Memories of taking the train and ferry to England and Europe in the 1980s makes one shudder at the thought that we may have to return to this means of travel if we are to tackle climate change. But the truth is, modern ferries are more like cruise liners, with hydraulic stabilisation systems that virtually banish sea-sickness. And since a plane uses 20 times more carbon per passenger per km than trains, all of us are going to need to take fewer flights, at least until solar and electric aircraft technology has advanced.
Passenger flights are a relatively recent phenomenon, with the first charter flights beginning in the 1950s, yet they increased by a billion between 2009 and 2014. Aviation carbon emissions increased by 87 per cent in the EU between 1990 and 2006, with each transatlantic round-trip releasing as much CO2 as the entire yearly emissions of an average person in India.
The ubiquity of flight in Western society is a perfect example of the inequality of climate change: while everyone will be affected by the carbon they emit, only a minority of humans ever fly, and even fewer fly frequently.
My own profession, travel journalism, has shown no signs of addressing this elephant in the room, but the public may be taking matters into their own hands, as is seen in Sweden with the rise of flygskam (flight shame).
The term refers to the guilt about the impact of one’s air miles on the planet. Already, there’s been a 21 per cent spike in train travel in Sweden last winter, as people opt to cover long distances by rail, inspired by research which shows that a plane emits 285g of carbon dioxide per passenger km, compared to a train’s mere 14g.
The hashtag #stayontheground has gone viral in Sweden as high-profile sports and media figures highlight the flights they have avoided, while an Instagram account that shames media figures and influencers who flaunt their jet-setting has amassed 60,000 followers.
A boat and train holiday in Europe will involve less than 3 per cent of the CO2 emissions of a holiday in the Far East, and since all of us find flying stressful and many are entranced by train travel, this curtailment of our freedom has clear benefits.
For information on how to sail to France from Dublin, Cork or Rosslare, or to Spain from Cork, check out directferries.ie, and for help planning and booking a train journey anywhere on Earth, visit seat61.com, a wormhole of wonderful railway knowledge.
One Change is a weekly column about the changes, big and small, that we can make in our daily lives for the good of the planet.
Manchán Magan is a writer and documentary-maker. He lives in his oak forest with hens and bees in a self-made hovel in Westmeath. manchan.com