What has 2021 taught us about how to fight climate change then? Part 2

Welcome to the second of a two-part series exploring what difference the individual might make to their carbon footprint for travel over a year of trying (really hard!). This article discusses what happened when I made a concerted effort to reduce my travel carbon emissions in line with the guidance set out in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 to reduce global heating to under 2°C by 2100. To recap: the IPCC suggested that individuals should not exceed 0.92t CO2e for travel this year [1], which works out at about 4,381 miles of private fossil-fuelled car travel (that’s 365 miles per month, or 84 per week). I have included all carbon-based forms of travel in my calculations, and here’s how I’ve roughly calculated car equivalence (see the end for my sources of information). 

Method of travel Mileage multiplier Sources 
Fossil fueled car (travelling alone) 1.0 [2] 
Car (travelling with one other person) 0.5  
Train* 0.3 [2, 3] 
Bus/coach* 0.5 [2, 4, 5] 
Light rail (i.e. London Underground)* 0.5 [2, 5] 
Ferry/motor boat**1.1 [6] 
Taxi/minicab 1.4 [2, 7] 
*there are lot of discrepancies among the sources I’ve used to calculate how different methods of travel compare to car travel for carbon emissions. Some of this is because there’s a lot of variation depending on, i.e. whether a bus or train stops frequently, is diesel-fueled, hydrogen-powered or electric, and what the occupancy is. I’ve simplified the calculations somewhat by taking what I think are fair averages for the types of travel I’ve been doing. ** there are no figures that I could find for motor boat travel! So I’ve extrapolated from ferry travel, which probably over-estimates my carbon footprint.

(Those who have been paying attention will know that climate scientists are learning that 2° heating would actually be catastrophic for the planet, and a more ambitious target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C – which will need to be achieved by becoming ‘net zero’ by 2050 – has been proposed.) 

This sounds like the most impossible feat since Scarlett Johansson was left to a slow, tortuous death at the hands of the merciless mind-controlled Black Widow assassins in the office of the dastardly General Dreykov. And yet – spoiler alert – she bounced improbably back and ready to feature in yet another complicated Avengers Universe saga with a lot of booty-centric camera angles coming to a screen near you soon. In the spirit of channelling whatever that red mind control antidote stuff was that saved the day, here’s how I got on trying to keep to my carbon travel pledge… 

~ JANUARY ~ 

This month was a bit of a dead duck for eco-friendly travel due in part to a deep freeze across Dumfries & Galloway, and in part getting over falling off my bike and being mortally fearful of cycling over any wet shiny surface even with new super-duper snow tyres. As a result of Lockdown 2.0 there weren’t many places to go so as a result I still only drove 305 miles, mostly in pursuit of a new extreme winter hobby: Very Cold Water Swimming.  

~ FEBRUARY ~

According to my online calendar we must still have been in deepest lockdown since the only social commitments I recorded were Zoom Monopoly or online escape room meets! The snow thawed just enough for a few lovely chilly bike rides and my car use was only 195 miles this month. 

~ MARCH ~ 

Another step towards longer, warmer days brings back cycling enthusiasm and a corresponding dip in our car mileage in favour of some hopeful sojourns through the Dumfriesshire countryside dreaming of holidays gone by. Although I had to do some longer-distance travel for work this month I did so by train, which meant my car-or-equivalent mileage this month was still only 213 miles

~ APRIL ~ 

This was the month of the BEST. BIKE ROUTE. EVARRRRR romping through the Galloway Forest Park getting to grips (and gritting our teeth) with some serious gravel. We also took a wee jaunt west to the Mull of Galloway, ostensibly in training for Hubs’ lighthouse-to-lighthouse challenge in a few months’ time. In reality there was a lot of clarting about and visiting botanic gardens in the sunshine, and not a whole lot of hardcore cycling. This time we drove to the notoriously long-way-to-get-to peninsula but later in the year we’d attempt the same journey sans voiture and realise how precarious rural public transport can be… 

Total car-or-equivalent mileage: 4560 miles, and the first time this year we’ve exceeded our monthly carbon budget.  

~ MAY ~

Another bumper month for travelling, and for our carbon footprint too (415 of the 470 miles travelled by carbon-consuming mode this month were by car). Barriers to using public transport included making timings work around train schedules (I think I remember rolling into the Fort William Premier Inn car park at around 3am after darting straight from work so we could snatch a few hours of sleep before making our 10:15 ferry crossing to the Ardnamurchan peninsula on yet another ambitious trip hatched no doubt during an excessive caffeine intake). Thereafter our vacay was ultra-carbon-lite: we camped for three nights on a beach under the stars and rediscovered the Ardnamurchan coast on pedal power alone (with props to the Café Tioram’s vegan full Scottish breakfast for giving us the sustenance to see us through the very rainy homeward leg). We also holidayed with a relative who doesn’t quite have the cycling vim that we do (though we had a blast pedalling the length of Gigha together). 

