Annals of Green Living

Through series of happenstance events that started with a tweet from my Dutch friend Elmine, I’ve been accepted as one of 81 participants from around the world to participate in round number two of the European Blogging Competition (insert joke about “typing really really fast” here).

The competition involves a three month commitment to blog about climate change on the Think About It website.  And, somewhat ironically, it kicks off with all 81 participants flying into Copenhagen for a two-day launch event (insert wry ironic comment about flying across the ocean to blog about climate change).

The allure of getting to hang out with an international crew of 81 bloggers, combined with the usual allures of Copenhagen, my favourite city, were enough to get me over my misgivings about competition (blogging — competitively!?) and to try to rationalize the whole “causing climate change to blog about climate change” travel thing.  In this regard the words of Edward Hasbrouck proved some comfort:

But I haven’t stopped flying. I continue to believe that long-haul travel, even by air, can in particular cases have a net positive effect on the world, mainly through the secondary effects of the permanent changes it can bring about in our worldview, which result in changes in how we go on with our lives.

It’s at least something to hang my hat on.

That said, it did seem absurd to fly to Copenhagen from Canada for two days, so I’ve arranged to extend my trip to 10 days, at my own expense, to at least spread the travel over a longer period of time.

My next travel grapple is related to SHiFT, the Lisbon conference being organized by my Portuguese friends in mid-October.  I’ve been planning to go to SHiFT every year it’s been held, and it’s never worked out (last year we happened to hold Zap Your PRAM on the same weekend, which had the additional downside of keeping Zap a Portuguese-free event).

I was inspired to think more deeply about the implications of going to SHiFT by my friend Henriette, who’s launched the shift09 DIY transportation crusade around her own plans to skip flying and take a 41-hour train trip from Copenhagen to Lisbon.

In the end, there’s just no practical way of getting across the Atlantic ocean that doesn’t involve flying. 

I looked into the possibility of taking the October 9th sailing of the Queen Mary 2.  I’d have to get myself to New York City, and then from Southampton to Lisbon on the other end, it would cost me about $1,200 each way, and I’d have to be prepared to spend 12 days at sea in total.  All that and it’s not clear that cruising is any less harmful, climate-change wise, than flying.

There’s the possibility of hitching a ride on a freighter cruise, which would be a little cheaper and perhaps someone more environmentally friendly given the lesser degree of opulence.  But that seems to involve even more time at sea — up to two weeks in either direction — and I simply don’t have that amount of time to spend away from my family and away from work.

Then there’s the more obvious solution: combine the September trip to Copenhagen with the October trip to Lisbon, and join Henriette on her 41 hour journey of hope.  I’ve considered it, believe me.  But that would involve missing Oliver’s 9th birthday, skipping out on the Access 2009 conference that I’m both helping to organize and am scheduled to speak at, and, in the end, being away from home for more than a month.

Of course the most obvious solution is just not to go to SHiFT at all, and as much as the prospect saddens me, I’m considering that too.

If I do decide to go on a planet-destroying two-trips-to-Europe-in-a-month I will, if nothing else, have a lot to write about during my three month rumination about climate change.


Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on July 30, 2009 - 21:40

What a great opportunity!

Must say I would love to cross by sea — when we returned to Canada in 1988, the ban would have paid Bus Class for the whole family — those were the days! — I wanted to cross on the QE2 but then my travel agent made the big mistake and sent Robin the video — full of ghastly people going on about how wonderful they were and of course the ship. I was voted 3-1 down by the family.

Freighter/container ship crossings are possible that go direct

Henriette Weber's picture
Henriette Weber on July 31, 2009 - 04:45

Hi Peter =) I can totally understand where you’re coming from, and I think that the biggest point to take from this is that the infrastructure to go from Canada/US to Europe by other means of transportation than flying isn’t there… Also for the now-dead Geek Army Knife podcast I talked to Sanjay Khanna in one of the episodes and he said “as long as you always leave places “better” than when you arrived, travelling can justify itself.
Oh and I don’t see the crusade as a crusade for hope at all, it’s more a crusade for having people checking out other possibilities for their travelling instead of flying, which I don’t think a lot of people do. So it’s way of “do it myself” to have people stop and think about their transportation, and maybe consider the QM2 or a freighter. I really want to travel Europe by train everytime, and I know that going to Lisbon by train — is probably a little crazy (my husband think it is)- but if it can have some “change the world yourself” impact, I am happy to be staying on a train in Europe for 82 hours in the middle of october =)

Oliver's picture
Oliver on July 31, 2009 - 06:53

If a regularly scheduled flight that usually is full happens one day to be half empty, and that’s the flight you take, how much more carbon is that flight burning because of you? How does that compare to whatever would be the conventional reckoning of flying’s carbon cost? I’m guessing the conventional reckoning is indiscriminate. Driving yourself and carpooling don’t burn the same amount carbon per person, and we encourage car pooling, so why not treat flying the same way? Credit yourself with a carbon savings for finding an empty plane or flying standby.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on July 31, 2009 - 14:21

Well, Oliver, I think the arguments would go something like this:

<li>There is an incremental gain in the amount of fuel needed to transport me and my luggage.&#160 I imagine it’s not great compared the fuel needed to move the plane itself, but it’s something.</li>
<li>In the end, everyone on a flight is flying an “otherwise empty seat” and every ticket sold demonstrates demand for the route, which encourages the airline to continue flying the route.</li>

This demands more thought, I&#160think (on my part).

Oliver's picture
Oliver on July 31, 2009 - 17:54

Obviously, the devil, if any, is in the details. Without them, points 1 and 2 don’t fly.
1) The increment seem to depend hugely on the circumstance (solo or pool driving, consult your local physicist for details)
2) A regularly scheduled flight flies whether full or half full, by definition

Is there no such thing as a regularly scheduled flight? A flight that is never cancelled, even when the demand for seats occasionally fails to fill it? Obviously, airlines try to minimize these occurrences—selling seats far ahead of departure at a discount and overbooking. But just how good are they at it? Too much overbooking costs them customers, in the long run, and pricing even a little higher or lower than the exact optimum (which, incidentally, I suppose nobody really knows) makes them less money than they could and want to make. Anyway, I think it’s widely accepted that the scheduled number of seats does exceed the number they’ve sold on occasion. If you were able to preferentially choose just these occasions to fly, wouldn’t you be saving carbon? If the airline pricing scheme were transparent, then we might be able to deduce from a price at least as much as the airline knows about the current odds that your flight will be less than full at takeoff—and by paying a premium perhaps we could increase our odds of flying virtuously.

Chuck's picture
Chuck on August 4, 2009 - 20:53

Peter, thanks. I keep saying that behaviour won’t change until it hurts enough and this post is a great example of the point. As long as travel to Europe is cheap enough, you’ll keep going because the (significant) value to you outweighs the (negligible) incremental increase in global CO2. If we really do deplete fossil fuels to the point where air travel is too expensive, you’ll stop going (or go less often). And that’s all exactly as it should be.

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