J500 Media and the Environment

The Travel Challenge by bpirotte

The cold is driving me nuts.

I’m tired all the time, I don’t ever want to leave the comforts of my warm bed, and class is about the last thing I want to do. But what do you do when you live in Kansas, where the weather sometimes doesn’t even make it above freezing during the winter?

Well, the solution my friend and I came up with is to visit a mutual friend in California,

The warmth of Southern California sounds like heaven in Kansas winter -photo by Ben Pirotte

where the sun is shining and the lows there are still higher than our highs here.

However, the only real way to get to California in a reasonable amount of time (and going for just a few days, trying to miss the least amount of class possible), is to fly. While the ticket price seemed reasonable for going 1,500 miles just to soak up some sun, the question then becomes, is that what it really costs to our environment?

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s online calculator, my friend and I will be dispelling quite a bit of CO2 into the atmosphere. 970.34 kg, or just over a ton, to be exact.

The carbon cost for travel is daunting. But do we have alternatives? Source: http://www.icao.int/

As an avid traveler, my love for exploration will not die anytime soon, but I would also like to lessen my carbon footprint. How will we, as travelers in our society, be able to do this?

A few new ideas have sprung up recently about more efficient airplanes like Boeing’s 787, or a recent flight test conducted by Virgin Atlantic airlines partially powered by palm oil.

While these seem like partial solutions to the problem we face, I think a possibly more efficient and more practical solution is something I learned about on my travels: public transportation.

While the United States at one point was the world leader in train travel with more tracks and more distance covered than any other country in the world, we have fallen short on train travel as an option for passengers. While the freight rail service seems to be thriving, passenger rail in the United States is basically non-existent. Europe, on the other hand, has a thriving passenger rail system, with many rail lines connecting cities throughout the continent, and with new developments in things such as high-speed rail, places like Spain and France have been able to cut the amount of passengers in need of flying down significantly. According to a New York Times article, there is a new link between two of Spain’s major cities, Madrid and Barcelona. In its first year of operation, it was able to snag almost half the passengers that normally fly between the cities!

Not only is taking public transportation economical, but it is also very easy to run on alternative energy, as high speed trains engines are often electric. That electricity can be created easily from wind or solar plants, making the carbon footprint from travel almost at zero.

However, there are many differing opinions held by Americans, and many of them stem from the idea that rail seems impossible in such a large country as ours is. But when I think of rail usage, I don’t expect to take a train to LA, for example. I would love to be able to take a train to Chicago, or to Wichita for the weekend, or even somewhere like Denver. A hub-and-spoke type system would be advantageous here, I think.

With Obama’s new high-speed rail plan, the possibility of passenger rail travel in the United States seems closer than ever, but will Americans be receptive to it? Would you be willing to take a train to get to your next destination?

–Ben P.


2 Comments so far
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What is your opinion on offsetting carbon? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I’ve always thought that was an interesting thought, but am a little suspicious of it. I should do some more investigation into knowing for sure where the money for “offsetting your emissions” actually goes.
–Ben P.

Comment by bpirotte

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