Indeed. Save your criticism for next week's discussion of fireworks.

What's the environmental impact of all those World Cup flags?
A little bit of added wind resistance adds up to a lot of fuel waste and carbon emissions.

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