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I’ll take the slow road

“So let me get this straight, you're not getting on a plane at all?” This is the typical response to his forthcoming trip: a slow travel, low-carbon global circumnavigation, writes Ed Gillespie.

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After the initial mixture of curiosity and disbelief, the nature of the challenge is remarkably divisive, swiftly splitting people into one of two camps.

Friends either sigh and look at me as a slightly cranky little eco-fundamentalist whose hairshirt notions of green self-sacrifice have led to this daftly complicated and rather inconvenient world mission. Or people's eyes light up at the prospect of a real adventure, of travelling away from the crowd at a different pace and in a very different style.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an anti-flying fanatic.

I've taken more than my fair share of international flights in my time, working in Jamaica, Australia and the South Pacific as a marine biologist. Maybe this latent carbon guilt has contributed to my decision to undertake this particular journey.

However four years ago I took my last holiday flight to visit friends in Malaga in southern Spain. The work I had been doing on climate change with my company Futerra had convinced me that it was increasingly difficult to justify the environmental impacts of flying purely to indulge myself.

I still visit Malaga, but, thanks to sterling advice from guru Mark Smith, it's a picturesque and relaxing train journey that takes in France, the Madrid plateau and a spectacular route through the Sierra Nevada mountains - a world apart from the cattle-truck mentality no-frills budget airline services of the Sleazyjet sector.

It was this experience and subsequent rail trips to Warsaw and Barcelona that cemented the notion in my mind that travelling without flying really was a more attractive option, and not just environmentally.

You travel through a landscape, not just over it, and see first-hand the transition of scenery, culture, language and people that flying robs you of when it dumps you dazed and disoriented on the other side of the world.

So is it really, in the words of the UK prime minister, "impractical" to expect people not to fly?

Obviously, I believe the answer is no, and I'm putting my time and money where my mouth is to celebrate the joy of slow, low-carbon travel.

At about 7.30am on March 5, I'll be hopping on the 59 bus down Brixton Hill to Waterloo station, to catch a train to Portsmouth where my partner Fi and I will board the ferry to Bilbao. These are the first few steps of a round-the-world journey by land and sea that will take us across Europe to Moscow, then to Ulaan Baatar on the Trans-Mongolian express, into China and down through south-east Asia (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia).

In Singapore we'll catch a container ship to Australia. Then it's over the Nullarbor plain to Sydney and a blagged yacht passage to New Zealand, a brisk tramp through the mountains and another cargo ship from Tauranga to Los Angeles.

We'll skip through Baja California, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and finally to Costa Rica where we will board a banana boat home from Puerto Limon (returning to the UK in appropriate style for all the sceptical mates who think we are bananas for doing this trip in the first place).

We will share the joys, pains, trials, tribulations and inevitable adventures of the next 12 months with you through this blog - there will be tears, there will be laughter, the one thing there won't be is deep vein thrombosis.

Are we nutters? Maybe. But as the old adage goes ..."civilisation is the slow process of adopting the ideas of minorities". Here's to the joy of slow!


Ed Gillespie is creative director of Futerra.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


啊,看起来你还真是挺得意的。看完了这篇文章之后我想立刻跑出去买辆SUV(sports utility vehicle),当然这只是玩笑话。





Don't do it Ed!!

Oooooh, you sound horribly smug. Reading this sort of thing makes me want to run out and buy an SUV. Only joking (sort of).

Surely the best way to cut down on your carbon emissions would be not to make your frivolous world trip in the first place. Emissions from aircraft are dangerous, but what about emissions from container ships, which will make up a very large part of your journey? A recent article in the Guardian highlighted the damage they do to the environment. And what if everyone decided to take a trip such as yours? That might be as bad for the environment as everyone jumping on planes.

Of course, not everyone will make such a trip because they don't have time. Most people in Britain get about 25 days of holiday a year, and do not want to spend half that time sitting on a train/boat/whatever. The solution is holidaying closer to home, not sailing across the Atlantic.

Your blog may backfire. People will want similar experiences to yours in exotic locations, but due to time limitations will fly there rather than go overland. Plus, media oversaturation on this subject from people who could easily be mistaken for smug middle-class do-gooders (who have the luxuries of time and money that most do not) may encourage a fatalistic attitude towards the environment among most people.

I urge you to reconsider your trip. It would be better for the environment if you stayed at home and insulated your loft.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





Andrew Stevenson

Encourage alternatives to flying

I have some sympathy for the first comment - agreed, most people don't have the time or money to indulge in round-the-world trips like this, and so highlighting the benefits of holidaying closer to home would be more relevant to most.

That said, the author is not flying and should be applauded for that reason. Travelling on container ships that would sail already is hardly very polluting - and if more people travelled by ship and land rather than air it certainly wouldn't be 'as bad for the environment as everyone jumping on planes'. Sea transport is simply far less carbon-intensive than flying. Of course, container ships may be used to transport goods whose production is responsible for large amounts of emissions (e.g. for agricultural products: through the use of fertilizers, greenhouses, heating etc) and so we should be careful to take account of such things when comparing different transport methods; but for transporting people, air is simply and by far the worst option in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our responses to climate change will have to include showing people how to work, holiday and have fun without increasing their carbon footprint; telling people to stay at home and insulate their lofts just isn't going to cut it. Most importantly, a post-Kyoto agreement will have to ensure that the environmental costs of flying are included in ticket prices. Voluntary action by conscientious consumers won't be enough: demand will have to be suppressed by rising prices.

