Category Archives: Plane Dependence

Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow Airport!

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Just a tip to help you avoid any delay or frustration and to allow you to take direct, effective action against the serious threat of climate change if you so choose.

I wouldn’t recommend making air travel plans that involve Heathrow or Gatwick during August, especially from the 14th to the 21st as you my encounter some unexpected turbulence on the ground.

Sorry for any inconvenience but if anyone hasn’t noticed, the Earth is getting too hot and our increasingly wasteful travel habits are to blame. Heathrow alone emits the equivalent of 31 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, and this cannot continue if we want to avoid climate chaos.

Note that this protest is aimed squarely at the airline industries and at the UK government that is hypocritically moving forward with a series of airport expansions, NOT individual travelers.

See http://www.seat61.com for a range of effective alternatives to wasteful, and increasingly irrelevant air travel.

See http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/ for more details about the camp

For more information or to join mass bicycle rides from all over the UK converging on Heathrow, see

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2420161391

Fasten your seatbelts everyone. The revolution will not be motorised.

Why I Quit Flying and Why You Should Too

A couple of weeks after the news of my plane-free jourmey hit the media in Bristol, Sarah Neales, a postgraduate Sociology student at Bristol University e-mailed me asking if I would participate in an interview for her dissertation. Here is the full text of that interview.

 

 

London Climate Protest

OK I know I haven’t written in a while, but I’ve been busy getting up to good things to write ABOUT, so I hope you will excuse the three week lapse. On November 4th, my friend Leah, my roommates Mike, Alastair, Lizzie, and Polly, and my cousin Ben all went to London to participate in the 20,000 strong march against climate chaos. On the way to the march, we ran into an exhibition of ancient automobiles lined up along Regent St. (sponsored by the Daily Mail) The other side of my sign said, “cars are SOOOOO 20th century” so we shouted out, “cars are SOOOOO 19th century!” and “this is where all our problems began! car-free London now!”

 

Two days later, we were all back in Bristol, and I rounded up a couple of friends and headed down to Broadmead Shopping Mall to participate in the Plane Stupid Day of Action against short haul flights. We held up a sign in front of the Flight Centre travel agency that said, “cheap flights cost the Earth” and distributed flyers. It was the nicest ejection from a mall that I’ve ever had- the security guards even invited us to their house for tea. No kidding!

 

It was back to London on the 11th to see Lucinda Williams at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a “kick ass chick” who is “too country for rock n’ roll stations and too rock n’ roll for country stations.” If you don’t know Lucinda, you should really check her out. What a crooner! I think I’m in love. I also have nothing but nice things to say about Ken Livingstone, who is planning to raise the congestion charge for SUV’s to £25! I’m sure it was because of that letter I wrote him last year asking him to do exactly that! Need a new transport advisor, Ken?

 

Last friday, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies gave a free lecture at the University of Bristol about climate change, and in addition to confirming that we are rolling the atmospheric dice, he also announced that there will likely be hearings in the new Democratic Congress about the Bush Administration’s censorship of scientific findings about the seriousness of global warming. This is great news, as the seedy underbelly of Cheney’s energy “task force” (read, petrol companies) and the outrageous editing of scientific reports to suit oil industry profits may be daylighted.

 

Today, while up at UWE, I staffed a table for People and Planet helping to get the word out about the evils of the Bristol Airport Expansion- many people interested and motivated to oppose this evil development. If you live in Bristol, or even if you don’t, you can send a message to North Somerset Council on the SBAE website. Word on the street is that some direct action is being planned with regard to aviation in Bristol. Stay tuned….

 

The other day I thought about a good way to make people understand the seriousness of climate change. Imagine that all six billion people on the planet depended on a single pair of lungs to survive, and that about 2 billion of us were habitually chain smoking (read, western world, rich, mass fossil fuel consumers). The other 4 billion who were trying to lead healthy lifestyles (or couldn’t afford cigarettes) would be pretty angry at those 2 billion who were polluting our communal lungs. Right now we’re in this funny interim period where the doctors (scientists) have told the two billion smokers (oil addicts) we better quit smoking (driving, flying, etc.) or face lung cancer (climate chaos).

 

Just like the brave climate activists who attempted to place a large nicorette patch on Drax coal burning power plant last summer as part of climate camp, those 2 billion people need to quit their habit- and we’re not even insisting they do it cold turkey!

