Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little.
(Edmund Burke, 1729–1797)
An article in ‘The Age’ read “when even the earth is melting”. It referred to unprecedented melting of the arctic permafrost and the potential of that to release enormous amounts of CO2 or methane into the atmosphere. A phenomenon that wasn’t expected to occur as quickly and so hasn’t been factored in to climate predictions. We’ve probably all read articles like this but what astounded me was the rabid denial. Over 460 people in what must have only been a twelve hour block responded and a high proportion of these considered this report either ‘leftist’ alarmism, a plot to redistribute wealth, a ploy to get more research funding or simply wrong. How have we possibly got to this point where we actively deny research evidence as biaised because we don’t like the concept that we just might have to give some things up or re-think how we live our lives.
I spent a bit of time recently on an online learning module from Open University called “treading lightly on the earth” (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=4112). It’s very UK centric but had some interesting information plus a carbon calculator that can help identify where we can reduce carbon emissions through both technology and behaviour. It refers to 2002 data which shows that Australia is the third largest CO2 emitter, per person, in the world with an average of 17.3 tonnes CO2 per year (which I see according to 2011 World Bank figures has gone to 18.1). Only the US and Luxembourg (which has a small population and large steel industry) are ahead of us. It quotes a figure of 2 – 2.5 Tonnes per year as being a sustainable amount based on what the planet can sustain divided by the Earth’s population, so we’ve got a long way to go.
It suggests that 52% of our emissions are a result of our portion of the broader economy and the 48% is down to our consumption and behaviour. Of this 32% is travel (though mostly car travel and only 2% air). This got me thinking again about how we travel. The car, I’m pleased to say has been sitting stationary at the front of our house for almost two months now. But I also do some travel for work including going interstate 4 times a year for a national meeting. After doing a bit of searching I found the table below which gives a per kilometre emissions model. Now I probably do need to say (as will be obvious to most already) that these are average figures and there are a huge number of factors that would change them but they give a fairly clear indication that air travel is the least efficient, and rail travel the most efficient form of mass transport.
|Small car||Small car 2 ppl||Large car 1 person||Large car 2 ppl||Large Car 4 ppl||Train||Coach||Plane|
Kg of CO2 per kilometre. Source DEFRA (UK), NAEI (UK) see Taken from Transport Direct (http://www.transportdirect.info/web2/ )
So as yet another “do something little to add to something big” action I’ve decided that rather than fly to Sydney I will catch the train, by my calculations this will alter my emissions like so:
|Route||Standard Travel||Train Version|
|House to airport/station||20 KM by taxi (large car)20 x .1288= 2.576||12 km by light rail12 x .0650=.78|
|Melbourne to Sydney||852km by plane852 x .1753=149.36||871km by train871 x .06= 52.26|
|Airport/station to hotel||5km by taxi (large car)5 x .1288=.644||9 km by light rail9 x .0650= .585|
|Total||152.58 kg of CO2||53.625 kg of CO2|
By deciding to take the train I produced about 1/3 of the emissions, this also assumes that the taxi driver was going to make the trip to and from the airport anyway so we shared the emissions. It also doesn’t take into account (because they’re not fully understood) of the added impact from air travel which due to the release of nitrogen oxides and water into the upper atmosphere could increase the impact of emissions by up to 1.9 times (DEFRA, 2008)
Alright so that’s the reason but what’s it actually like? Well my normal transport plan would go something like this. It’s generally a Monday so after a day of chores and children, Nikki gets home, we have dinner, put the kids to bed and then I’m on the phone waiting for a taxi to get me to Tullamarine. It’s a quick 20k and then into the lounge (I know how posh am I!) for a beer cause lets face it I’m already knackered and I haven’t even left yet. Me being me, I’m probably two hours early so it’s almost 9:30 before I actually leave which means I get to Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart for about 11 probably having taken advantage of a couple more free wines. Then we play find the taxi and head straight to the ubiquitous hotel somewhere town. Somewhere approaching midnight I’m having an argument with my consciousness that I’m actually really tired and should be sleeping. Needless to say I don’t wake up feeling great.
