Wednesday, 27 January 2010

In praise of slow travel

My family’s carbon emissions from transport are working out at about 0.9 tonnes per year per person – just scraping under the tonne-a-year target we talk about in Carbon Conversations. This is despite the fact that our car use is pretty typical for a family in the UK – about 15,000 miles per year between our two cars. So how come our carbon emissions are about half the UK average?

Part of the answer is that those car miles are shared between the five of us. I feel that’s a pretty fair approach, since I’ve kept a log of the journeys we make and the vast majority of them are ferrying the children around – to and from school, from after-school clubs, to visit their friends and so on. It does make me reflect that, when I was a child and a teenager, my parents did very little of this – I used buses and my bike much more than my own kids do, or I stayed home. I hope that, as our children get a bit older, we can encourage them in that direction.

When it’s just me travelling, I mostly use my bike or a bus. When I was working for East Anglia Food Link, I moved the office first from Watton (miles from where anyone lived) to Long Stratton (more central to where we lived). But Stratton still meant driving to work), so then I moved the office again, to Norwich, which I can reach by bike or bus. The exception is when I go into Norwich in the evenings, when there are no buses and I don’t feel very safe cycling, so I do drive.

I suspect the biggest reduction in our carbon footprint, however, has come from our changed approach to holidays. Until fairly recently, Angie and I used to fly on holiday most years. At first it was mostly Greece, and later Italy. Flying to Greece creates global warming equivalent to about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per person, Italy about 1.5 tonnes. Or we might visit my family in Cork (0.8 tonnes), and sometimes we’d even do both in the same year (2.3 tonnes).

These days we have more of our holidays nearby. We’ve discovered parts of Norfolk that, even though I’ve lived here most of my life, I’ve never really appreciated before.

When we do go abroad, we’re experimenting with doing it by train or car. We visited Italy a couple of years ago by train. And when the children and I visited my family in West Cork last October, we went by car (0.075 tonnes of CO2 per person) and ferry. The journey took two days each way, and on the way there we stopped by with my aunt and uncle in south Wales. We’re now thinking about a car trip to the south of Italy in the spring – Angie’s supposed to be on a course there – allowing a week each way to drive slowly through France, Switzerland and Italy, calling in at places like Luzern, Venice and Verona on the way. Carbon emissions from the trip would add up to about a tonne between us, or 0.2 tonnes each, which is included in the total figure I gave above. (Cars make more carbon sense if they’re fully occupied – trains or coaches are better if just one or two people are travelling).

The trick I’m just starting to learn is that slow travel means treating the journey as part of the experience. In the past I’ve tended to rush about, treating time spent in the car, train or bus as wasted time, just waiting to get to where I want to be. But when you’re cycling, or driving slowly through unfamiliar countries, the trick is to enjoy the view and take in the new places. And on the train or bus I use the time to read, which feels like a real treat (the only problem on the bus being that I keep nearly missing my stop because I’m too engrossed in my book).

So here’s my advice for holidaying: check out the pleasures of the UK first; and if you do decide to go abroad, take the time to really enjoy it!

1 comment:

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