Category Archives: Plane Dependence

Passengers Aboard the Jewel

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

I’ve met some interesting people on board over the past few days, several of whom are using the cruise ship as ‘alternative transport’ across the Atlantic.  Of course they are vastly outnumbered by Americans who flew to Heathrow specifically for a cruise experience, but still it’s interesting to hear their stories.  I’ve asked the cruise director, a rather cheesy Canadian named Darin, if I can host a discussion on the 29th of people who don’t fly for various reasons which he has termed, rather uncontroversially, “Fear of Flying.”

Here are some of the people I’ve met over the course of the last ten days at sea:

Jo Jo from Nashville I met during lunch in the buffet.  She was frustrated that she can’t walk to the shops where she lives- she says she waits until she’s really hungry to get into her car and suffer through the terrible Nashville gridlock just to get to the supermarket.  She mentioned that there was a nice cycle path by the river in Nashville, but it didn’t go anywhere near where she lives.   She was scared to cycle in her neighbourhood because of a few speeding drivers.  She wants to live somewhere with a higher quality of life, where she can walk to the shops but says it’s too expensive to move to a place like Portland.  She wishes politicians in Nashville would do something about the traffic and lack of transportation options.

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Grant expressing his feelings about the NCL Jewel

Grant from Vancouver who was afraid of flying after a nasty experience in an airplane flying through a typhoon over Taiwan.  He’s accompanied by his Swiss girlfriend Sophie, a goldsmith who lives with him in Vancouver.  A couple of years back he took a cargo ship from Sydney to Los Angeles, which he said was ‘painfully boring.’  He left the cruise ship early in Halifax because he ‘just couldn’t take it any more.’

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Klaus, a German living in London with his English wife Eve. He is a refugee from the City, London’s financial district, and disgusted at the excesses that led to last year’s crash.  He was appalled with his friends for suggesting that Ian Tomlinson ‘deserved what he got’ when he was killed at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on April 1st during the G20 protests.   They live in Greenwich, visited the Climate Camp on Black Heath in August, and were really inspired by what they saw.  They were on our bike tour in Reykjavik and we’ve been hanging out with them since then.   They even came to my Driven to Excess presentation in Halifax.

Hannah (also from Nashville) is staying in one of the Jewel’s massive suites with her parents, country music stars. Apparently they go cruising several times a year, and they’ve adapted well to life on a cruise ship, not bad when you have your own private hot tub in your stateroom.

Elizabeth, an art student who’s been studying in Edinburgh, returning home to Massachusetts, who chose to take the Jewel so that she could carry her large number of canvasses that would have been costly to bring aboard an aircraft.

Wishing safe and pleasant travels to all those we met on board the Jewel!

Iceland: Revolutions and Rainbows

Thingvellir Natl Park- 30 miles from Reykjavik  (Photo: Leah Arnold)

Thingvellir Natl Park- 30 miles from Reykjavik (Photo: Leah Arnold)

Leah and I have been really looking forward to visiting Iceland, the highlight of our transatlantic trip.   This morning we cruised up the channel to Reykjavik harbour, lined with snow dusted mountains.  When we arrived at the port, I stubbornly refused to get on a bus into the City Centre, unapologetic pedestrian that I am, resulting in an hour long walk through the industrial port area, then through a series of public housing towers, and finally along a street with forlorn looking banks.  Later we found out that this was now referred to by Icelanders as the Avenue of broken dreams.

The informative 'Free' Reykjavik Bicycle Tour (photo Leah Arnold)

The informative 'Free' Reykjavik Bicycle Tour (photo Leah Arnold)

We met Stefan and Ursula of the ‘Free’ Reykjavik Bike Tour in the city centre, who we had been in touch with via e-mail beforehand.  They just started the business several months ago, and rely on tips to make money from the venture, which they report has been extremely popular.   We were driven to the bike shed, where eight of us were matched with bikes for the tour, and then set off, following Stefan like ducklings along the pavement (riding on the sidewalk is permitted in Iceland).  I have never seen such courteous behaviour from drivers.   They stopped for us even when we didn’t have right of way at junctions.  We rode through the city, which was somewhat bleak, but with the characteristic clean lines of Scandinavian architecture.