But not this time! Instead I’ve decided to do something different. I still leave much the same time but this time board a train at the station bound for Southern Cross where I find myself waiting on platform 1. Who would have known it, I’ve been to Southern Cross loads of times and I’ve never even twigged to the fact that if you’re standing on the concourse then the platforms start at 2. Not that platform 1 is anything flash, it’s just not where you’d expect it! So there I stand sizing up the other passenger and hoping that the really huge guy in the V8 jacket is not going to be sharing my cabin. This does get me to thinking that we’ve engineered our lives so that there are very few situations where you have to get along with the person next to you. I guess I could get up and sit somewhere else, but it’s a sleeper cabin so unless I want to forgo that then I have to at least be polite and sociable with the person next to me
I don’t want to sound all trainspotter but the XPT is a fine machine, especially when it sits next the service from Adelaide which looks like a coal train with a couple of passenger cabins stuck to it. I explore my sleeper cabin (once again, dead posh!) and am relieved that not only does captain V8 go the other direction but the walkways are so tight that without an industrial strength shoe horn I’m not sure he’d be getting in anyway. I needn’t have worried, my cabin partner is a very pleasant pharmacist called, well let’s call him Trinity (for reasons that wont make any sense to anyone). The train is pleasant enough, three seats for the day trips but only two occupied for the night time, a large window, wardrobe space and that’s really about it. I miss the opportunity to recline the seat but apart form that really nice.
I lived in Egypt for a while where trains were like the last vestiges of the 1920’s heyday of Egypt so were all huge throne like seats and food and drink served to your seat. I’m not really expecting that but I do sort of yearn for something that reminds you of a conscious decision not to fly. The dining cart is a disappointment and, contrary to my childhood memories of being taken on the Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs twenty years ago, there are no old pinball arcade games at the back of the train.
All in all though it’s very comfortable, it has everything that I’ll need and is done nicely. I do chuckle a little that there is a little plastic box waiting on my seat full of nibbles and a packaged bottle of water, of course all wrapped in plastic. I don’t disturb these in the hope they’ll be re-used. I’ve brought my own bottle of water (and wine for that matter) plus some cheese and Turkish bread so I’m fairly set for munchies anyway. Trinity and I chat for a while then we fold out the bunks and call it a night. I’m woken considerably earlier than I really need to be, but I’m woken with breakfast so I can forgive that. Trinity has snuck out at his stop so I stretch myself out and enjoy a pleasant breakfast and a fairly ordinary coffee. I’ve actually slept better than I thought I might. I didn’t get the really solid heavy sleep that you do in your own bed where you go to sleep and don’t wake till it’s morning but I’m definitely rested. I wonder if I’ve just had a pram like experience, whether all that rocking and bumping wakes you briefly but then lulls you back to sleep. Either way it’s not a bad outcome.
I must admit I didn’t try the shower, though Trinity tells me it’s do-able. The bathroom (shared between two cabins) is a fairly amazing feet of engineering with fold down sink, fold down toilet and some natty storage space should you try the shower option. I settle for a birdbath, change shirts and off I go, strolling into the city at 7am with loads of time to get myself a good coffee and wander down to my hotel.
So can it be done, absolutely? It took 12 hours but in reality I would have flown the night before anyway so it actually took no more time. When I tally the cost of the train (first class with sleeper) and compare it to a couple of taxi fares, a cheap flight and a night’s accommodation I come out a good $200 better off. Would I do it again, absolutely and if you did it with a mate rather than a stranger I reckon it would be even better. If anything I’m slightly disappointed that it was all so smooth and pleasant.
I know this change alone doesn’t solve our problems but I wonder about all those people who responded to the Age article and would rather deny it’s a problem or comfort themselves that they can’t or wont do anything to reduce their own emissions. This was a fun way of reducing consumption and actually having more fun doing it. But like I say one trip doesn’t solve a problem. What could is a fast and efficient train line between Melbourne and Brisbane for the up to 90,000 people that fly between Melbourne and Sydney every day. It’s not going be for everyone but maybe signing a petition (http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/fast-trains-for-australia), thinking about how we travel and, who knows, even choosing train over plane if you can might be enough to drive change.
I ‘ll certainly be back on the train next time, of course the next national meeting is in Tasmania, so that’s gonna be tough!