 

Speaking of turkey, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I personally am thankful that America finally woke up and spoke up on Nov. 4th. :)

Earth to Fossil Fools: Time to Quit Your Carbon Addiction

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OK seriously now, this week’s release of a report from respected economist Nicholas Stern predicting 20% loss of the world’s wealth unless we act to reduce carbon emissions has led many to proclaim that we have entered a new era in the debate over climate change. Yeah maybe. I welcome the report, but really it should have been released years ago, when the reinsurance companies like Swiss Re raised the alarm. When the companies who insure insurance companies begin to panic, you know we are fucked.

 

I still see SUV’s clogging the streets of London and cheap flights roaring overhead like there’s no tomorrow. I still see pedestrians, the most carbon neutral of all travelers, being subjugated and threatened with speeding vehicles dominating our “public” spaces while the police and politicians talk a lot and do nothing. It’s quite clear that regardless of what the scientists and green campaign groups say, most individuals will not quit their planet roasting addictions unless:

 

1. their homes and families are immediately in danger

2. energy prices go through the roof or

3. massive, widespread popular revolt and direct action grinds aviation and vehicle use to a standstill

 

I think the latter will become more and more important to the Stop Climate Chaos movement as it becomes clear that governments will delay any real carbon taxes as long as possible to protect their friends and financial interests in the oil and gas industries. We may see some direct action at the London Climate Rally this Saturday. An organization called Plane Stupid recently shut down a Midlands airport runway for 4 hours using direct action. Activists have called for a day of action this coming Monday Nov. 6th, so get out there and chain yourself to a petrol pump, or occupy an Easyjet ticket counter- whatever it takes to grind the gears of this evil machine to a halt, I say oi oi.

 

British politicians are falling all over themselves to propose green taxes on flying and driving, but no doubt initial measures will be meagre and fail to meet targets that will limit warming to 2 degrees C that climatologists tell us is the maximum temperature change to avoid a tipping point. George Monbiot at least has some well thought policy initiatives in his weekly Guardian column, including carbon rationing, a far more equitable solution than straight green taxes.

 

On Monday, according to the Times, Richard Branson led an industry-wide summit on how to avoid airlines becoming the whipping boys of the environmental movement. I think it’s too late for that Dickie old boy. Your research into bio fuels and rearranging aviation’s deck chairs is only serving to draw attention to the suicidal nature of aviation expansion. The only thing that will bring flights into the new low carbon regime, is a lot LESS of them. 90% less by 2030 to be exact. And, as we know, LESS is not an option to capitalists like Richard Branson. To them, it is incomprehensible that humans might actually have to adjust their consumption to fit within the ecological limits of our planet. Just doesn’t jibe with the dream of the growth economy.

 

At least in the UK, it is encouraging that social norms related to transportation seem to be approaching a tipping point. There is widespread press coverage of the climate warming impacts of cars and planes, and people are aware like never before of the dangers of pushing the planet too far. It is becoming fashionable to bash fossil fuels. Celebrities like Thom Yorke, the Radiohead frontman, have come out and condemned the wasteful energy use of planes and cars, and the Guardian recently published a spread on the practicalities of giving up the jet set lifestyle because of environmental concerns.

 

So where does all this leave us? I think it’s terribly important at the moment that those of us living carbon- light lifestyles don’t allow popular culture, led by the media, to send the message that we are “hermits” or “luddites” or that living without a car equals certain social death.

 

Just like cigarette smokers cannot imagine a life without nicotine, even though such a life would be better as soon as one adapts, car drivers and the plane dependent cannot imagine life without a steady supply of fossil fuels. It is our responsibility to show that living carbon ‘neutral’ lives can save money and improve quality of life. It is our responsibility to take popular culture by the hand and show people how to ride their bicycles in traffic, how to shop locally and create local economic ties, how to hang their clothes on the line, how to go on holiday locally, and maybe- just maybe- learn to play an acoustic instrument rather than relying on the ipod all the time. God knows we’ll need good music when the wall sockets go dead. Hallelujah!

UK Media Picks Up My Story

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The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind around here, with media knocking on the door, and the phone ringing off the hook. My new roommates have been very good natured putting up with it all- two of them were even filmed riding their bikes and listening to me playing guitar as part of the feature on BBC Points West TV news, so they got some exposure out of it (yes you have nice legs Alastair I think the whole Southwest of England will agree).

 

You also may have noticed that I’ve changed the name of this blog to “On the Level- Car Free Blog” This is a reference to staying firmly rooted to the ground by deciding to forgo air travel, the pleasure of a flat grade for bicycles and trains, and of course straight talk about the reality of transport in the 21st Century.

