Tuesday, July 12. 2011
I haven't stepped into an airplane for about 12 years. I travelled a lot through Europe with ferries, trains, busses and hitchhiking. It was my plan to stick to that on this big trip.
It's a simple fact that there is no viable option to use airplanes on a regular basis in a responsible way. There is no thinkable way that all humans on this planet can have access to planes. It only works because it's a privilege of a rich minority. And there's no thinkable way of combating climate change with the current growth rate of the aviation industry - not to mention the dangers of Peak Oil and unconventional oil extraction.
Some environmentalists who like flying found a very creative way to circumwent this: Compensating emissions. You pay an amount of money that's invested in some climate project for every flight you do. If I had to name the three most ridiculous actions people invented in combating climate change, compensating flight emissions would certainly rank amongst them (for the other two I'd vote carrot mobs and lights off actions). As above, this only works for a very small minority of rich people.
Ok, so back to our trip. It was my plan to avoid flying. I wanted to proove myself and others that it's possible. I failed. I took a plane from Beijing back to Germany. For a relatively trivial reason: Our plan was to take a train to Urumqi, then go to Kazakhstan and then we had two options, one with a train through russia to Ukraine and one through the caspian see to Azerbaijan (I will describe those in detail in a later blog entry). All of them requried getting to Urumqi first. There's no alternative route with public transport. And here's the problem: All tickets to Urumqi were sold out - for the whole time they can be booked in advance. So we wouldn't get tickets for an unknown amount of time.
I the end, after checking all alternative options I could think of, I decided to take a plane back to Germany and shorten my trip. I wasn't that unhappy about it after all, because I experienced our trip much more exhausting than imagined.
There would've been one other option: Taking the transsiberian train back. But that imposes another difficulty that has to do with russias visa regulation. A russian tourist visa is valid for 30 days. So ours is expired. It is not possible to get two visa at the same time, so it was not possible to arrange this in advance (it was our original plan to go back through Russia). And it is not possible to get a russian tourist visa anywhere else than in your home country. It used to be possible in Hong Kong in the past, but recently russia has tightened its visa regulations and according to several online sources this is no longer the case. The only option is getting a Russian transit visa. But that means you have to do the whole trip in a row and have all the tickets to Moscow and further to another country ready beforehand. This means several days in a train without much possibility to pause. I decided that I'm not up for that. I already found the many long train trips we did very difficult, partly because I'm slightly claustrophobic. My girlfriend will do the train trip - I won't. If you are ever in the same situation and need a travel agency, I can suggest Monkey Shrine - they are quite expensive, but their service was excellent. They were able to arrange all tickets including ones from Moscow to Kiev or Tallin and offered a lot of different options for all parts of the trip.
Now I don't think that my single flight will change much. It was a symbolic thing. But I think that opening options for flightless travelling is essential and gets far too less attention. If people talk about environmental or sustainable tourism, the issue of aviation is rarely spoken about. Often enough the problem is just that it is never considered. Take the visa regulation: If you enter and leave a country with an airplane, you usually don't need any visa - even if you change the plane within the country. There's no comparable rule for trains. You even need a visa if you enter and leave a country in a train without a stop. If you're looking for organized transsiberian railway trips, almost all the time it's taking the train for one direction and the plane for the other. Different public transport options often don't fit very well together. I always illustrate this with an experience I had last year when I switched from the train in Zeebrugge in Belgium to the ferry to Edinburgh - there was not any proper footpath from the train to the ferry, although they were only some dozent meters apart. You had to either illegally cross the railway lines or walk on a big street without a footway. I think many missing links for travel options could be closed if there would be more people doing it (e. g. there is no ferry from Singapoure or other Asian countries to Australia and none between Russia and Alaska, although the way isn't that far).
These are just some unfinished thoughts, but I could imagine there is a need for a lobby for flightless travelling. There's much more one could write about it. Flightless travelling means slower travelling - which brings up a discussion about our relation to working time.
If you're interested in flightless travelling, the best online ressource I found is the great webpage seat61.
My trip ends here, but some more blog entries will follow with stuff I didn't find the time yet to write down.
