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Zeppelins: a low-impact alternative to flying

These airships cause less environmental damage than planes. But journeys would test passengers' patience.

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Flying from New York to London could result in 90 percent fewer carbon emissions than on conventional flights if passengers would just lighten up and allow a few extra hours – maybe 40 or so – to reach their destination.

That's the futuristic promise of traveling by zeppelin – a rigid, helium-filled airship whose internal support structure provides more stability than its balloonlike cousin, the blimp.

These days, as many as 12 tourists at a time take one- and two-hour scenic zeppelin flights from the Friedrichshafen, Germany, birthplace of the zeppelin. Passengers, who reportedly hear only a "soft whirring noise," ride in a gondola appended to the bottom of an inflated chamber that reaches 57 feet high and stretches 246 feet long.

But environmentalists envision wider commercial use one day for travelers who value light-impact travel and like to savor their journeys.

"I'm certainly not thinking it's something that's going to happen tomorrow. But if we get serious about carbon emissions, and people are desperate to still be able to travel, using zeppelins could be something that we do. They're actually quite safe," says Elle Morrell, director of a green lifestyle program at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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