 

Anyway, all the fuss started last Friday when the UWE Press Officer convinced me to send out a press release (ok i admit it didn’t take much convincing). Soon BBC and ITV news teams both had camera crews on the way, and the newspapers and radio weren’t far behind. It seems to have been a case of good timing , with local debate about the Bristol Airport Expansion raging and An Inconvenient Truth just having arrived in the UK. People are thinking about the environmental impacts of air travel perhaps more than they ever have before, which is a good thing. The BBC even compared me to Al Gore! (Although An Inconvenient Truth is a very necessary and timely film, why didn’t Al do more and speak out when he ran the country?)

 

All in all, I think it was positive exposure about climate change, and hopefully people took away something other than the fact that there’s this San Francisco hippie preaching about the evils of cars and airplanes. Talk about the media sensationalizing something, the Evening Post (sadly a tabloid is the major “newspaper” of Bristol) reported “green student VOWS NEVER to fly again” In reality, what I said on the press release was that I’m “giving up” flying. (much as you give up any bad habit, like “giving up” smoking, for example)

 

The most annoying question I was asked repeatedly was, “you don’t actually expect people to follow your example and give up flying entirely do you?” (I mean people HAVE to fly- it’s our RIGHT as human beings to load up the atmosphere with carbon so we can take cheap beach holidays with EasyJet!) In response to BBC Radio Birmingham DJ Danny Kelly’s question, “what would you do if a future Mrs. Hart wanted to go on a beach holiday? I mean this (not flying) would be pretty limiting wouldn’t it? I responded that it’s now an open question whether there will even BE a beach to fly to within a generation or two, because of sea level rise. Besides, I’m sure that any future Mrs. Hart would be happy to take the train with me- we could even get a compartment– ooh baby.

 

I mean, what WILL we say when the beach goes away? Oh well we had tumble dryers, SUV’s, cheap flights cheap plastic shit- I say it was WORTH it! (credit to Polyp’s cartoon)

We are working on getting the DVD of the BBC broadcast, as it far outstripped the ITV broadcast for investigative journalism and content, and will post it on Youtube eventually. For now though, you can read the two articles and the original press release by following the links below. :)

 

Media Coverage:

 

TV

 

ITV Bristol: 2 substantial teasers during the day, 1

live in studio interview

BBC Points West: Segment on Evening News

 

Radio

 

Star Radio interview

BBC Bristol in studio interview

BBC Birmingham interview with Danny Kelly

 

Print/ Web

 

 

 

Original Press Release on UWE site

Hero UK Higher Education Site

Article in Evening Post

Article in Western Daily Press

Yahoo News UK

The Green Guy: Ethical Consumer

SF Bicycle Coalition: Biker Bulletin

Venue: Bristol and Bath’s Magazine

Yorkshire Post

Dundee Courier and Advertiser

Birmingham Post

Lancashire Evening Post

Swindon Advertiser

Edinburgh Evening News

Sunderland Echo

Liverpool Echo

Car Free Bristol!

I’ve been in Bristol almost two weeks now and am really enjoying adjusting to life in a new City. Although Bristol apparently has the highest car ownership levels in the UK, there is a groundswell of pro- environment and anti-car sentiment here in spite of that (or perhaps because of it). I’ve become involved with a group of UWE students called People and Planet, who put on this ride (above center) to help Freshers (first years) get around by bike in Bristol. They are helping get the word out about the Bristol Critical Mass leaving from Arnolfini (a cinema and gallery) this Friday at 6pm. On Sunday I went on a ride with the Bristol Cycling Campaign to protest plans by the Bristol Council to build a new South Ring Road through green fields and neighborhoods. Along with the Bristol Airport expansion plans, these are the two major developments that Friends of the Earth and others are opposing strongly, mainly based on a climate protection rationale. On Saturday, there was a local celebration of car-free day, where they closed down Corn St. (above left).

 

Later on Sunday, I got a pleasant surprise when my friend Melanie, who has been riding with the Superheros through Ireland doing good deeds, dropped in for 24 hours before her flight back to SF. It was fun showing her my favorite parts of Bristol, including the railway path to Bath, St. Werburgh’s City Farm and self-build eco village (above right), and Montpelier, a dense mixed use neighborhood with wonderfully narrow streets close to the city centre.

 

I started my Masters course in Transport Planning at the University of the West of England last week- it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to learn how they do things in the UK. At the induction speech by the dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment, climate change was at the top of the list of challenges and considerations, so it is clear that we are quickly entering an era where the business of planning will not be carried out as usual. The increasing concentration of carbon in the shallow film of air that is called our atmosphere requires nothing less than a revolution in planning, travel and consumption patterns….

