Trains… Because We Have No Choice

OK…ok. I admit it, I’m a crank on the subject of global-warming. I’ve lived for 10 of the last 12 years without a car, and yet a constant criticism directed toward me often goes like this: “Sure Kvatch. You live in a city with good public-transit, but I don’t…” …as if, somehow, this arrangement involves no sacrifice. But let me be clear: I spend a more time commuting than most people can conceive of, and I have to turn down plenty of work—work that pays much better than what I get paid now—because I simply have no way of getting to where the work is.

Simply put, I’ve made significant adjustments to my lifestyle to cut the biggest carbon emitter out of my life. So what’s left? Unfortunately…air travel, and damnit I love to travel!

Though estimates vary, flying creates more greenhouse emissions per passenger mile than almost any other form of transport. The Eurostar Consortium, for example, estimates that their emissions per passenger mile are 1/10 that of an equivalent plane flight. Now, the Eurostar runs at near capacity, but no matter how you slice it, air travel is problematic. Check out this chart:

Per Passenger Mile Emissions

Pretty sobering huh? You could do better in a car (assuming you’re not by yourself), much better going by train, and much, much better by bus. But that’s not even the whole story. Jet aircraft emit greenhouse gases—not just CO2, but NOx and water vapor—directly into the upper atmosphere where they do more damage and are less likely to be absorbed.

So where does this leave countries like the US, countries that lack well developed alternatives to air travel? Unfortunately in the position of playing catch up. We need to begin upgrading our rail systems, and we need to do it right-f*cking-now! More high-speed corridors? Yes. Infrastructure to support work and life during longer cross-country trips? Hell yes! I want to cut that last big carbon emitter (roughly 1/3 of my total footprint, and…yes…I did calculate it) out of my life.

This is something that we all need to be agitating for, because if we don’t a latter-day Era of the Zeppelins may be the only way to drastically reduce emissions from long distance transport. Though, I have to admit that I love the idea of traveling by zeppelin.