Drive through ATMs and other drive throughs

In Asheville’s lovely organic food store I asked where the nearest ATM was.  The very friendly chekout per­son gave me clear dir­ec­tions to a Whachovia ATM just across the park­ing lot.  I walked across and it was only when I got right there that it dawned on me that what i was doing was unusual beha­viour.  I’m not sure that any­one even saw me — but in a way I hope they did spot the for­eigner walk­ing up to the drive through ATM and with­draw­ing money. I star­ted to feel strangely vul­ner­able stand­ing there in the road, as if cars were going to be com­ing at me and get­ting impa­tient with me for not fol­low­ing the norm, even though there were no cars near at all!

Today in Portland we went to the post office to post some post­cards.  Drive through.  Drive through post­boxes! Very funny.

Beth told us a story of a friend of her’s who went to a drive through bur­ger bar on his bike and they refused to serve him.  When he insisted they called the police, who in the end took his order for him and went in to get his food.  The rationale was that drive throughs can be taget­ted by hit and run incid­ents and while their secur­ity cam­eras are set up to pho­to­graph the regista­tion plate of a car, if you are on foot or on a bike you could eas­ily dis­ap­pear without trace after shoot­ing a few folk. It’s not funny, but rather tragic.

It’s inter­est­ing just how import­ant social norms are in shap­ing beha­viour. Everyone has a tumble drier, so even those who think more deeply about these things get one too. Washing lines can be bought, but are unusual.  More elec­tri­city down the drain.

And com­ing back to fly­ing — it is the norm here, not just to take one flight to your internal des­tin­a­tion, but to take lots of dif­fer­ent con­nec­tions to reach your des­tin­a­tion in the cheapest way. Delta Airlines scares me, with its web of too many red flight lines cris­scross­ing the States each day.

And now for the pos­it­ive story! On my last day in Asheville, NC over break­fast Laura and I were dis­cuss­ing the poetry fest­ival she has been organ­ising for the last 4 years and how she could incor­por­ate ideas from geo­po­et­ics, weav­ing together strands of sci­ence, poetry (emo­tion) and spritu­al­ity. The con­ver­sa­tion ended with Laura com­mit­ted to mak­ing the next Asheville Wordfest a zero car­bon event, hav­ing poets and oth­ers enga­ging in con­ver­sa­tion by weblink, and look­ing into pedal powered screens. If that hap­pens I will have helped to save no end of air­miles, and who knows how many other sim­ilar fest­ivals may fol­low her lead. Does that jus­tify my jour­ney here? It’s always good to make a dif­fer­ence, and whilst this is turn­ing into a truly amaz­ing and inspir­ing trip, I still don’t know if I can really jus­tify so much car­bon emis­sions. I feel as if I am liv­ing on bor­rowed car­bon and Chris and I have decided to put some money into the Portobello Wind Turbine as our ‘car­bon off­set’. (More on that later)

My latest the­ory is that the aver­age US cit­izen car­ries on regard­less because there is no vis­ible effect of their life­style. The wil­der­ness is huge and inspir­ing and beau­ti­ful, so why not enjoy a big car and a few dozen flights each year?

This flying lark

Up at 4am after very little sleep. I’m really nervous about fly­ing so far after so long — this mys­ter­i­ous and magical pro­cess over which we have no con­trol and which seems to work on trust alone — and not look­ing for­ward to the bur­eau­cratic, unwel­com­ing and offi­cious immig­ra­tion pro­cesses. Also full of the dilem­mas of hav­ing chosen to emit so much car­bon.  All a bit emo­tion­ally exhaust­ing, and yet wildly excit­ing — and we’ve not even left the ground yet!

Edinburgh air­port at 5.30am is fright­en­ingly busy — far busier than Waverley train sta­tion would be at this time.  This is the norm for so many.  It’s far too easy, and too much fun.

