Monday, 14 January 2013

Letting the train take the strain

It had been suggested a couple of times previously that I might like to join a particular group on its adventurous walking journeys in different parts of the world. I have had the excuse of being busy, but my underlying concern these days is only to commit myself to trips that don’t involve flying.

I feel we have been lucky to live in a time when it has become so relatively cheap and easy: my own air travel for holidays in four continents has brought me enormous pleasure. The time has come, though, to say enough is enough. We are all aware of the impact of climate change, and the need for urgent action on a worldwide basis, but these are just words. Unless we in the affluent West are prepared to make some sort of step change in our own lives, how can we hope to arrest the carbon use of the rest of the world?

Going to any faraway place will always involve a large quantity of emissions. But I would like to visit Transylvania, the destination this May for the group I mentioned. It is something of a time capsule, from which we may have things to learn – from its past, but also its threatened future. It seems especially appropriate to come and go to Romania, therefore, as benignly as possible. And so I’ve signed on, and will travel by train.

Of course you may ask: “What difference does the emissions saving make in the grand scheme of things? Isn’t your approach just tokenism? Conscience-salving? We are busy people, and can’t afford the two days each way it will take. Or, alternatively, we are poor people [really?], and it’s certain to cost a lot more to travel by train than by air [true!].”

Calculating and comparing the actual emissions is perhaps more of an art than a science, and anyway I am no scientist. However, for what it’s worth, using the International Union of Railways’ methodology, the comparison between doing the trip from London to Bucharest by train versus plane works out as follows: the emissions of carbon dioxide by train are 21% of those when you fly; and nitrogen oxide and non-methane hydrocarbons are each 16%. Only the particulate matter emissions are more (122%).

So, I’m wondering if any other members of the group are interested in joining me on the train? We shall see.

I took the photograph during one of the stops when we went to China via the Trans-Siberian Express a decade ago.

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