Exploring Reykjavik's Cycle Paths

Exploring Reykjavik's Cycle Paths

We stopped by Iceland’s parliament building, the site of the recent ‘pots and pans revolution’.   Growing out of the financial crisis that hit Iceland particularly hard, one man had enough.  Hordur Torfason was so upset with the irresponsible behaviour by the banks and the inability of the government to protect Icelanders’ savings that he rented a flat bed truck and speakers, showing up every Saturday to protest outside the parliament.  Over the following weeks, the protest grew from a dozen people to hundreds and eventually to thousands.   In January, with a crowd of citizens banging pots and pans together so that government officials inside the parliament could no longer ignore their demands, riot police lined the parliament building.  It got heated as police used pepper spray to keep the crowd back. One teenager threw a brick and hit an officer in the face.  Instead of descending into violence, many in the crowd turned around to protect the officers from any further projectiles.

Bjork's House!!!

Bjork's House!!!

Elections were held, and a coalition of social democrats and the left green party came into power.  The old finance minister was sacked.   Stefan reported that the heads of government departments weren’t particularly qualified or experienced in the areas which they governed- they just happened to have wealth and influence.  Certainly sounds familiar…

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Rainbow over falls in Thingvellir (photo by Leah Arnold)

Stefan told us that there were only 700 police (including office staff) for the whole island’s population of 400,000, and not always enough of them to deal with violent crime and theft.  He said that since the recession started, there has been an 80% increase in burglaries and a huge increase in the drug trade, particularly indoor marijuana growing operations.

Iceland’s incredible natural resources have not escaped the notice of the multinational corporations, and Stefan said that he has seen a significant degradation in the natural areas of the island over the past decade.   Particularly threatening has been the spread of aluminium smelters by such corporations as Rio Tinto.  He said there was an ongoing tension between the tourist industry who wanted to preserve these wilderness areas (albeit for tourists to fly in) and the multinationals who sought to rape the land for extraction and profit.  The pressure to allow further exploitation has mounted with the desperation caused by the financial crisis.  Perhaps this is part of the plan.

An organisation known as Saving Iceland is dedicated to stopping this destruction and preserving Iceland for future generations, using peaceful direct action. Somehow, Stefan reported, there always seemed to be enough police to act as security guards for the corporations, an increasing trend internationally as evidenced by the collusion between police and Eon energy company documented by the Guardian.

Woolly-feeted Ptarmigan!! (photo by Leah Arnold)

Woolly-feeted Ptarmigan!! (photo by Leah Arnold)

After the bike tour, we convinced Stefan to drive us out to Thingvellir National Park, where people walked from all over the island in 930 to establish the first Icelandic parliament.   The volcanic landscape was unlike anything I’d ever seen- just breathtaking.  We were lucky enough to witness rainbows above the landscape and when we arrived at the visitor’s centre, we were greeted by ptarmigans with woolly feet, a very odd looking bird indeed.  After a brief visit to a waterfall, Stefan dropped us back at the ship, and we bid farewell to this fascinating island in the mid Atlantic.

“Modally Agnostic”

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Yesterday I attended the unfortunately named “Driving Change” seminar at London’s City Hall, a “half day seminar exploring solutions to traffic congestion in London.” Jacqui Wilkinson, head of sustainable travel initiatives at the Department for Transport, spoke about all the trial cycling and walking initiatives they are pursuing (important programs to be sure, but which put together amount to only about the cost of one mile of motorway construction). In other words, crumbs off the table of the petrol fueled banquet.

She then said something that was extraordinary, considering the UK government’s urgent statements about climate change. Considering the fact that cars and planes are the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide in the UK. Considering the potential for public transport, cycling and walking to reduce this atmospheric dumping.

She said that when it comes to transport, the UK government is “modally agnostic” — meaning that they treat all travel modes equally. Wouldn’t do to express a preference in favour of non-motorized modes and public transport. You might offend drivers and frequent flyers, god forbid. No matter if the capital is threatened with inundation from rising sea levels in part due to our incessant and increasing flying and driving.  Modal agnosticism in the face of climate chaos, it seems to me, is giving up the battle before we’ve even started fighting.

I was beginning to despair for the future of the country and its capital on the Thames, when a man named Christian Wolmar gave an upbeat speech in which he decried making lists of transport improvements and instead called for an overall vision in transport planning, and tore to pieces the government’s “modal agnosticism.” Thank god for people like him.

I tried to ask a question after the session, but they didn’t call on me, so I went up to Jacqui afterwards at the reception, and asked her about the wisdom of “modal agnosticism”: “When the scientific evidence for human induced climate change is now cemented, how can we continue to pretend that the rapid growth in driving and flying are acceptable? The government is certainly not agnostic on the issue of cigarette smoking and lung cancer.” She replied, “well changes in attitude take time– it took 40 years for action to be taken on smoking.” I replied, “yes but we don’t have 40 years to deal with this issue….” I was met with uncomfortable looks all around. This is the achilles heal of their transport policy, the elephant in the room.

