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23 January, 2009

Anti- anti-hype

In his Guardian column examining companies' 'environmentalist' marketing claims, Fred Pearce questions whether rail transport really is more sustainable than air travel.

Ultimately, he says it is, but in a way which needlessly over-emphasises the contrary arguments and utilises bizarre fallacies (okay; maybe non-sequiturs rather than outright fallacies). The overall effect is of a sensationalist attempt to generate false controversy.

  • He explicitly compares the 'per passenger' efficiency of half-full trains against full planes, a strange assumption which doesn't reflect my own experience. I don't know which section of the West Coast main line Pearce frequents, but across North West England I've had to stand more often than I've had plenty of room: a (perceived) average occupancy of nearer 110% than 50%. In contrast, I think I've only seen the 'commuter' Manchester-Brussels flight completely full once, and my mother & sister's favoured means of travelling from Manchester to Plymouth (a three-stage flight via Bristol & Newquay) is apparently under-used.
  • He criticises Eurostar for being powered by electricity from French nuclear power stations. I'd regard that as the ideal power source and not remotely reason for corporate embarrassment.
  • It's a bit disingenuous to simply compare carbon emissions on a like-for-like 'grammes of carbon dioxide per passenger per km' basis, as the nature and locations of the emissions are so different.
Those criticisms aside, I do agree with Pearce's call to increase electrification of the UK rail network from the current mere ~33%, thereby reducing use of diesel locomotives and >25% of emissions. Of course, that'd only be meaningful with electricity from nuclear sources, supplemented by 'regenerative braking'.

Disclaimer: I am not now, never have been and do not wish to be 'Green', and have no intention of avoiding air transport – when rail is impractical.


actually, the 50%-utilisation of trains is a pretty standard average across the entire network and schedule. the tiny off-peak utilisation drags the average down. and airlines have the ability (and economic NEED) to rapidly shutdown services which start to drop below 90+%, and generally do. no idea what's going on with than manchester-brussels shuttle tho.

but nitpicking microscopies is irrelevant to the key point accidentally illustrated in this article:
>"I used to take the overnight sleeper whenever I went to Scotland. I felt I was doing the right thing for the environment. In fact, I could be quite rude to people who flew to the same event."

and here we have the crux, the kernel, the very sine qua non of the faux-Green movement. Virtue-Display with the goal of improving personal Status relative to others.

the particular notional-goal of these social-relativism-via-virtue-display memes (eg [toxic exaggerations of] political correctness, Puritanism, Temperance, etc) is quite literally not relevant. an amusing instance of this is faux-Greens preaching carbon yet excoriating nuclear power: mutually inconsistent stances, yet the loudly displayed self-righteousness remains constant when declaiming either.

amusingly, the current Carbon/Greenhouse meme can be utterly destroyed by a single observation.

but despite my loathing for the specious surface, i'm actually in favour of the current meme. it is having unintended and unrelated highly-positive effects for the population of the earth as a whole. logic explained in the same (short) link above.

Posted by Saltation at January 27, 2009 08:28 PM
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