I am spending a whole day on trains today, as I seek to find a lower carbon route from London to Copenhagen. I visit that wonderful city regularly for work and am likely to need to do so more in the future. In a previous job I used to take the night train, but time pressures pushed me into flying – a bad habit that I am now trying to break. Well aware of the hypocrisy of a climate change professional spending so much time inside a kerosene-fuelled metal bird, I am very much hoping that the day-time rail route proves viable.
In the longer term, Norway’s hopes of shifting to electrically powered domestic flights may prove a success and spread across Scandinavia to Britain. But for now flying is, as the climate scientist Kevin Anderson has put it, “the most carbon-profligate activity (per hour) humankind has thus far developed.” According to a quick check on calculator.carbonfootprint.com, flying to Copenhagen would burn 8 times as much carbon as my train trip today.
Taking the decision to fly also locks in demand for high carbon infrastructure – new airports and planes – that need to operate for many years to pay back their investors. Working for the Mayor of London, I helped support the case against expansion of Heathrow in the UK. The strongest argument the airport lobby has is the inexorable rise in demand for flying. If even people whose profession gives them the greatest insight into the existential risks from climate change don’t change their behaviour then we’re done for.
I remain of the opinion that my job as the executive director of an international organisation of mayors means that there is still net benefit in sometimes flying long-haul. This is not a view, I know, that is shared by many others who are also committed to preventing runaway climate change. I travel a lot for work (although took the decision ten years ago not to fly for leisure and have only broken it once), so there is a lot of soul-searching to be done. But having looked at the data, I conclude that I have an unequivocal obligation for shorter journeys to use alternatives like rail, or not to travel at all whenever it is possible.
So far, all is going well. It’s a beautiful morning and it has been a joy to watch the mist rising across London and Kent, and then the sun starting to shine through as we race smoothly through France and Belgium.
Without the hassle of queues at Heathrow and the wasted time of take off and landing, my working day has been far more productive. Not having a diary full of meetings and calls is a wonderful luxury and I am catching up on the reading and thinking that is essential to trying to be a good leader of an organisation. There’s even a little time for blogging!
Updates may follow throughout the trip…
They’ve only put the train on a ferry from Germany to Denmark! Forty-five minutes to have a Carlsberg, get fresh air and stretch the legs while looking at the stars. My only complaint so far is the lack of food on the trains. Absolutely nothing for vegetarians besides chocolate. I am heading into Copenhagen with a serious sugar-high.