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Air travel alternatives

One of the questions asked at “Question Time” at the Resurgence 40th birthday celebration and conference last Saturday was about how much environmentalists fly. The session was hosted by a well-known broadcaster, Rosie Boycott, and followed the format of a political television programme. The first question was about population, a perennial debate I’m not going to get into (though the panelists flailed it to death). I was thankful the session wasn’t televised because, presumably unbeknownst to Boycott when she chose the question, the questioner, who was asked to stand and speak to the panel, began by announcing that she was a druid priest.

The second, from a major newspaper’s environmental editor, was one to ruffle feathers. If we are so worried about climate change, why do we keep flying (the most carbon intensive form of travel by far)? One of my friends was annoyed by this, but I think it’s reasonable to ask those of us who say we’re working to save the planet whether we are walking the walk as well as talking the talk. And do environmentalists fly? If you saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” you’ll have noticed how much time he spent on airplaces and in airports, and here’s some empirical data. I was in touch with some half a dozen leading environmentalists this week: two were in eastern Europe (one from the UK and the other from the US), one left for China, one was in New Zealand heading for Australia, and two were flying to the United States.

I feel quite guilty about my flying and definitely need to start doing some form of carbon off-setting (details to come). But I thought I should share a few stories from the British press–much more alert to climate change than we are in the US–related to the issue of global travel.

First, a bridesmaid who is travelling overland from Wales to Australia. Impossible for the rest of us, but an interesting experiment. This reminded me of a much-publicized “green wedding” back in 1990 or thereabouts, where the bride made a lengthy speech about the provenance of the rings and the organic salad greens (but didn’t mention that various companies had been asked to sponsor parts of the wedding, including the car used for the honeymoon), while the groom chose to talk about love. The marriage didn’t last long.

Technology won’t solve everything but there are some possibility means of international travel that wouldn’t heat the planet. Here’s an article about the use of sails–old-fashioned wind power: “Engineer sees wind set fair for return to age of sail.”:

SkySails, would enable ships to use less fuel, not only saving them money but also benefiting the environment. No one was interested. “People said it wouldn’t work,” he says. “But no one was able to tell me why it wouldn’t work.”

And how about a high-speed transatlantic tunnel? I haven’t found the link to the news article I read this week, but here’s an older article about Frank Davidson’s plan. A way to travel quickly between Boston and London would be the most wonderful travel innovation I can think of–if only I could get to Boston by public transport!

Here’s an article about carbon neutral lifestyles. Carbon offsetting is done, basically, by planting trees. The idea that this can work on large scale and indefinitely, and be done for a couple of dollars a day, strikes me as fantastic (that is, not realistic), but I’ll be reporting here.

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