Thursday, 30 August 2007

Dear pilgrims

We were sorry to hear that the first pilgrims to use the Vatican’s charter planes to travel to Lourdes were prevented from taking home souvenir bottles of holy water. Security guards pronounced them a security threat, just like any other liquid.

We just wanted to remind pilgrims that bottles of water are still allowed on trains.

And, of course, that while pilgrims persist in seeking absolution for themselves, they continue to represent a different kind of security threat to the rest of us, with their profligate addiction to flying.

Keep it practical, folks. Pass the confession booth, do not collect £200, go straight to

It’s the culture, stupid

Back to our friends at Transport 2000... Everyone in the climate change business knows that advocating we do less, as well as going about what we do more energy efficiently, has to be part of the answer.

But it must be a bit tricky to start the no transport, pro-transport campaign. It’s not an obvious winner is it – ‘You know that stuff you like doing, that has given you all kinds of warm, fuzzy memories, and we get funded to promote? Well, we want you to stop it.’

However, stop parts of it we must. So how do activists go about it, without 1) being complete kill-joys, or 2) simply failing?

At Train Smart, we figure, like many other parts of the environmental movement, that a sustainable society will be one that:

Rapidly decouples economic growth from a rise in carbon emissions and other GHGs;
While at the same time, harnesses the economy-for-less to ballooning satisfaction and happiness.

Sounds utopian, but it’s really just common sense to anyone who’s escaped the clutches of runaway capitalism for long enough to notice the difference between shopping and sanity.

Many of the things we need to do – slow down, eat well, spend time with friends and adopt a slightly more contemplative approach to our neighbourhood, work, colleagues – all, of course, contribute to a deeper sense of a life well lived. But that doesn’t stop us from pushing them aside for the next shiny bright gadget or bagging the next destination.

So creating mechanisms for locking in choices that serve our own best - long-term - interests has to be one of the ways forward (try economic historian Avner Offer’s The Challenge of Affluence, OUP 2006, for more on this).

But changing the public mood and attitudes plays a role too. This can lead to quick wins as individuals decide to change their ways. Persuade enough to make the leap, and you change the context in which politicians make decisions, too.

For these reasons, the Train Smart team is planning contentious actions. These deliberately aim to polarise the issues to force a public debate. But it will also deploy cultural activism, which is designed to celebrate and reward pro-social behaviour.

Why climate activists need to call for joined-up transport policies

Team Train Smart met this week with those lovely folk at Transport 2000. They worry about the technicalities of transport reform on behalf of the nation, and a jolly good job they do too: demand a rail White Paper – check; insist capacity sits (ahem) at the heart of it – check.

But there’s no denying the Department of Transport (DfT) is only just waking up to the fact that when it comes to integrating climate change policies, it's the government’s most renegade department.

Thanks to all those involved in the Camp for Climate Action, officials are finally being given licence to join the dots between planes and human impacts on the world’s ecosystems. However, without a reversal of declining investment in trains, progress is looking more two-step than tango – one step forward, two steps back.

Under current plans, the DfT is slashing subsidies to rail transport from £4.5bn to £3bn by 2014. The specifications of the franchises it offers operators, however, have exacting financial performance targets. So where is the shortfall to be recovered? From the pockets of Joe and Josephine Public, you and us, whose contribution is expected to double to £9bn over the same period.

Among general users that means that while price doesn’t stop the relatively affluent from using the train, people on a lower income say it does (Passenger Focus).

Train Smart smells an opportunity. If rail operators changed their stock and pricing mix by taking some of that underused First Class capacity and opening it up to untapped demand, economic sustainability might more comfortably go hand-in-hand with ecological sustainability.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is no business of Train Smart’s – after all, the journeying in question is very likely being taken by car. But this is where the analysts call the ‘interdependencies’ of responsible travel matter.

An increase in the total journeys taken by rail equals economies of scale, equals greater affordability and higher service standards, equals more leverage on facilitating the critical switch from planes to trains. (And cars are anyway on average five times more polluting than trains.)

Our conclusion? It is imperative the DfT takes a joined-up approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions across aviation, rail and road policy.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Get ready to dig deep

So, today's good news is that 75% of people - or at least readers of Lonely Planet guides - now say they are prepared to pay to offset the emissions from their flying - a huge leap from last year's figure of only 31%. Good news, because the results suggest a growing number of travellers are aware of their environmental impact and want to do something about it, even if off-setting remains a poor fix.

The bad news is that travellers who realise they can slash their carbon emissions by switching to train travel face a horribly steep price differential. A trip from London to Rome, for example, burns up an additional £150 or, put another way, costs almost three times as much by train. Many of the people taking frequent trips to the continent will be able to afford to pay. But that's pretty big disincentive to do the right thing.