Lessons learned? To travel in a more eco way, we need to scale back our ambitions for what we can get achieved in a long weekend. 

~ JUNE ~

Less than half my motorised travel miles this month were by private vehicle (perhaps I’m getting the hang of this) in a month that included a couple of big trips to visit friends. New roads were learned between Darlington and Richmond, including an unexpected tour of Easby Abbey that I certainly would not have seen had I driven. There was a support-vehicle role to be undertaken for the Lighthouse-to-Lighthouse challenge (though we had to drive only a fraction of the 200 miles Hubs cycled). He inexplicably managed to outpace the train between Corbridge and Newcastle, and then the car from Newcastle to Whitley Bay, suggesting that perhaps cycling is not such a slow mode of transport eh? Car-or-equivalent mileage: 231 miles. 

~ JULY ~

We left the car on the drive to visit the North Berwick beaches daaahling, not even Google Maps going ape shit and sending me up hill and down dale could detract from the unexpected pleasantness of a bike trip to the Peak District (read my first experience pedalling the Peaks to see what I mean!). This was also a month of extreme weather events linked to climate change including heatwaves, floods and trackside fires which made rail travel more unpredictable – yet more important – than ever before in our attempts to reduce our collective carbon footprint and give our planet and its biodiversity a chance of recovery. 

~ AUGUST ~ 

We found another eco-friendly travel modality this month when, courtesy of Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre and forager extraordinaire Mark, we took a three-day paddling and wild foraging tour of Arisaig’s wild and rugged coast.

Unfortunately that’s where the eco-friendliness ended: it turns out it’s difficult to get round the Cotswolds, where we were headed next for a wedding, without a car (car mileage for the month: 644 miles). The traffic on the M6 on the way down left me mildly deranged and dreaming of sitting on a train with the sun shining in through a window as I sat reading a book or knitting something that would undoubtedly not turn out right but I would enjoy it nonetheless, and with a coffee in front of me which was not purchased from a faceless grey roadside retail park and resembling something between dishwater and tar… 

~ SEPTEMBER ~

With the horrors of the M6 not far from memory, we hardly took the car off the drive this month (24 miles by car; a further 577 completed mostly by rail). The Trainline website now provides an estimate of your carbon footprint in kg CO2 equivalent for each specific train journey, taking into account whether the trains are diesel, electric, high speed etc. (though for ease I’ve still used the 1/3 of car mileage ballpark figure throughout the rest of my calculations).

~ OCTOBER ~ 

In perhaps our bravest stride to reduce our travel footprint this year, October was the month in which we SOLD THE CAR. Interestingly, in spite of the coverage basically EVERYWHERE about getting rid of a car being one of the TOP THREE THINGS that individuals can do to make a massive impact on their carbon footprint over a lifetime (the others being switching to a plant-based diet and planning on having one less child), most of my friends didn’t understand our decision until we explained that we felt for the few thousand miles a year we were driving it, keeping a car didn’t make financial sense. It’s a bold decision to make while we live in a rural area and it’s on the cusp of winter, I hear ya. And it’s not irreversible, we’re just trying it out… 

Car-or-equivalent mileage: 292 miles, of which just over a quarter by private vehicle. I had to rely a little on taxis this month due to heavy rainfall. I’ll have to watch how the miles rack up though – private hire vehicle use is much worse for the environment than private car use due to the extra miles – so-called ‘dead miles’ or ‘deadheading’ – that drivers have to take to get to pick-up and drop-off points. Most estimates put this at between 30 and 50% on top of the distance of the journey itself, depending on the habits of the driver and the region they operate in [2,7].  

~ NOVEMBER ~ 

Photo by Yelena Odintsova on Pexels.com

In November we took a trip to Salford by train, with mixed results. During a month of increasing rates of Covid and a notable disparity in social precautions between England and Scotland, the train to Piccadilly was packed and mostly with folk not wearing masks and a lot of them getting drunk and shouting and laughing. None of this is a crime of course, but it does create a public transport barrier to those who are wishing to stay clear of catching Covid, perhaps for health, social or professional reasons.