Posted by Hanno Böck in Ecology, English, Life at 09:48 | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)
Defined tags for this entry: asia, aviation, beijing, china, climatechange, ecology, flying, kazakhstan, russia, seat61, train, travel, trip2011, urumqi, visa
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It seems you didn't look hard enough for flightless travel. :) There was another option if you had planned a bit earlier: taking the boat, 44 days cruise from Shanghai to Rome.
However I imagine it would have been very expensive and whether you'd have had better CO₂ footprint is also questionable.
I have indeed looked for cruisers - I didn't find this one, I think I saw a single one that would've been suitable from its route, but it was something like 4000 € and it was in the past. Cargo ships would've been another theoretical option, but they require you to have a special travel insurance you must organize several months in advance.
Still, if you have a link for the Shanghai-Rome cruiser, I'd be interested.
It's hard to find good information about carbon footprints of ships, but I think despite their use of heavy oil, you can usually still consider them a couple of times more efficient than flights.
I'm a PhD student from Mexico. I'm not rich (by far), although I'm a minority in the US, Canada and Europe. Certainly I'm not a minority in my country.
I mostly work with people in Spain and the US. To the later I can do the travel by bus (trains are really not an option in Mexico), but I will never do that: It's almost a day of being stuck in a bus, and then I need to cross the border in Tijuana and take *another* bus to LA (where my advisor works).
To go to Spain taking a boat is freaking insane. It's stupid.
You mean well, but I think the problem is not "air flight", but the means to fly. That can (and will) be solved.
But in the meantime, I only have four years of scholarship before finishing my PhD, and if I have the opportunity to work with people in Europe, I have to take a plane. I will take a plane.
So it's not only "a rich minority" the ones that take planes. Canada pays hundreds (maybe thousands?) of legal immigrants from Mexico and other countries (people who are really *really* poor) plane tickets so that they can go to Canada and work the land.
The problem is not flight vs. everything else: it's what vehicle is the most efficient considering cost *and* time. And to the majority, that is plane: I will not deny the ecological and sustainability problems that planes imply, but to say that is a medium for "a rich minority" is nonsense.
The intention of this blog entry was mainly to explain how my travelling continued for all those who followed my previous travel posts, not a throughout analysis of aviation. Obviously, if people are payed by third parties for their flights, as in your mentioned example with the immigrants, things are different. I didn't find exact numbers, but approximately there are around 2 billion passengers per year worldwide. It's probably more common that people fly more than once in a year than the opposite, so this clearly makes a minority.
If train service is bad in your country, then things are obviously wrong on a very basic level. That flights are often the cheapest option is a big problem.
If you say:
>You mean well, but I think the problem is not "air flight",
>but the means to fly. That can (and will) be solved.
What do you mean with that? Flying can be made environmental friendly? If you know how to solve that, you probably deserve a nobel price. Currently, there's not the slightest concept in that direction. You can slightly improve efficiency, but there are physical limits to that. You cannot use airplanes with solar power. You cannot produce enough biomass in the world to power all planes - at least not if you still want people to have food.
I think that the fight against climate change will only really start to happen on a higher level, when oil, gas, coal are so expensive, that only for the sake of saving money, people will start to change their behavior.
As no government wants to raise energy taxes (for example kerosin tax) on it's own in a noteworthy level, the laws of the market will be the only force, that will make a difference in the long term.
You could also get a Russian business visa, available for example from . That will last one year, though with some restrictions, and it's quite expensive.
Had one until some months ago, but didn't get around to using it. :-(
I was aware of that possibility, but it is only possible if you are employed or run a business. This wasn't true for my girlfriend, so it was no option.
I got the business visa without being employed or running a business. I'm just a freelancer.
The agency where I got it from is Pul Express in Berlin. (link to their website got deleted from my last post - was in angle brackets)
But it *is* expensive, something like 350 EUR. Still OK if you use it often. Which I didn't, because I ended up in Spain instead.
Just wondering at the moment what's the cheapest way to get from Baden-Baden to Norway, to visit the Fab Lab near Lyngen (far in the north). Hitchhiking + CouchSurfing could be an option. But I'm not alone, which makes things more complicated.
You can find my web page with links to my work as a journalist at https://hboeck.de/.
You may also find my newsletter about climate change and decarbonization technologies interesting.
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