Planes, Trains, and Cargo Ships. How far should we go to reduce our carbon footprint?

A decade ago, some good friends of mine got married. Their mega-moon lasted a couple of years, during which they freelanced their way around the world. As conscientious travellers, they tried hard to reduce their carbon footprint, even coming back to Europe from South America on a cargo ship.

Until now, eco transport choices have been mostly personal, but the Dutch government and several Belgian politicians are considering legislation to force consumers’ hands. The Dutch second chamber is considering a ban on flights between Amsterdam-Schiphol and Brussels National, deemed too short and high in emissions, especially given the established train link. The European Parliament is looking at fiscal penalties on aviation. Meanwhile in Flanders, Greens(Groene) and Christian Democrats(CD&V) are calling for debate on journeys under 1,000 km and how to make trains our transport of choice.


From: Fancy Crave @fancycraveofficial – Unsplash


Is legislation the answer? What other factors are already at play? Taking Brussels to Stuttgart as an example, pricewise, you could typically save up to 75% by train and cut out the hassle of airport security and additional shuttle buses. Still, a flight between the two cities is up to three times faster than the rail trip and just knowing we are emitting 10 times more C02 per air passenger may not be enough to change habits or preferences. The choice is further muddied when you realise rail travel is not always kinder to the wallet than air, especially on longer journeys. And, if your trip also involves connections and inefficient local rail networks, your emissions go up.

Recent years have seen the decimation of night trains and public transport in some areas, so one thing is clear: legislation alone won’t be enough. In a more inter-connected world, passengers increasingly expect seamless journeys, and this includes uninterrupted access to online services. And let’s not forget, telecom advances make some journeys redundant altogether. Both overland transport and IT infrastructure need investment, not only legislation, if we are serious about coming back down to earth.