Work and Play

At the end of the month I’m travelling again. Going to France for a conference. But combining the trip with a visit to some friends who live in Switzerland. They’re not exactly that close together, but certainly a distance that can be done by train.

So whilst the majority of my journey is going to be done by plane (out of time constraints), I’ve done some quick calcs to figure out the difference. I could also try to put a figure on my value of saved CO2 but that’s probably a bit complex to find anything meaningful from.

Due to some crazy pricing mechanism from KLM, I’ve fixed one part of my journey as a leg from Trondheim to Amsterdam. To cut a long story short, it’s related to another one-way journey that I need to take with KLM later in the year, but one-way tickets cost 4 times as much as return tickets per kilometre travelled. So my return journey is split across two different journeys.

Thereafter I’ve displayed the rest of the flights. The one of the left I have creatively called ‘A’ whilst the one of the right is ‘B.’

A: This represents my flying route choice with an attempt to reduce the total numbers of flights. There are in total 3 flight segments. Thus the trip into and out of Switzerland is done by train.

B: If I did not care about my flying emissions, and just cared about my time, I would have flown with this route pattern. There are 5 flight segments. There is a short train journey within Switzerland to get from the airport to get to where my friends live.

5 vs 3 flights

My creative naming continues into the two figures below.

5 vs 3 flights 2


It may not seem as though my efforts have gone very far, but it is in fact a 31% reduction in my total CO2 output. The data underlying these graphs comes from ICAO (plane), Deutsche Bahn (train) and National Express (bus).

Source: FLIGHT MACE Manchester

Since I have cut my flights from 5 to 3 by choosing option A, it can be seen that the average CO2 intensity of my flying is improved by nearly 20%. This is due to the lower numbers of takeoffs, which are the most energy intensive (and thus carbon intensive) parts of flying. The black line in this figure below demonstrates the takeoff intensiveness. But interestingly enough, once you reach a certain distance, the impact of having to carry the fuel causes the carbon intensity to begin increasing again (think long haul flights here  where the takeoff forms a relatively small part of the total flight time).

I will be travelling by train from Amsterdam to Switzerland, and from Switzerland to the west of France, which represents nearly 2 days of travel all together. But in the first instance I will be taking the City Night Line, which I think is a good use of time to be asleep and travelling simultaneously. It was relatively affordable too at 69 euros. In the second case I will be taking TGV trains during the day. It’ll be my first time in France so I don’t mind having a day to sit on the train doing some reading whilst watching the French countryside roll by. It’ll be directly before the conference too, so maybe it’s a good chance to read up on the topics of the conference.

The last thing that comes across clearly in the graphs is that even with several different types of train, the carbon intensity of this form of travel is far less than flying. There’s no takeoff involved, and relatively small drag due to their length. It does however require some investment in infrastructure, which should be a part of any sustainable mobility plan for a country anyway (if only for the shorter inter-city and regional trips).

To finish on a rather sombre note, I thought I would share this graphic from National Geographic showing the routes being taken by North and Central African refugees across the Mediterranean. My struggle with cutting back my enormous carbon footprint are very much a first world concern. The refugees attempting to make the crossing to Europe do not have the luxury of easy and affordable air travel. Many do not have passports, visas or other paperwork required to make the journey safely, and so come across on overcrowded un-seaworthy vessels. It’s a major issue, and one that I hope the EU can soon find some better solutions for in their working groups on the matter.

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