How on Earth Can Kate Stay Grounded? (Part 3/4)
(published January 2009 by Green Thing)
That question – graffittied onto the shutters of a closed-down shop in a refugee camp in the West Bank – seemed to read my mind when I saw it last summer.
I even remember having a very good answer for it, too: “Exploring the world!”
It was Day 2 of a whirlwind, four-day tour to Israel, where I had flown in to visit a friend who was teaching in that camp.
Looking back on it now, though, I’m not so sure such a response was ever justified.
Last year, I took 16 flights in seven months and caused 12 tonnes of CO2 to infiltrate our atmosphere. Apart from telling you as much in last week’s posting, I did absolutely nothing about it but make the admission that some of those flights were for work, some were for pleasure, and some were entirely superfluous (which some readers weren’t too pleased with).
Staying Grounded was a dare – and a particularly timely one, too. I realised, at the time, that I was flying a lot, and the honest answer to why I didn’t stop myself from such mindless self-indulgence is that, quite simply, I was in a hurry.
I wanted to see the world. Now. No waiting around for cargo ships and all that jazz.
Flights always seemed a bit of a luxury for a gal leading a relatively low carbon lifestyle like me. But Staying Grounded wasn’t intended to make me consume less or walk more or do any of the things I normally do; I had to ask myself instead if I could find methods of traveling apart from flying.
And the truth is, of course I can.
I still want to see the world – but I’m keen on seeing it in a slightly healthier way, if you will, for both myself and the planet. Slow traveler Ed Gillespie’s voyages by bus, ferry, ship and rail last year were journeys I have fantasized over for years (www.lowcarbontravel.com) – but I figured I’d just have to wait until I was rich enough, famous enough or carefree enough to give myself the time and freedom to chuck it all in and just step out into the world without having a flight (or empty bank account) calling me back home.
But what kind of thinking is that? Not very good thinking. While it will be incredibly challenging for me to see my family – both economically and time-wise – without hopping on a plane out to California, I can and want to control the number of flights I take for work and for pleasure much better than I have in the past.
That’s why, by the time you read this, I will have journeyed from London to Combloux, France – a 650-mile voyage – courtesy of carbon-neutral Eurostar and carbon-low TGV for a conference on climate change.
In the 11 hours it will take me to get from door to door, I will have produced one-third of the CO2 that the same two-hour journey by plane would have afforded me.
And I will have had time for a quick lunch in Paris.
I won’t have saved the world, but I will have given my first travel experience of 2009 a fresh start.
But it’s one step forward, two steps back. In just the next month I’m due to take two flights: one to India, for my best friend’s wedding (clocking in at 2.12 tonnes of CO2, with a layover in Abu Dhabi); and another to Norway (0.5 tonnes of CO2), for work.
The wedding is a week-long affair, the kind that my editor isn’t too pleased with losing me to. I can’t take more time off of work to travel to India the slow way, however much I would like to – it’s not even an option. And while I know that my carbon footprint will be low once there – I’ll be voyaging by train, staying in hostels and not eating meat – that’s not much of a consolation. I know I could choose not to go at all; but I don’t want to miss this wedding for anything.
The flight to Norway, however, is a different story. I’ve requested that I be able to travel by ferry and train, a journey that would take me through Germany and up to Denmark and then up to Tromso, a three-day affair rather than a couple of hours’ flight. I’m waiting to see what my editor says about that – and fear that in this age of recession, where time spent journeying isn’t time spent behind the desk, I’ll be met with a resounding No.
This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault; it reflects, rather, the “Time Is Money” paradigm that rules our lives. I unfortunately do not have the option as of yet to say, ‘Choose me or choose the flight’. I still need to earn a living.
But if I see any graffiti in Combloux this weekend that asks me what I’m doing so far from home this time round, I’ll be able to answer a little bit more straightforwardly.
I’m discovering a better way to live.