Climate change and the real cost of travelling

Our planet needs our immediate attention. It is clear, at least to me, that there aren’t easy answers to some of the global environmental challenges.

Will actions of one individual make any difference? How can I change or improve the way I live my life to protect the planet? We have “mountains to climb” so why bother? I can decide to eat less meat, to recycle more or use other means of traveling.

The latter is an actual problem, especially when you live abroad. It would be great to travel to continental Europe by train, however it is almost impossible if you have a full or even part-time job with limited annual leave.

What about the cost? I find it quite staggering that it is still so much cheaper to fly than to travel by train. The return trip by train from London to Brussels was approximately £100 more expensive than a return trip by plane. This surely can’t be right, can it?

I am certain that many of us realise the severity of the current situation. Although the most recent climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow reached much needed compromise in a number of key areas, there is still some way to go. I just hope that one day, sooner rather than later, the cost of traveling by train will be made much more affordable.

P.S: I must admit that I lost a lot of faith in our leading politicians, who decided to fly to Scotland in private jets rather than travel like “ordinary’ members of the public. President Biden brought with him 22 cars. Why? What for? Mr Johnson returned to London by private plane. He was rushing to attend a dinner, which was apparently organised by a leading climate change sceptic. Are they leading by example? I don’t think so.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • >Will actions of one individual make any difference?
    It depends…

    Obviously, the media has latched on to Greta, but Greta herself says she does what she chooses and others are free to make their own choices. So Greta’s actions are news and so influence others. However, if at some point in the future she decides to fly we can expect the media to have a field day as they ripe to shreds the image of Greta they created.

    In general, however, yes individual actions are limited, but the lockdown has demonstrated just how powerful collective action is in reducing emissions. It has also shown how strong uninformed self-interest is with the protests about lockdown, mask wearing, vaccination, covid passports, etc. So it is clear the government are going to have to swallow some nasty pills and do things that are inconvenient but necessary if they wish the population to follow and not to accuse them of hypocrisy and double standards.

  • The purpose of COP26 was to get agreement for wealth redistribution of $100Bn per year, rising to 1Trn per year in five years. Climate change is the vehicle.

    Ottmar Edenhofer – German economist and IPCC official in an interview with the Sueddeutscher Zeitung, November 20, 2010

    “First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.”

  • Michael Berridge 22nd Nov '21 - 5:19pm

    “It would be great to travel to continental Europe by train, however it is almost impossible if you have a full or even part-time job with limited annual leave.” Given a quick change in Brussels, London to Cologne by Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn takes under 5 hours – which compares favourably with London to Scotland by rail. Even London to Berlin can easily be done in a day – Janet and I did it from B Hbf to St Pancras only last month – and is not too big a bite out of a visit lasting over a week.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Nov '21 - 5:23pm

    It really doesn’t help when we have a government reducing APD, failing to increase fuel duty… Probably there needs to be a mileage charge for all car usage, otherwise electric cars will create a huge hole in tax receipts.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Nov '21 - 5:24pm

    See for European rail travel advice.

  • John Marriott 22nd Nov '21 - 5:46pm

    Given the western world’s continuing love affair with flying, both short distance but particularly long distance, I am really interested in how they are going to make the latter green. À propellor driven electric plane might work on short flights, but getting across the Atlantic, for example, requires a bit more power, the kind that surely only a jet engine can provide.

    So, I just wonder whether hydrogen might provide the answer, both for long distance flight and railway journeys as well. On the other hand, why not just stay at home or nearer to home a bit more?

  • John Marriott,

    In July 1936, the hydrogen fuelled Hindenburg Airship completed a record Atlantic round trip between Frankfurt and Lakehurst in 98 hours and 28 minutes of flight time (52:49 westbound, 45:39 eastbound). Had the Titanic completed its passage, it would probably have taken 5 or 6 day to cross the Atlantic.

  • Some people fly too often. We don’t NEED to fly somewhere every bank holiday. Increasing the cost of flying wouldn’t be fair because the richest would carry on as before and could afford to pay. Rationing would be fair, as with food rationing in WW2.

  • David Evans 22nd Nov '21 - 7:36pm


    I think you will find that the Hindenberg was diesel fuelled. Hydrogen was used to provide lift, not as means of propulsion.

  • John Marriott 22nd Nov ’21 – 5:46pm:
    So, I just wonder whether hydrogen might provide the answer, both for long distance flight and railway journeys as well.

    Decades away, even where feasible (other than for niche, demonstration, or ‘virtue signalling’ applications). Hydrogen isn’t an energy source, it’s an energy carrier. Making and storing it is inefficient. It would need a surplus of nuclear generated baseload electricity. Storage tanks that can withstand 10,000psi are likely to be heavy. Most aircraft operating today will be still be flying in 20 years time; new ones in 30 years time. For railways it would be much easier to electrify the line.

    ‘Hydrogen for transport and the B&E report’:

    Summary of Bossel and Eliasson Report

    According to B&E, the hydrogen economy idea does not work for multiple reasons. They point out that there is no practical source of hydrogen, no good way to store hydrogen, and no good way to distribute hydrogen. Many of the problems of hydrogen stem from the physical and chemical properties of hydrogen. Technology cannot change these facts.