This government is clearly unable to show any kind of real leadership on this issue, instead content to offer crumbs, platitudes, and excuses for real action. By hiding behind a veil of “modal agnosticism” while pretending to be leaders on the issue of climate change, they are guilty of a dangerous kind of doublespeak- paying lip service to the greener modes and action on climate change while mollycoddling widespread denial about the true nature of global warming, and allowing our fossil fueled habits to continue unchecked.

We need leadership and we need a new vision for transport, one that represents a radical departure from the old stale 20th century petrol dependent status quo. If that means the government getting a little religion around the issue of the climate, and promoting car and plane-free lifestyles, then hallelujah- bring it on! I wouldn’t hold your breath though. The likes of British Airways and Shell will ensure that the corporate profits keep rolling in as long as possible come hell or high water….

It’s Up to Old Blighty

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Two weeks ago, the NASA scientist James Hansen released a statement calling upon the UK and Germany to reject planned coal fired power plants as these countries have a “historic responsibility” to combat climate change. According to his calculations, the UK has the highest per capita contribution to CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere (as you can see in the chart above).

That’s right Britons- especially rich Britons- are you paying attention? We are responsible for more excess carbon molecules in the air than the US or China or India or anyone else on the planet. We started this mess with the Manchester factories of the industrial revolution, and their mechanized mass production based on coal, and some of us have become extraordinarily- almost ridiculously- wealthy in the process. We now have a moral duty to be a world leader in the transition away from fossil fuels- yet we are planning new coal mines like the one in Wales planned to extract 10m tons of coal over the next 17 years, motorway widenings, and a third runway at Heathrow airport. From the capitalist growth economy perspective, there are truly no limits.

If we continue along this path, future generations will not think of the double decker bus, cute red phoneboxes, or the Beatles when they think of the UK- they will think of the worst climate criminals on the face of the planet, too blinded by our own avarice to change our ways- hooking the world on a dirty energy habit, and refusing to cut down ourselves even when serious problems are on the horizon.

This is one possible scenario- and a depressing one surely- but there is another storyline- one of a rapid awakening, a transition to a less consumer oriented culture, renewable energy, local communities and food production, cities where you can breathe again and cycling and walking is prioritized. We can make it happen, but the people have to lead. If the English lead, surely the citizens of other countries will sit up and take notice and want a piece of what we’ve got. And that’s an export we can all live with.

Carbon Detox: Time to Get Real

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It’s not easy to admit that something that forms the basis of our lives and our societies could be leading us down a path of destruction, disorder and incredible suffering. Our addiction to fossil fuels is a lot like nicotine addiction- we come up with a whole set of psychological mechanisms to justify continuing our current behaviour, even as the warnings are growing louder and the side-effects more irritating (and as someone who is struggling with giving up smoking I can relate, believe me).

How can we begin to take responsibility? Accept that our loving family flying from all around the world to meet for a reunion is causing extreme weather that is leading to the breakup of someone else’s family in the developing world? Accept that when I boil a kettle to make a cup of tea (although it is a minor impact compared with aviation) I am also part of the problem.

There are no easy answers- this is a rapidly evolving area where social norms and morality are struggling to keep up with the latest scientific findings. But it seems that a man named George Marshall, who is also behind the Climate Denial website and the Climate Outreach and Information Network has thought about this problem a hell of a lot, and has produced what I think is the most important book ever written on climate change, called Carbon Detox- Your step-by-step guide to getting real about climate change.

Important because it could actually make a difference where hundreds of others have failed. It’s like a self-help book without the dogma. A call to action without the guilt. And have you ever read a book on climate change that encourages you to drive a Ferrari Testarossa around a racetrack at 160 mph or race a speedboat off the coast of Cornwall? I didn’t think so.

I can’t find strong enough words to recommend this book– you should buy it for yourself and for everyone you know for the holidays. Request it at your local bookstore, or order it from Amazon today.

Surfboard Direct Action Against Hawaii SuperFerry Raises Questions About Transport Choice

The recent arrival of an 850 passenger and 280+ car ferry to Kauai was not embraced as an alternative to “island hopping” flights between the islands, but actually halted and turned away at the mouth of the Lihue harbour by dozens of adults and kids on surfboards and kayaks,. and their supporters on shore in a kind of populist marine direct action.

I read this and thought, ‘what if I was in Hawaii and needed to get to another island?’  I don’t fly- without a ferry I’d have to hitch on a sailboat or something.

But this particular ferry begins to look like serious overkill the more you look at it. Too big and too fast for the Hawaiian islands, especially Kauai, the western garden isle which has an especially laid back vibe and fragile ecosystem. I doubt the superferry is any more efficient (per passenger) than a plane– it’s probably very much worse. Plus it kills whales.