UK or Bust: Leaving the United States

 

Day 6: Well the Conductors have been circulating immigration forms as our train that left NY’s Penn Station this morning is about to cross the border into Canada. The scenery from the train has been beautiful. We traveled along the Hudson River (above) for about a hundred miles, and it’s amazing how quickly you get into the countryside after leaving Manhattan. We passed through towns whose names are familiar from my history books, like Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Ticonderoga. The rails ran right by Lake Champlain with a view to Vermont on the other side. Some sort of insect is cocooning like crazy in the trees- not quite sure what it is.

 

After arriving in NYC on Sunday with relatively little sleep, I quickly caught up my sleep deficit and had a great day yesterday hanging out with my friend Dan and later wandering around Manhattan listening to my ipod and eating lunch in Bryant Park (top right), where they were showing Rocky to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of people.

 

I’ve been thinking more about my decision not to fly to the UK. My friend Sam says that “I am not saving any dinosaurs by not flying.” The first thing out of my dad’s mouth when I got to New York was “are you regretting your decision yet?” My cousin Jessica from London who is living in Australia at the moment, thinks I’m crazy. It’s like everyone is waiting to pounce to say “Aha! I told you so- look what a pain in the ass you’ve created for yourself! Don’t you wish you had just flown??”

 

But right now, sitting in a comfortable seat, having just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the diner car with two Colombian brothers, an engineer and a guy who works for the UN in New York, gazing out the window on a beautiful rural scene, listening to Stars (who are incidentally from Montreal) and typing in my blog, I have no regrets. I have seen the US from a different perspective, met new friends, and enjoyed the time I have to write, read, and stare out the window. Admittedly I am lucky to have the time to do this, between working for non-profits and going to grad school — I realize not everyone has that luxury.

 

However, remember that it wasn’t too long ago that all long distance travel simply took a long time, and people just didn’t do it that often. It was special, and cultures were less homogeneous than they are now. All the indications are that we are returning to such a time soon, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Often we ignore great places, simply because they are in our backyard (the grass is always greener etc……). We need to reconnect with our local communities for food, shelter, community, and energy. Technology will enable us to learn about other cultures and places without everyone physically having to visit. With 6 billion people and growing, that is a dream that the Earth cannot continue to support in reality.

 

There is a wonderful immediacy to train travel that is hard to match. You can watch people in their own backyards as you pass by. As you stop at stations in towns along the way, you find out more about those places from people who actually live there when they board the train. In the best cases, a diverse, traveling community is created, and everyone leaves the experience all the richer.

 

On an airplane you travel from one generic airport located in ugly suburban sprawl to another airport located in even uglier suburban sprawl. Both surrounded by freeways, parking lots, car rental agencies, and fast food restaurants. The only exchange with the places in between are a fleeting glimpse from 30,000 feet, a roar in the sky heard from below, maybe a piece of frozen blue urine falling in someone’s yard, and the ugly legacy of an abruptly warming planet.

 

No guys- I have no regrets for bypassing a transportation infrastructure that has no future. It’s been a tremendous adventure so far and right now I’m looking forward to experiencing Montreal, and improving my français!

 

Au Revoir Etats-Unis, et mes amis! Je vous aime!

UK or Bust: SF to London- No Cars or Planes??

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Day 1: San Francisco- Reno, Nevada

So today I leave San Francisco for a year to go to grad school in Bristol, England. I am challenging myself to get all the way to London without getting in a car or on a plane. I left my apartment in San Francisco by foot, boarded a historic F-line streetcar down Market St, then I met my friends Rich and Cheryl who are traveling on the same train to Colorado. Together we rode the Amtrak bus to Emeryville, crossing the Bay Bridge, observing the new East Span Bike Path being constructed as I bid farewell to SF for a year. Goodbye everyone!! Sad to say goodbye, but exciting adventures are ahead.

 

Right now I am sitting on the Amtrak California Zephyr, about to depart the Emeryville station having just left San Francisco, on my way to the UK. At the Amtrak SF Ferry Building station, I checked in at the counter, and overheard that today’s Coast Starlight train that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles was 7 hours late. The Coast Star”late” has been experiencing chronic delays, due to precedence given to freight trains on the tracks owned by Union Pacific. Of course the root cause is that the Bush Administration has been trying to kill Amtrak so that Americans have to support Halliburton and Chevron by driving their cars more, but corrupt politicians haven’t managed to overcome popular support for the beleaguered rail system. The woman at the Amtrak counter and I agreed that the delays on the Coast Starlight and the general neglect of the nation’s passenger rail system is a disgrace for a supposedly civilized country.

