I'm virtuous at the moment -- on board a ViaRail train from Ottawa to Toronto. Not driving, you understand, and certainly not flying. If this forum on climate change and energy has had any effect, it's by making me more conscious about the use of energy. I've even turned out a few more lights than I used to.
Train travel is no sacrifice. I prefer it to any other way of traversing a few hundred miles. Two years ago I even went to Nova Scotia and back by train. One way was good. The return was too much. But now I'd better get used to long journeys by train as well, for I cannot fly anymore. What's the opposite of flying? Crawling?
George Monbiot's book, Heat, is the best thing I've read about the possibility of reducing CO2 emissions. He decides that we have to curb these emissions by 80 percent, so he sets up a series of categories -- transportation, heating of homes, agriculture, etc -- and figures out a way to reduce emissions in each category by 80 percent. It's easier in some respects than others. He admits in the end that there is no way to reduce air travel emissions much at all. Yes, you can could take propeller-driven planes (if there still were any) and cut emissions quite a bit, but not enough. I checked with the David Suzuki Foundation web page, which says that flying in the daytime is better than at night. The contrails left by planes actually reflect some light in the daytime, so that reduces the bad effect of their emissions. At night, they can't do that, of course. The Suzuki people just ask us not to fly except when it is absolutely necessary. When we do fly, the emissions are so bad that they cancel out any conservation we've done all year.
Okay, I'll try to live that way from now on. But one thing immediately bothers me. I need to go to Russia for a few weeks in the spring to interview people for the Bears and Doves book that has been on my back burner for several years. How do I get there?
I checked the Internet for freighters. The best I could do would be to sail from Montreal or New York and reach either northern Europe or a Mediterranean port maybe 13 days later. They charge at least 90 euros per day, and they note that there are no elevators but lots of stairs. I'm not good on stairs. Worse yet, they don't even accept passengers over 75 or 79 years old. Maybe I could find one that would accept me, but I couldn't manage my luggage or even climbing stairs. So that's out.
Someone mentioned dirigibles. Of course, they don't exist anymore. They would be at best a half-solution -- somewhat quicker than ships but not nearly as fast as jet planes.
For some things, I think we need to be face-to-face. Richard Handler used to spend all day interviewing people on the phone as a radio producer. He could tell what they had to say that was interesting and then tell Peter Gzowski what to ask them on the air. I myself depend more on facial cues. And the book I'm going back to finishing is about the activities of peace-minded Russians during the Cold War. It's not as sensitive a subject as twenty years ago, but it still requires face-to-face interaction, in my opinion. Probably it would be easier if we were both the same nationalityl Culture does make a difference in communication.
Still, when my dear friends move away, I cannot keep as close to them as before, and inevitably our phone conversations and even e-mails decline in frequency. I have many foreign friends, some of whom were very close at one time, but none of them are among my closest friends anymore. Occasional face-to-face encounters are necessary just to make up for the distance.
I digress. But from what argument? That travel is important, even if it is destructive to the environment.