Nevertheless, from reading about this, I’m left with a nagging question of why there isn’t a slower, simpler public ferry- perhaps run on solar, or wind energy, carrying bicycles and getting people off those damn island hoppers, what are essentially wasteful short haul flights.

Why the environmental groups aren’t matching their protests to halt the superferry with calls for viable, low impact water transport and an alternative to inter-island flights. Maybe by outrigger canoe?

Kauai’s brave residents aren’t yet blockading the airport in Lihue, but the damage caused increasingly by high altitude carbon emissions will soon ensure that whales (and all of us) will find ourselves inhabiting an uncertain future- even a terrifying unpredictable world rather than the mostly stable paradise we take for granted today.

Oh well let’s worry about it later. For now….pass the pina coladas and the tanning butter! OK… In all fairness, there is in fact a tide of discontent rising in Hawaii as it is in Bristol and North America and anywhere else people are paying attention to the fact that we have to move on this issue.

Like, um… yesterday people.

Bristol to Tokyo Plane Free!

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Yesterday, Louise Rouse, environmental illustrator (and my girlfriend for the last 4 months), embarked from Bristol Temple Meads Train Station on a journey by train and boat that will take her across nine time zones and ten countries over the next three and a half weeks (you can do it in two if you go direct). When she arrives in Tokyo, she plans to study Japanese language and illustration for the next two years. I am so sad to see her go, but share her excitement about her new life in Japan, and her adventure getting there. It’s also a great excuse to do this journey myself and go visit her! Lou was partly inspired by my plane free trip a year ago from San Francisco to Bristol, and like me, has decided to give up flying because of the growing damage that aviation is inflicting on our climate.

As I write this on Sunday morning, Louise has just arrived in Berlin on an overnight train from Brussels, and will take another train this evening to St Petersburg, Russia. Then, a train to Moscow. From there, she rides the Trans-Siberian railway to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. Then its on to Beijing, Shanghai, and a ferry to Yokohama.

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You can follow her travels during September on her very erudite blog and also be sure to check out her wonderful and humorous environmentally themed illustrations at LouiseRouse.com. To book your own rail and sea voyage anywhere in the world, instead of flying, see seat61.com. Bon Voyage my dear!

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Camp for Climate Action Report

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Sleazyjet quickly got back into action, seducing people to take more holidays abroad and stop worrying about the future! Screw Global Warming! Let’s Fly! (and Fry…..)

What can I say about Climate Camp? It was like nothing I’ve experienced before- truly a self-organized community of diverse people with a common goal- to put a halt to this mad orgy of fossil fuel burning that is leading us to climate chaos. Five Hundred meters north of the busiest airport in the world, which excretes a massive 31 million tons of carbon a year, it meant drawing a line in the sand and acting directly to prevent the madness of a third runway and a near doubling of flights.

The camp was unique in that protest-hardened anarchists rubbed shoulders with scientists, middle class families, and students worried about the future and spurred to action.

Dozens of packed, intensive workshops led by scientists, environmentalists, and social activists added to the cultural brew. One of my favourite sessions was a session led by George Marshall of the Climate Outreach and Information Network about the psychology of climate change denial. Are you in denial? Watch this video summary of his talk and then visit his Climate Denial website.

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The low-cost airlines began their cycle ride from Bristol International and rode 134 miles to Heathrow Airport, mostly along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath, which, if improved might one day provide a high quality level cycleway between London and Bristol. Along the way, Sleazyjet, FryinAir, and company clamored for more cheap flights, more runways, and more CO2!!!- here they seduce passers-by at a travel agent in Devizes with 1p flights to Tuvalu in the South Pacific (which is being swallowed by rising seas) “See it before it’s gone!….” Apocalypse tourism gone astray…

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James from Ireland is changing a flat tire outside Pewsey, where some……well…..interesting people live. We’re about to head to Reading and its hospitable International Solidarity Centre.

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After a rather wet day riding through Windsor, the Bristol Climate Camp Cycle Convoy arrived at the Camp for Climate Action, which was stealthily built only about 500 m north of the main runways, on the site proposed for the 3rd runway. Immediately the mood was celebratory and defiant.

This video below was shot about a half hour after we arrived . About 30 police officers try to come on site against a previous agreement with the camp…. see what happens:

This video starts out with no sound but has nice photos of the camp and some great speeches toward the end:

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Trevor and Friends joined an affinity group opposed to air freighted fruits and vegetables- “Don’t Buy Flown! Grow your Own!”