Andrew Stevenson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



What blog?

On what blog will Ed be sharing with us his trials and tribulations? Will it be China Dialogue?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Re: What blog?

Yes - China Dialogue will be publishing updates on Ed's travels as the circumnavigation continues. Watch this space...

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




This week I came to Beijing from Shenzhen to take an examination. I took a flight when I came because I did not want to be too tired before the test. But when I go back tomorrow, I will take a train (24 hours). Luckily that my boss is generous enough to allow me this long time for travel.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


英国的交通十分发达,铁路纵横交错,公路四通八达,空中航线通往世界重要城市,海运航线可达五大洲主要港口。1947年政府将整个铁路和主要公路设施收归国有。 本世纪80年代,英国铁路全长1.77万公里,各种机车、客车、车辆16.28万辆,铁路覆盖全国。1991年铁路客运里程3331.6万公里,居世界第十一位。
  到80年代初,英国全国公路网总长36.14万公里。其中2593公里是高速公路。英国人主要的交通工具是私人小轿车,其次才是各类长途公共汽车。公路货运的重要性日益增大,以吨位计占全国总货运量的85%。 英国的航空事业很发达。国际航线可往返世界上68个国家和地区。有145个终点站,国际航线达58万公里,此外,还有定期班机飞行本土26个城市,每周航班达1000多架次。希恩罗机场是世界上最繁忙的国际机场,每年通过该机场出进伦敦的乘客达2800万人次,每3分钟就有一架飞机起落。大约有70多家航空公司使用这一机场。从伦敦向外有8条主干航线通往英国的主要城市,每条主干线每年运送的旅客都在10万人以上。 海运是英国的生命线。英国有伦敦、利物浦、朴斯茅斯、多佛、布赖顿、南安普敦、伊斯特本等天然海港。英国与欧洲大陆海上联系主要靠英吉利海峡的轮渡。海峡上有几条短程航线,分别通往法、比、荷3国,共有60艘渡船来往穿梭。

为缓解交通拥堵状况,加强海陆联系,英法两国自1987年开始动工在海底建设长达50公里的英吉利海峡隧道。1994年,这项浩大的隧道工程终于完工,把英伦三岛与欧洲大陆联系在一起,实现了两岸人民几百年来的梦想。英吉利海峡隧道工程被誉为20 世纪七大建筑奇迹之一。它不仅仅是一条水下通道,而且是一个庞大的铁路穿梭运输系统:三条平行的隧道穿过海床下的泥灰岩,其中两条主隧道用于列车行驶,另一条用于隧道服务。长期以来,美英法等国在海峡沿岸修建了星罗棋布的海、空军事基地,以确保海峡的控制权。进入21世纪,英吉利-多佛尔海峡依然扮演着重要的角色。它是西欧国家力保的战略要域,也是驻欧美军以及北约国家军队实施全球部署、全球到达的海上要道。

Britain's transport

England's transport system is very developed, rail lines crisscross the country, highways are interconnected, airlines fly to important cities worldwide, maritime shipping reaches major ports on all five of the major continents. In 1947, the government mandated that the entire rail system and major roads be handed over to state ownership. In the '80s of that century, Britain's rail system stretched 17,700 km, and every type of train, rail coach, and railcar numbered 162,800, and the rail system covered the entire country. In 1991, the rail passenger transport system stretched for 3,331,600 km, making it the world's 11th biggest. At the beginning of the '80s, England's network of public roads covered 361,400 km, of which 2,593 km were highways. The most important mode of transport for British people is the private automobile, with the second being all manner of long-distance public coaches. The importance of shipping freight by road is growing daily, using tons to estimate it is now 85% of total national shipping. Britain's aviation sector is very developed. International aviation routes link Britain to 68 different countries and territories. There are 145 terminals, international aviation lines reach for 58,000 km and, besides this, there are also scheduled charter flights from 26 cities. Every week there are more than 1000 flights....

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





Great feedback!

Thanks for your comments. I will be blogging this trip at www.lowcarbontravel.com and excerpts will be occasionally posted on China Dialogue. I take on board some of the comments, but I would defend my trip against the accusation of frivolity.

I have a very low carbon footprint already (& live in a flat so have no loft to insulate!) & want to inspire slow, low carbon travel which will undoubtedly mean holidaying closer to home, however to spread this message internationally it's important to demonstrate this globally. Surface transport is up to 10 times more carbon efficient than flying so there are clear, demonstrable benefits to avoiding planes.

As for being smug, I am sorry if it comes across this way, the trip is as much about provoking debate & discussion as it is about showing a practical alternative, and it seems it is already doing just that!