 

4:30 pm Reno, Nevada

 

We are stopped at the Reno, Nevada train station, which is basically a concrete canyon surrounded by casinos. Unfortunately no wireless access here, so you’ll probably have to wait until Chicago to read this… The Sierras were beautiful, with wildflowers and a great view of Donner Lake. As we made our way up the mountain range at a leisurely 15mph, about bicycle speed, Rich, Cheryl, and I enjoyed frosty brews in the observation car with large panoramas across the mountains, and an historian from the California State Historic Rail Museum was giving a running commentary, letting us all know about the Chinese immigrants who built the rail line and the hydraulic mining that destroyed much of the natural landscape in the Sierra Foothills. The train is pretty full- many families- and it’s good to see that there is still a healthy interest in rail in these United States. We watched road cyclists cruising on the highways around Reno as we approached through its suburbs. Saw evidence of forest fires, which scientists say have increased massively over the past decade or so as a result of global warming. Many SUV’s and RV’s on I-80, and the pulse of the interstate highway organism continues spewing waste into our atmosphere… meanwhile I am speculating with another passenger (Maurice) about why our departure from Reno has been delayed and we’re still here in this concrete canyon…

 

4:56pm They just announced that we are waiting for a bus load of people coming to meet the train from the Coast Starlight which is predictably late– they’re probably stuck in traffic!

 

Train travel is such a pleasure. There’s room to walk around, socialize, get a bite to eat, and go about life while on the train. And because railroads share rights-of-way with rivers, roads, and trails, there is an interaction with other travelers, as we waved to people rafting on this hot summers day, or riding their bikes on the American River Trail through Sacramento.

 

Driving on the interstate you get this selfish feeling and the driving motivation is to get ahead of everyone else without getting killed yourself. Think about it. There are seldom friendly interactions between cars. When the threat of death and murder lurk over an incidental contact with a stranger, as they do constantly when driving, things can go south quick. The interstate highway system breeds enemies and alienation. Rail and bicycle networks give birth to friends, lovers, and ultimately community.

 

(Speaking of the symbiotic (fertile) nature of trains and bikes, human beings are really extremely lucky that the two least carbon intensive forms of transport, bikes and trains, are also the most enjoyable. One more reason why carbon cuts won’t be as painful as some people say… more on that later)

 

I love trains. On an airplane or a bus, you are crammed in there, and it’s basically about having to put up with it. Cramped quarters, air and traffic turbulence, strange noises coming from the engine…. riding the rails is elegant, peaceful, and lends itself to thinking…… maybe that’s one reason why the Bush administration is so opposed to it- can’t have the populace thinking for themselves….

UK or Bust: Hitching a Freighter to Grad School in the UK!

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So I am actually doing it. No more airports, turbulence or airplane food! Goodbye Southwest, Easyjet, and Virgin!! Farewell taxiing takeoff and landing! Au Revoir to jet lag! I am giving up flying finally, and it is liberating! The growth of air travel is a direct threat to our planet’s atmosphere, and I refuse to participate in it any longer. Anyway, I have always loved bicycles, trains and boats….so much more romantic…

 

To get from San Francisco to my new home in Bristol, England where I’ll be studying transportation planning over the next year, is a bit more interesting than the usual Heathrow drumbeat of discontent. I’m leaving San Francisco on August 19th and it will take me a month to get to Bristol (stopping to see friends in NYC and Montreal and family in London along the way). I’m riding Amtrak between San Francisco and Montreal, then I will be crossing the Atlantic aboard the MSC Malaga (above), a container ship operating between Montreal, Canada and Antwerp, Belgium. Then it’s through the Chunnel to my family in London! This week, I signed the paperwork that commits me to the ten day crossing of the Atlantic. I know that freighters aren’t exactly the pinnacle of environmental sustainability, but at least traveling by sea will give me a glimpse into the massive network of container shipping that underpins globalization.

 

The transatlantic crossing will take ten days, and the cabin and all meals are included in the price, which makes it more expensive than flying (but not that much more when all is said and done). There’s even a ping pong table, swimming pool with sea water, an exercise room, and a video library aboard. My friend Hitesh sent me this article about “rogue waves” that are up to 100 feet high and prowl the ocean just looking for container vessels carrying transport activists. Thanks Hitesh. You make me feel so confident about my upcoming voyage. I’ll just hope I make it across the Atlantic safely despite rogue waves, potential collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet, pirates, or crazy hurricanes (the climate started getting rough….) I plan to write in this blog every day while at sea, then upload it all when I arrive in Europe on September 6th. So stay tuned……

 

Links to more information about freighter travel:

 

NSB Freighters (the company I’m going with)

 

Details of Transatlantic and Transpacific Crossings (including photos of the cabins on the Malaga)