March 9, 2010

In which Billy and Diz learn that things are complicated.

Mild shock. We’ve passed the exclamation mark. We’ve raised enough money to get to Cairo and back. Shoop shoop!

This will be a story stitched with kindness from start to finish. Here are three threads we’re giving thanks for right now: first, thankyou to all the people who came to our fundraiser last week at the Passing Clouds. It was a spectacular night of music, words and the kind of cosiness that only Indian food in the winter can create. Folk came from all over to cram into a small room, give to the UnPlaned project, and watch the Boxettes do their jawdropping thing on stage. Not just the Boxettes, of course; we also had Cosmo’s irreverence with guitar and voice, and Angry Sam waxing eloquent on the world, and a barely literate word-mangler called Dizraeli who managed to sneak in too. All things considered, it was lush. It also raised no less than $850 for UnPlaned, bringing us swooping up the slopes of the mountain. Second, thankyou to all those who’ve donated through the world wide net. And third, thankyou to the many people who have contributed their time and energy to the documentary so far. Only three days ago, Billy and I were in Bristol, where 3 wise climate change experts gave us several hours of their time to discuss the pros and cons of overland travel and the ethical grounding of our project: Ian Roderick and Daphne Kourkounaki from the Schumacher Institute and Wendy Stephenson from The Converging World

That was an eye-widener. Billy and I had been rolling forward with an assumption fixed: that travelling overland is always many times less damaging to the environment than travel by air. We were safe, we thought, in the knowledge that aviation is a problem, and Overground is the solution. Apparently things are a little bit more fuzzy than that. Daphne and Wendy, both experts in calculating carbon emissions, talked us through the process of working out the impact of our trip.

Here is Wendy’s breakdown of the C02 emissions of our trip, as compared to the equivalent plane journey:

The Planed Way

Distance (as the steel crow flies): 2,181 km

C02 emissions per km: 0.18677 kg*

Total C02 emissions per person: 407.3 kg

(* using Radiative Force multiplier of 1.9)

Total C02 emissions for two planed humans:

814.6 kg


The UnPlaned Way

Stage One: London to Adana (Turkey) by train

Distance: 3,989 km

C02 emissions per km: 0.03895 kg*

Total C02 emissions: 155.4 kg per person

(*average of Eurostar and National Train emissions factors)

Stage Two: Adana to Cairo by bus

Distance: 1,158 km

C02 emissions per km: 0.0686 kg*

Total C02 emissions: 79.4 kg per person

(*some older buses and trains are likely to be less efficient)

Total C02 emissions for two UnPlaned persons:

469.6 kg

Hum. It turns out that really, although doing the journey by public transport is less carbon-intensive than by plane, it will still result in at least half as much greenhouse-damage. And that’s not taking into account the knackered condition of some of the trains and buses we’ll be travelling on: old trains that are only half-full could double our emissions for some parts of the journey.

At this point in the discussion, my moral ground wobbled, and a crack appeared.

BUT (said Ian, Wendy and Daphne all at once) the shift in mindset we need in order to respond adequately to climate change will be brought about by people telling new stories; stories like ours. And it’s vital that this process (of engaging with the challenges of the science and morality of climate change) happens publicly; that the picture isn’t ever painted in black and white. In any case, although the difference between air and overground travel is more marginal than I’d hoped – in my desire for something pure and simple – there is still a difference. In fact, Wendy pointed out that she’s using a Radiative Forcing index of 1.9 to calculate the C02 emissions of the theoretical flight to Cairo, whereas some scientists believe it could be as high as 4: the flying option could well be more damaging than our figures suggest.

In other words, we all decided that UnPlaned is worth doing, cracks and all.

What do you think? We’re creating a story which -we hope- will carry forward long after we’re done; a story people can use as a reference for their own personal choices in reaction to climate change. Does this longer-term positive impact somehow ‘offset’ the short-term negative impact of UnPlaned’s carbon emissions? Or are we just misguided, earnest little idiots farting in a gale? Let’s continue the discussion: send us your comments via the Contact page of this website and we’ll put them up here. Bring it on.

I think what we’re doing is still good, but I do feel that the pressure to make the project really matter is greater than ever. Thanks to your support, we’ve now got at least some of the resources we need to do that.

We leave on Monday! Wish us luck.



What the melons is Radiative Forcing??

Basically, as far as I understand it, Radiative Forcing describes the process of heat leaving and entering the earth’s atmosphere. ‘Positive Radiative Forcing’ means that there is more heat coming in than getting out of the atmosphere. Because aviation releases C02, 03 and water vapour at such a high altitude, it creates more positive Radiative Forcing than other transport. Some believe 1.9 times more, some believe up to 4 times more. The scientists are debating.

Have a look here for a basic breakdown of what Radiative Forcing is, and click here for the IPCC’s Special Report on aviation and Radiative Forcing.

One response to “In which Billy and Diz learn that things are complicated.”

  1. radiative says:

    […] Energy is constantly flowing into the atmosphere in the form of sunlight that always shines onIn which Billy and Diz learn that things are complicated …Basically, as far as I understand it, Radiative Forcing describes the process of heat leaving and […]