‘Esteban’ was my Suzuki Carry van that I converted into a (tiny) camper in the summer of 2017. He had 9 seats squeezed into him and had been used as a bus at a primary school before coming into my possession. I converted him into a very tiny camper van and headed off on what became quite a mega-adventure. However, for the last year I have been trying to be far more considerate in my mission towards low impact, earth-friendly living and having turned ethical eater, close to zero waste, minimalist, off-grid and a continuing array of ongoing eco/ethical life efforts (most of which I will write about in future blogs, from ethical banking to meditation) there have been some glaring faults in my energies! The two which I was struggling with are having a car and flying regularly or far. Don’t get me wrong, I made efforts to cycle or walk when it seemed viable and didn’t tend to do short journeys in the van but a belief in eco-living requires all cylinders firing in environmentally friendly ways. It became all too easy to drive because trains are expensive and unreliable because the freedom of owning a car felt unmatched because there are always justifications to all the decisions that we know are damaging.
The true question is whether or not many of these benefits are in fact the false perception of benefit. Am I truly freer because I can choose to drive whenever and wherever I desire, or am now freer as I walk and cycle and train and bus and hitch and share my way around the world? Has selling my camper van limited my adventures as I feared it would? Truth be told, I feel more free in many ways; I feel great to be sticking to my principles and not to have a contradiction parked on my drive and I feel enormously inspired to plan my adventures and outings in ways that do not damage the earth. Of course, there are many advantages to having a car and many people simply require one. That said, I think it’s important to look beyond the initial reasonings and to experience the reality behind them. Extra time, some added planning, a cancelled train. Are these necessarily terrible experiences or can we approach them in a way that enhances our life? Soon I will dedicate a whole blog post to questioning the perceived advance of many technologies but for now, let's concentrate on car ownership.
Financially, it is true and somewhat frustrating that it is often possible to drive solo and still save money and time compared to a train. Something is wrong here. However, these are not the only measurements that matter. We should support the train system- it exists and by using it we can help support improvements- or demand them through consumer power. If my car breaks down, it’s a headache and often a huge expense that is hard to plan for. Road accidents are terrifying and commonplace. Perhaps most importantly for me, having a car is environmentally insane when it is not entirely necessary (if it ever is).
So in February I sold my van and dedicated the funds to the following:
· The reforestation of a field in England (around 200 trees)
· 1-year UK rail discount card
· A bicycle (plus lock, lights etc)
· One year’s cost of running my blog
· The offsetting of 15 tons of carbon through the following Gold Standard Projects, to help cover Esteban’s adventures to come
Now let’s consider some transport alternatives, of which there are no shortage:
Probably far cheaper than owning a car, trains can be a beautiful experience, passing through countryside whilst reading a good book or even watching a film or documentary. They can get you almost anywhere in the world in good time and in an environmentally friendly manner. If we use them more, we can encourage their improvement. There are train journeys so beautiful that they are holidays in themselves- check out the Caledonian and Cornish Sleepers! What’s more, you might even talk to someone interesting…
There are some insanely cheap buses around, I’ve got from Exeter to London for £1 and there are busses from the UK to most European cities. In and around most towns and cities or between towns and villages busses are a wonderful way to get around. Even better is that England and Wales are soon to invest £48 million in ‘eco-busses’ and by 2020, Transport for London has committed to the use of electric or hydrogen buses for all 300 single-decker buses in Central London, and the use of hybrid buses for all 3,000 double-decker buses in the same area.
Car Sharing/Car Club
In most bigger towns and cities, car sharing seems to be a growing pursuit. With over 31 million cars in the UK, we really need to be working on less reliance on personal ownership. With these schemes, you have access to a car when you really need it, but don’t have the huge costs associated with ownership. For every car off the road, there is an average saving of 2 tons of carbon dioxide every year. These schemes can also free up traffic and parking nightmares that dominate city life.
Lift Sharing (BlablaCar etc)
OK, maybe you don’t want to give up your car. You can still support those who have. Share your journeys via apps like BlaBlaCar and you not only help the environment but also cover costs of fuel and meet awesome people. If you have no car, these are great ways to get from A to B and chat along the way.
With some spare time, hitching can be an incredible way to get around, I am often surprised at peoples willingness to stop and even sometimes go out of their way to get me where I am heading. Obviously, it’s a relatively unreliable way to get to a meeting or work but can be a fun little adventure to go visit friends or a new place.
Ahhhhh there is nothing quite like walking, it's free, no equipment is required and the ability to take in surroundings, notice the little details, see wildlife and stay away from busy routes make it the most beautiful, free and calming method of transport. In big cities, a walk to and from work may not take much longer than a busy metro or bus, plus you will feel awesome, get fit, see new things every day and save tons of money. Replace your MOT with a spa day and make great food your fuel.
For regular or longer commutes there is nothing like the wonderful simplicity of a person-powered bicycle. You can cover ground astonishingly quickly and bike routes in the UK are generally incredible. Bikes do not need to cost a bomb, maintenance is cheap, you will get fit and be respected by other cyclists (but sometimes hated by jealous motorists). Within cities, a bike is no doubt the way forward, pollution rates are soaring while traffic drives us all mad.
Electric cars, bikes and motorbikes are becoming more and more affordable. They improve almost daily and the second-hand market will start to open up pretty soon. That said, let's not get carried away with assuming this is an incredible eco solution; they have enormous embodied energy and the batteries are a tricky and dirty recycling issue. If you need a car then it’s a great option but I think a cycling, walking and (electric) car sharing revolution is incomparably more friendly to the environment. Remember also that electricity must be produced to charge the vehicle- if this isn’t happening from sustainable resources, we are deluding our eco-self with our ego-self.
Environmentally friendly adventures
I will be embarking on some eco-friendly travels very soon and will blog my experiences. Tomorrow I will set out on a 125-mile walk around the island of Anglesey in North Wales. It is a holiday that will probably cost around £30 for the week and will be filled with unimagined beauty and connection to the island I have lived for the last 9 months. We have all heard the saying that its all about the journey, not the destination- driving destroys this potential and skips the entire journey element. Consider your next adventure from an ecological perspective, not a destination perspective. Walk around Wales, cycle to France, canoe down a local river, camp, hike, hill walk in Scotland, take the train to Rome and learn some Italian along the way- the possibility for adventure without contributing to climate change awaits and can often be far more nourishing than driving to an airport and flying to a faraway national park…the contradiction is frustratingly glaring.
A separate issue but a quick side note- for the past few years I have been ‘neutralising’ the carbon of any flights I take but have recently come to realise that this is not a sustainable option. It has helped neutralise my guilty conscience but does not solve the root issue. I am striving to relinquish my addiction to flight travel and embark on journeys of pure, sustainable adventure travel from now on.
Thank you so much for reading.