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More than 1800 police officers surrounded the camp, and used terrorist law to stop and search nearly everyone. There were dozens of riot vans, intelligence gathering film and video units, a crane erected with 24 hour video surveillance, telescope microphones, and a helicopter hovering overhead- and you can see why– we were clearly a major terrorist threat! Our “secret weapon” was the “mini-dink” the baby version of the Rinky Dink human powered sound system (you can see the people furiously pedaling behind George) powering Monbiot’s speech in the photo below:

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George Monbiot , the Guardian columnist and author who camped with us in the Westside neighbourhood, speaks to a crowd in Harmondsworth, one of the villages BAA wants to raze to make way for another runway. In the process, they want to demolish a 1000 year old church and disinter the people buried there, including the daughter of villager Alf Pereira, who died from Bronchial disease brought on by Heathrow’s air pollution, which already exceeds EU law for NO2. Utter Madness….

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Chatting with the Met on a rare sunny day. This nice policewoman refuses to fly, teaches sustainable principles to her kids, and buys local, organic food. Of course, not all of them were so keen– as the clouds darkened and protests intensified later in the week, there were cases of unnecessary police brutality associated with the arrests of more than 80 people…..

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Trees were planted in Harmondsworth as a statement of defiance against British Airport Authority’s suicidal plans for airport expansion. BAA was the next target as a 24 hour occupation of its world hq commenced. Twenty-four hours later, the head of its press department had resigned.

Later in the day, I chatted with two young guys who worked at the airport for Aer Lingus, and expecting them to be pro-airport, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they opposed to the expansion, supportive of climate camp’s presence and excited about the climate justice movement in general. They bought me a pint, and said “good on ya!” I saw them cycling over to BAA HQ that evening to support the protests. Yet another reminder that some very bad corporations are often made up of good individuals (like in the film, the Corporation, when anti-Shell activists camped outside the house of one of its board members, and are brought tea and biscuits by the guy, who turned out to be really quite a nice chap…).

The truth is this: Climate Camp wasn’t just an isolated event– it is emerging everywhere. We are more numerous than the corporations, we are more powerful than the politicians, and we are going to win…. because losing– allowing ourselves to cross that 2 degrees centigrade boundary is– unthinkable.

Day by Day Indymedia UK News Coverage of the Camp and Associated Action

Sleazyjet: Come on, let’s fry!

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Here is my letter to Sleazyjet, the UK’s low cost short haul airline, in response to their “fly greener” environment page, predictably appearing in the weeks before climate camp at http://www.easyjet.com/EN/Environment/index.html

In other news: My friend Jon from SF runs a cycling podcast called Bikescape- we recently had a conversation about climate change and transport politics in the UK. My part is about half way through.

Bristol to Heathrow Climate Camp Bike Ride is Leaving from Bristol International this Friday evening, August 10th, stopping in Bath, Bradford-upon- Avon, Chippenham, and Reading among other places over the next 4 days, spreading the word about climate camp and the need to oppose airport expansion and begin to fly less. We arrive at the Climate Camp Site on the 14th. If you want to join us at any point along the way call us on 0795 654 8966 or see the Climate Camp Bike Ride page.

Also, check out my man George Monbiot’s climate camp column in the Guardian.

Ok here it is- my (former) customer feedback to Easyjet and its owner Stellios, the billionaire who has become rich expoliting the world’s poor and vulnerable victims of climate chaos.

Come on Sleazyjet– Let’s Fry!

More climate change- more short sighted short haul flights- the writing is on the wall for aviation- your blatant animated greenwashing page will convince no one. Aviation is still the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide and trains are more efficient, and much more fun. you people are pathetic. just pathetic. and you are swiftly becoming obsolete.

I really hope Sleazyjet and Fryin’air both go bankrupt and that Stellios has to sell his freakin’ pleasure boat. Maybe he can donate it as a medical vessel to help a fraction of the millions now struggling in south asia (not to mention south gloucestershire) from climate chaos and floods that he has helped to bring about.

Also, make sure to thank your friends BAA for giving climate camp all that free publicity. Cheers very much for that. it is obvious your industry is under attack, and Ken Livingstone is right when he calls BAA ‘out of their skulls’ You are all out of your skulls, and have your heads buried in the sand. Well, it seems that it’s all coming down next week. You can’t hide from the reality of climate change forever. The Planet does have its limits.

Also thanks so much for disrupting the peace and quiet of our neighbourhood under the flight path…….really makes us all support airport expansion.

Just please stop destroying our future and then lying about it. Please.

Sincerely,

Captain Climate

BBC Covers My Plane Free Journey from S F

Here’s the BBC coverage of my plane free journey from October 2006, uploaded to youtube with sound included finally…