November 4, 2009

Low Carbon Travel: Slower, Not As Far, Less Often

It seems like all the good stuff is somewhere else. It makes a guy want to pack a bag, fire up the tricycle and hit the open road. On the other hand, what is up with this obsession with anywhere other than where we are at? The exotic is always advertised as someplace else, and there are plenty of businesses ready to whisk you there for an extremely low price (plus taxes, fees, and additional levies). Is all this travel to learn about other cultures and make the world a better place, or is it just to help us keep boredom at bay and make ourselves feel 'successful'? Life changing events, or distracting ego strokage?

Regardless of why we do it, there is an environmental cost to all this moving from here to there with near-instant efficiency. In addition to climate change, we are at, or close to, peak oil meaning the end of cheap energy. Remember how you felt filling up at the pumps when crude was at $147/barrel? How attractive was the cross-country voyage in the RV then? We are destined to see those days again.
It will be a huge challenge for the world to adapt to such rapidly declining fuel supplies. So from a probabilistic standpoint, there is no arguing with the actual oil production statistics, they show that it's happening -- it's real and it's happening now.
Low carbon travel is a reality that we currently face. Get ready for the slow road to somewhere close, serviced of course by slow food restaurants.
Given that fuel efficiency decreases markedly with higher speeds, an enforced 60mph speed limit on motorways could save around 1.9 MtC a year. Even enforcement of current limits could achieve significant reductions in emissions. In France, in 2004, strict enforcement on main motorways reduced CO2 emissions by 19% as well as cutting crashes by 30%.
We will either find alternative energy sources, dramatically improve the efficiency of our modes of transportation, or do without. Since we are not getting very far finding viable energy alternatives any time soon, and our vehicles are still only about as efficient as Henry Ford's Model T, it's looking more and more like we will be doing without.

For the past five years I have been limiting my travels to local areas that I can access by walking, riding, or paddling my canoe. It gives me great pleasure to execute a local carbon-free adventure. I live in a rural area known for its scenery, but I can honestly say that I have never lived in a place that did not have its own gifts.

When I lived in the city parks provided much-needed breaks from the built environment surrounding me. Even in cities nature finds a way. Office towers in many cities across North America host peregrine falcons. In many cities one could bike downtown to view one of the fastest creatures on earth hunting in the concrete corridors. Empty lots and fields are reclaimed by pioneering species attracting wildlife to seek shelter in them. Many cities have developed areas that are beautiful in their own right. Chances are there are tourists from afar checking your city out. Why not be a tourist in your own town?

Phillip Croft, a west coast naturalist, highlights the joys of his own West Vancouver neighbourhood in his "Nature Diary Of A Quiet Pedestrian". This amazing book chronicles Croft's 25 year ritual of a daily walk from his home, through a wooded park, and to the beach. He takes the reader through the seasons with wit, keen observations, and his own watercolour illustrations. It is a wonderful example of someone recognizing the exotic in his own back yard.

Due to a variety of ailments globalism is crashing, and it is taking speedy global travel with it. Flying aluminium sausages are out, 6 month trips around the Horn of Africa on a creaky sailing ship are in. Road trips in a personal internal combustion vehicle are out, road trips on your bike are in.

Travel to 'exotic' foreign lands, or even the next province or state, is changing, and for good reasons. People are traveling slower, not as far, and less often. Local is the way of the future, and eventually we will discover that what we are looking for can be found wherever we are. Learning about ourselves, our neighbours, and our own locality may be the biggest, most beneficial low carbon trip of them all.

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