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  • Adelie Scheffler

Train vs Planes

As I sit here, on a British Airways flight from London to Berlin, I am conscious of a little voice tugging at the back of my mind, telling me that I am emitting 0.4 tonnes of CO2 in just one weekend, almost a tenth of the CO2e that should be emitted in a year when striving for a five tonne lifestyle.

When comparing the time it takes to fly from London to Berlin (a comfortable 1 ¾ hours) to the time it takes by train (an average journey and true commitment of slightly more than 12 hours), you realise the effort and time lost when taking the train, but is this a valid argument and a big sacrifice when looking at the current state of our world?

As international students, most of us having family and second homes abroad, we spend a lot of time in planes, trains and cars. Yet what is the best way that we can reduce our carbon emissions when travelling and how can we find a balance between being eco-friendly and the joy of travelling?

First of all we must accept that there is no denying that taking the plane is a big problem for our environment. It is estimated that the aviation industry is responsible for 5% of global emissions (do remember that many clothes and a lot of food is also shipped with planes). A good example for this is the journey from London to Paris: by plane around 245Kg of CO2 are released into the air. That number is shocking when you compare it to the amount of CO2 released by train, a modest 22kg. So is it possible to travel only by train?

If sitting at City airport in London on a regular Thursday afternoon, you would find yourself surrounded by a lot of absent minded, well dressed people, devoting their full concentration to their laptops. If you were to ask one of these businessmen and -women ,flying home from work and back every week, exactly this question, my guess is that they would likely answer no. Many people don’t have the time or the patience to travel by train, yet with the rise of video calls over the pandemic, more and more meetings can be held over zoom and similar platforms, thereby sparing many people a long commute and tonnes upon tonnes of CO2.

Now what about the people who travel for holidays and want to spend the most time possible at the actual holiday location instead of spending two weary days getting there and back?

If you think that taking the train is just a lot of waisted time sitting and doing absolutely nothing, think again. Not only can it be really enjoyable to just sit in a train reading a book or listening to some music while staring out at the countryside, you can also turn taking the train into an adventure of itself and even stop to spend a night in another country. For instance when travelling to Berlin by train you can stop in Paris or in Brussel and simply explore the city for a few hours. You can also enjoy the restaurants that can be found in German ICE trains and watch the countryside whirl by while enjoying a warm plate of pasta or a slice of cake.

Although many may argue that train travel is not made more enjoyable by the German Railway simply not managing to keep their trains running on time, the ongoing delays and problems of German trains can well be compared to the constant cancellations and confusion currently found at any airport. Delays are just a thing to recon with when travelling, no matter how.

Another big problem of the trains vs planes dilemma is the price. When looking at the price of a journey from London to Berlin, booking a month in advance prices vary from £150 to £300. When flying the same journey while also booking a month in advance with Easy Jet the prices vary from £90 to £180 pounds. The problem is that if you are travelling out of the UK by train, you will have to go via the Eurotunnel, there is no other option. You will have to deal with Eurostar’s horrendously high prices. Whereas if you are taking the plane and are good at doing online research and finding the best deals, you can find Ryanair flights to Berlin as cheap as £20! No wonder people prefer flying. Yet is there a way this could change? We saw how the 9 Euro ticket in Germany encouraged more people to take the train and, according to the VDV (Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen), the release of 1,8 million tonnes of CO2 has been avoided.

So what if you simply have to fly or really want to travel to another continent without spending two weeks on a boat? Here are two things that can help lower you carbon footprint when flying:

1. Fly economy. Although flying business or first class on a long haul flight can be extremely tempting, the more space you use up, for instance through larger seats, the less people fit onto the plane. The more people that are on the plane, the more the CO2 emissions can be split between them, resulting in less emissions per head. This might sound ridiculous, but in his book „How bad are bananas?“ Mike Berners-Lee states that flying a return flight from London to Hong Kong in economy class releases 3.5 tonnes of CO2e, whereas flying business class releases 10 tonnes.

2. Fly direct. The most CO2 in a flight is released during take off and landing, so try avoiding taking off and landing several times.

Although we are making progress and mostly only flying when necessary, it will be a while (if ever) before we can fly in a climate friendlier way or completely stop flying. A thing to remember is that even by making small changes such as choosing to take the train instead of flying once a year, we are helping, but we need to do more and we need to act now!

Author: Adelie Scheffler


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