By contrast on a visit to the RHS Bridgewater, eco-friendly travel could not have been more positively encouraged, with heavily discounted entry to those travelling actively to the gardens. The site has been landscaped in a manner which encourages cyclists, expanding existing cycle infrastructure to improve the hitherto sometimes sketchy Ellenbrook/Boothstown area. Even better, the site connects by shared pedestrian and cycleway to the Worsley canal network which brought us conveniently out at Worsley Stores, an exquisite posh wine bar and deli that, safe in the knowledge that we didn’t need a designated driver, we all overindulged in… 

November was also the month of COP26 and, in full smug I-just-sold-my-car swing (with a little extra swagger at having got rid of it just ahead of a wave of nationwide fuel shortages) I attended the Day of Action march in Glasgow. Ecological grief is a real thing that paralyses millions of us into inaction – I’ve been through a lot of that myself this year – but if you want an absolute antidote to the hopelessness and despair of climate change then I would strongly encourage joining something like it in the future. I can’t describe the overwhelming feeling of community, courage, passion and hope that I felt as I heard the drums of the oncoming march. A tidal wave, 100,000 strong or more, of locals, young people, couples, children, artists, indigenous peoples from parts of the world I’ve never even heard of, doctors and nurses, people with visible disabilities, drag queens, suits, jeans, brass bands, tartan, singers, all with their individual messages of what climate change means to them, all demanding action from those in power. Will it make a difference to what global leaders do? I guess we’ll never know, but it certainly put some fire in my belly to live my best eco-conscious life. 

Car-or-equivalent mileage this month: a record low of 144 miles

~ DECEMBER ~

Relief at the fleeting nature of the sore throat picked up from a friend’s baby on a trip to Yorkshire was short-lived when Christmas plan after Christmas plan fell down like ring-a-ring-o’-roses in the wake of a surge in Omicron cases threatening to overwhelm the health and core infrastructure sectors. Since then, with Covid on the rise meaning we’re avoiding public transport where we can and waiting for the rain to stop before dashing by bike to the post office or to pick up yet another Pandolce before Christmas Day. (Though I joke about buying too much Pandolce, cycling everywhere does make you think more carefully about the things you really need to buy – never is this more evident than at Christmas – firstly you have to weigh up whether it’s worth the effort to make the trip in the first place, and secondly because the heavier your bags are laiden, the harder you’ll work to get home!) 

Having no car does make travel over the holidays difficult – the two sets of four-day Bank Holidays over Christmas and New Year coupled with a lot of train cancellations due to staff sickness across the rail network mean it’s not been simple planning this trip to finally celebrate Christmas with family. 

So with only 7 hours left of 2021, my car-or-equivalent mileage is

3651

of an allowance of

4,381 😇 

The other night, under much duress from almost absolutely everyone, we watched the new Netflix release Don’t Look Up. It’s about everyone doing nothing about the fact that the world is going to end thanks to a comet set to collide with Earth because they’re all too absorbed in their own shit to care. Spoiler alert – it’s a gossamer-thinly-veiled commentary on our individual and international responses to climate change. In a crucial year for climate change making international headlines pretty much every day, will we embody Meryl Streep’s POTUS, Jonah Hill’s Chief of Staff or Mark Rylance’s tech billionaire and bury our heads in the sand because everyone else seems to be business-as-usual and we’re just having too much fun to face up to the harsh reality of what we really need to do? Or will we conquer the evil old regime like Scarlett Johannson (there’s no hero in Don’t Look Up) in a death-defying display of kinship, daring and acrobatics? 

My year of travelling in a more environmentally friendly way has at times been less convenient, certainly less spontaneous, sometimes less speedy (though not always) but usually less hasty. Ditching the car more often has meant seeing the the world we live in with more detail, with more appreciation of nature’s struggles, more interaction with others, less pollution, less roadkill, less being stuck in traffic, more exercise, and more wind in our hair.  

Reducing your carbon footprint can be HARD, and can sometimes even feel like a BATTLE.  If you’ll indulge me one more film metaphor: the moral of Black Widow is that she didn’t manage to pull that shit off because she’s got bad-ass assassin skills, a figure-hugging catsuit or a ton of CGI (all the other assassins had that too); she saved the day because of her sense of JUSTICE, COURAGE and COMMUNITY. 

I guess all I’m trying to say is, please try your best to protect our beautiful planet by putting a smaller carbon foot forward in 2022, and I will too ✌️.

Friday, 31 December 2021

[1] Shrink That footprint: Carbon Targets for your Footprint http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/carbon-targets-for-your-footprint#:~:text=For%20the%20individual%20the%20most,to%201.5%20t%20by%202050. 

[2] BBC Smart Guide to Climate Change https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-climate-change-cut-carbon-emissions-from-your-commute 

[3] LNER: Calculate my Carbon Footprint https://www.lner.co.uk/tickets-savings/the-best-way-to-travel/our-commitment-to-the-environment/ 

[4] SFGate: How to Calculate the Carbon Footprint for a Coach Bus https://homeguides.sfgate.com/calculate-carbon-footprint-coach-bus-78819.html 

[5] Nexus: Metro – A Greener Form of Travel https://www.nexus.org.uk/metro-greener-form-travel 

[6] Carbon Independent: Ferry Sources https://www.carbonindependent.org/sources_ferry.htm 

[7] Uber People: Too Many dead Miles? https://www.uberpeople.net/threads/too-many-dead-miles.294315/ 

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