    A compact and convenient energy carrier will be needed in the future. B&E suggest methane, ethane, methanol, ethanol, butane, octane, ammonia, etc. as better energy carriers.

    It is difficult to understand the enthusiasm for hydrogen in view of the above. Hydrogen does not solve the energy problem and it is a bad choice for carrying energy.

  • John Marriott 22nd Nov '21 - 10:27pm

    @Joe Bourke
    You failed to mention what happened to the Hindenburg when it arrived at Lakehurst NJ the following year. Yes, hydrogen can be volatile; but so is natural gas.

    There you go again, dismissing an idea out of hand. If hydrogen is so useless, how come that JCB is developing an ICE to run off hydrogen? Also, when it comes to hydrogen fuel cell technology, GM, BMW, Renault, Daimler Benz, to name just a few motor manufacturers, are working on it. As you are clearly not worried about ever increasing levels of CO2, I guess you think there’s no reason to stop flying long distances and continuing to burn fossil fuels.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Nov '21 - 7:24am

    A lot of enthusiasm for hydrogen comes from fossil fuel companies who reckon to use it as a trojan horse to carry on using fossil gas to make it.
    As to flying, aviation kerosene can be made from co2 & hydrogen. Co2 from wood burning electricity generation like drax , green hydrogen from renewables or nuclear. However there will need to be much less flying; only long haul makes sense. Electric works for very short overwater flights.

  • Whatever form of energy evolves in the future you can bet your life some countries or individuals will control the market and get rich in the process. Change happens, the trick is making sure it benefits all and does not leave behind the less well off as many people in the world have not managed to enjoy the luxuries that wealthier countries are in process of abandoning in the hope of saving our planet?

  • Peter Martin 23rd Nov '21 - 11:33am

    Mainstream economists usually prescribe putting a ” price on carbon” , ie a tax on carbon, as a solution to the problem of CO2 and other GH gas emissions. All emissions matter and not just those connected to travelling.

    This can work but the problem then is transferred to Govt. It has to to spend to offset the revenue collected in a way that is less carbon intensive than the spending would have been in the first place. Otherwise there is no point. Also it will be counterproductive if govt spending is curtailed and the economy slumps. If this is allowed to happen then public support for any greening will be somewhat short lived.

    Equally, there is no point in offering tax advantages, such as free electric vehicle usage, if the money saved is going to be then spent on something which is even more carbon intensive. Like a trip to Australia or the installation of a coal fired Aga stove!

    So the difficulty will be to reduce GH gas emissions substantially without affecting living standards too much. Not just in the UK but worldwide too.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Nov '21 - 12:10pm

    So the government should spend the carbon taxes on wind farms, cycle tracks, nuclear power stations, photovoltaics, long haul HVDC cables, electrifying the railways, building hydrogen electrolysers & aviation fuel manufacturing, insulating buildings (not with flammable cladding) uprating the building code to passivhaus standards, subsidising heat pumps….I think that’s enough to be going on with.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Nov ’21 – 10:55am:
    Whatever form of energy evolves in the future you can bet your life some countries or individuals will control the market and get rich in the process.

    Presidents Putin and Xi plan for their countries to get rich by using cheap energy themselves while controlling the market in expensive energy for others…

    ‘Russia, China discussing joint tapping of coal deposits — Deputy PM’ [November 2021]:

    Russia targets further increase of coal supplies to China and the parties are also considering an opportunity of joint development of coal reserves in Russia, including the Zashulanskoe coal deposit in the Trans-Baikal Region,…

    India too are looking to use more cheap energy…

    ‘India’s Jindal plans to start building Botswana coal mine in 2022’ [November 2021]:

    Despite the global shift from coal, Botswana is pushing ahead with developing its estimated 212 billion tonnes of coal resources.

    ‘COP26 aims to banish coal. Asia is building hundreds of power plants to burn it’ [October 2021]:

    The Udangudi plant is one of nearly 200 coal-fired power stations under construction in Asia, including 95 in China, 28 in India and 23 in Indonesia,…

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Nov '21 - 12:33pm

    Commenting on the use and safety of Power Wheelchairs, I’ve learnt that lithium produces a gas called hydrogen. Lighter than air, it floats like a burning cloud. This was recently highlighted with several fires in London caused by faulty batteries in e scooters.
    I use wet cell batteries, much heavier but are much more stable.
    Power Wheelchair users are labelled a fire hazard, yet there are more problems with e scooters and e bikes catching fire.
    Many Power Wheelchair users find housing difficult, because of the Fire Officer and these guidelines.
    I understand that they are considering banning e scooters after a recent fire on a train.

  • ….The return trip by train from London to Brussels was approximately £100 more expensive than a return trip by plane. This surely can’t be right, can it?….

    False economy..A taxi from/to Brussels airport/Grand-Place is around 100 Euros as opposed to 30E to/from Eurostar..That ignores the hassle/cost of Heathrow/Stanstead at the UK end..
    Rail stations tend to be where you want to be rather than ‘the back of beyond’ as is often the case with airports..

  • Peter Hirst 28th Nov '21 - 1:46pm

    Travelling by plane should be priced out of the market for most people. Business flying can be funded by their employer and mercy flights helped by the government. For flights to reflect the true cost to the environment they will need to be horrendously expensive. Then grants can be applied for in case of humanitarian ones.

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