Up above the clouds over South-East Scotland, the Irish sea and the Irish shores the magic is palp­able.  The won­der and delight of the skies, the sparkle of the sun on the clouds.  The mag­ni­fi­cence of human cra­tion and abil­ity — we can do it! We are won­der­ful! It is our birth­right to excel and suc­ceed and to push the bound­ar­ies in all mat­ters.  Progress can only be good.  Onwards and upwards!

Whizzing through the air at 500km/hr at 40,000feet both ter­ri­fies and exhiler­ates.  We are def­in­itely the fly­ing novices here, and yes, as pre­dicted, soci­ab­il­ity rat­ing so far is minimal.

As Naomi Klein says, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should.  But how do we change that mindset?

Be patterns, be examples

Be pat­terns, be examples in all coun­tries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your car­riage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheer­fully over the world, answer­ing that of God in every one.

George Fox, 1656

That fam­ous Quaker quote seems appro­pri­ate as we set off to new coun­tries, places, islands nations. We’re in the air­port, about to board our flight for Chicago and catch­ing some time to blog. Last time I wrote, we were busy not fly­ing around Europe, and writ­ing about why plane travel is such a bad idea. So why are we about to waste over 2 tonnes of CO2 each on this trip?

Well of course we’ve a good reason: the main pur­ose of the trip is to visit Jane’s sis­ter and her fam­ily in Michigan — we’ve not been to visit in the 12 years she’s been there. Mike, her hus­band hasn’t been well and we’d like to give the fam­ily a wee bit of sup­port and of course to spend some pre­cious time with them. A clas­sic example of George Monbiot’s love miles. As he puts it:

If your sister-in-law is get­ting mar­ried in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there, because of cli­mate change, and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes.

When I told our friend Julian that we were going to break our no fly­ing vows, his response was that the prob­lem was not so much the actual car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, but the example. People will think “if Chris and Jane — who seem to think care­fully about these mat­ters — are fly­ing, then it’s OK if I do too”. I thought that was a really good point, and I sup­pose I hadn’t really thought before that people might be tak­ing me as a pat­tern. But since we did our over­land trip to Greece, quite a few people we know have been inspired to make sim­ilar travel decisions, or at least to think very ser­i­ously before they jump on a plane.

If we aspire, as George Fox put it to “be pat­terns, be examples”, then we need to real­ise that that is quite a ser­i­ous under­tak­ing, and that people might actu­ally fol­low our examples, pos­it­ive or neg­at­ive. It’s not that we should feel guilt, more that we need to be mind­ful in our choices for action as we walk cheer­fully over the world.

Just Saving

Sara, who we know as the Powerpod Worker for the Woodcraft Folk, is doing a sponsored cycle trip to Morocco. At 2,400 miles by pedal power alone it makes our train trip seem a very cushy num­ber! She’s ask­ing every­one to spon­sor her, but not in the usual, bor­ing way of giv­ing money to some worthy cause. Instead, she’s ask­ing people to make pledge to make carbon-emission-reducing life­style changes. The web­site has sug­ges­tions of prac­tical actions you can take.

What are you wait­ing for? Visit the Just Saving web­site and sign up now. They’ve already saved 5 tonnes of CO2 and they haven’t even star­ted yet!

Just Saving logo

Is it really greener to fly?

Until the other week, I’d assumed that it was com­pletely clear that fly­ing (par­tic­u­larly long-haul, but all fly­ing to some extent) was a really Bad Thing in terms of its con­tri­bu­tion to cli­mate change. I’ve not stud­ied the cli­mate change sci­ence in much detail, but I con­stantly hear from those who have that fly­ing is a major con­trib­utor of the emis­sions that are caus­ing cli­mate change. And of course that’s a major motiv­a­tion for our dec­sion to go to Greece by train this summer.

So I was a bit taken aback to read an art­icle in New Scientist a couple of weeks ago, entitled Train can be worse for cli­mate than plane. Could we really be hop­ping on a budget flight to get to Athens in just a few hours while sav­ing the planet, our bank bal­ances and our green cre­den­tials? Continue read­ing