Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Fly Zone

It's becoming increasingly obvious (to me) that flying isn't sustainable due to it's impact on climate change. Depending on whose numbers you believe, it's about 10 times worse than buses or trains. And unfortunately, there are no obvious (or even obscure) ways to make flying sustainable. You can have cars and buses and trains powered by electricity generated in sustainable ways. But airplanes require a concentrated fuel. Even hydrogen isn't a good fit.

The trip to Peru we've got planned this winter will contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 tons of CO2 per person - more than what we should be producing in an entire year. I can buy carbon offsets but that doesn't change my impact, it just means I expect someone else to cut back.

So after Peru I'm going to quit flying for a while. For someone that loves to travel that's a hard pill to swallow. But if I'm not willing to sacrifice, how can I expect other, less motivated people to do anything?

People are willing to do things that don't require much sacrifice - changing light bulbs, recycling, insulating their house. But that will only go so far. The changes we really need require a lot more sacrifice and that's a show stopper for most people.

It's not all bad. In a way I'm excited about the possibilities. Constraints often end up encouraging enough creativity to more than compensate for the limitations they impose. I don't intend give up traveling entirely - there's lots of places I'd like to visit in North America that I can reach by bus, train, bicycle, etc. Even our Prius with two people in it is a lot better than flying. (And I'm less likely to travel as far by these means so that helps too.) Saskatoon is a Via Rail stop so I can get east or west that way. I could even get to Churchill Manitoba to see the polar bears before they're gone. The Amtrak rail network in the USA goes lots of places and connects to Canada in Vancouver and Quebec. Unfortunately, it's not easy to go south from Saskatoon - neither the trains or the buses go across the border except in Vancouver and out east. And once you're in the US the trains primarily go east/west except on the coasts.

Traveling by bicycle would be even better, but distances in North America are large. One option might be to travel by train or bus with my bike. For example, I could take the bus to close to the Saskatchewan border, bike across and then use buses or trains in the US. Of course, that might be a little tougher in the winter! Maybe I need a Montague folding bike (there I go again falling into the trap of needing more "stuff")

Shelley thinks I'm a little crazy, and she's not the only one. Of course, they're right, but not necessarily because of this :-)

Too many people are keeping their heads in the sand, even people that are supposedly committed to solving the problems. For example, I recently ran across the International League of Conservation Photographers. It sounded great so I went to see what they do and found they're organizing a conference in Merida, Mexico. So a whole bunch of people are going to fly long distances to go and talk about how they can save the planet. Maybe they'll talk about not flying?

The standard defense is the old "the end justifies the means" - that the good they're doing makes up for the damage. Come on, can you really get people to stop doing something by doing exactly what you want them to stop doing? Bah!
The campaign against climate change is an odd one. Unlike almost all the public protests which have preceded it, it is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves. - George Monbiot, Heat


  1. It boggles the mind why people are slow to use videoconferencing for business and academic meetings. Flying isn't even pleasurable, anyhow!
    We've greatly limited our travels and found other recreational pursuits. Skiing? No more. We're exploring snow kiting as a more local option.

  2. I admire your thoughtful self restraint. You are certainly encouraging to consider the environmental cost of my actions more carefully. Giving up air travel would be tough for me, but perhaps I can limit myself to longer trips as one small step in the right direction.

  3. See, everyone thought I was crazy for not flying anywhere, turns out I'm way ahead of everyone! :o) How about you keep flying and I'll plant a tree for you! Can't have you always hanging around the office you know :o) Better make it two trees!

  4. The Dear Leader of North Korea does not fly. He had a special train snd no doubt a pilot train to Moscow.

    My resolution is not to contribute to traffic congestion by getting into traffic jams. The waste caused by refusal to contemplate road-pricing is phenomenal in this country. Drivers are quite irraytional on this. Every new peak-time driver not only suffers him or herself but makes every else suffer and waste more too. Of course down here in the country we have no congestion to mention.

    Going back to a previous posting I note that my Tom Tom Satnav offers the alternatives of a cycle route or a pedestrian route. Since the device comes from Holland this not surprising.

    I have actually used the pedestrian option when I had to park in a strange town some way from my destination. Wwe do not have the navigation advntages of the checker-board street layout. That though is inefficient - it maximises the number of intersections.

    On that irrelevant topic one can only admire the surveyors who laid out the streets of San Francisco in squares with a complete disregard for the contours.