Eurostar beats low cost carriers

Let's face it, train travel is a mess. Getting a fair deal on ticketing often feels like a lottery.

But some routes beat air travel hands down.

So it was a pleasure to see Ryan Air come put of its latest scrap with the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), bloodied and down. The ASA judged the airline's claims to being cheaper and faster over its London to Brussels route than going by Eurostar false and misleading once the true cost of going door to door was taken into account.

The company's impression that they are more punctual was also found to be delusory.

The lesson, kids? Ryan Air doesn't do what it says on the tin.

Monday, 20 August 2007

TRAIN SMART launches new climate action campaign with challenge to Vatican’s ‘fast food’ pilgrimages

Inspired by Plane Stupid, Train Smart today launched a new direct action campaign from the Camp for Climate Action to promote train travel as a low carbon alternative to making short hauls by plane.

Trains use approximately 10 times less carbon than planes and are hugely popular, making them a viable option for ‘light greens’ and ecologists alike. Choosing to take the train over a short flight will for many represent the biggest single step they can take to slash their carbon footprint.

However, Train Smart argues that cost, convenience, aggressive marketing and a very favourable tax regime have enabled the low cost airline industry to become the transport of choice over middle and longer distances. It calls on consumers, rail companies and governments to act now to tip the scales in favour of trains for inter-city travel. It has called on government to set itself a target for shifting travel from air to train, particular for journeys within the UK – and warns that current policies to raise fares faster than inflation are going in precisely the wrong direction.

Train Smart aims to ramp up the urgency and political expediency of making train travel cheaper and convenient by using direct action. It plans to connect climate change activists, passengers alarmed by annual price hikes, poor service and over-crowding, and hedonists who relish the journey as much as reaching their destination.

Actions will aim to mobilise a media-savvy majority, blending cultural events, humour, style and relentless optimism. Mass actions will be designed to appeal to first-timers, offering a more engaged and satisfying update on letter-writing, wristbands and SMS pledging.

For its first action, Train Smart is threatening to target the Vatican due to its announcement last week that it has decided to charter flights to carry pilgrims to scared sites such as Lourdes in France, and the shrine of Fatima in Portugal.

A spokesperson for Train Smart said, “The Vatican is not just failing to provide moral leadership on the most important issue facing the world today: it is deliberately profiting from encouraging fairly short air trips, which are the worst from an environmental perspective.

Past pilgrims believed that a slower, more sociable and contemplative journey to sacred sites was integral to the experience – the opposite of these ‘fast food’ style pilgrimages.”

Organisers of Train Smart are offering Father Cesare Atuire at the Vatican pilgrimage office help to design pilgrimages by train, and better understand how faith communities can be in the vanguard of climate action. But if a change of heart is not forthcoming, they will take action.

Meanwhile, the broader priority for Train Smart is to recruit an eclectic set of supporters: “The Camp for Climate Action has challenged all of us to act. But we need to adopt a wider range of methods and styles to support personal and institutional change across the board. We need to persuade the Blue Chip and City suits, Marbella Man and Primark Girl that it’s better to be green. People want to do the right thing, but they need encouragement. Urging them to take the train is an easy win – and an effective gateway to further behavioural change.”


Notes to editors:

(1) Plane Stupid is the first national direct action campaign targeting the aviation industry. The campaign calls for an end to short hauls by air, an end to airport expansion and a tax on aviation fuel. For details, see

(2) The Camp for Climate Action is a loose coalition of environmental groups working together to raise awareness of the need for urgent action on climate change. Their second camp was held at Heathrow August 14-21. See for more.

(3) Plane talking:

a. Curbing aviation growth represents the best preventive strategy we have on climate change since emissions from planes form a relatively small part of the mix today, but are the fastest-growing. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research estimates that emissions from aircraft are projected to treble by 2050, representing as much as a third of UK emissions.

b. The poor family’s annual holiday is not the victim of cuts. To the contrary, the middle and business classes are responsible for the rapid increase in emissions from flying. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of leisure trips taken from UK airports fell by 13% among people with a salary of less than £14,374 pa, while they rose by over a fifth among those earning over £28,750 pa (Air Passenger Survey 2006, Civil Aviation Authority). Manchester and Paris are the most popular destinations from Heathrow.

c. The aviation industry has grown and operators such as Easy Jet and Ryan Air have emerged without paying the true costs of business. The Department for Transport (DfT) is estimated to subsidise the industry to the tune of £10.4bn annually, due to a failure to impose fuel duty and VAT (World Development Movement 2007).

d. Emissions from air travel are a very British problem. One in 5 flights worldwide leaves or arrives in a British airport; 70% of their passengers are British.

(4) Train talking:

a. Not travelling is an option, and the lowest carbon mode of transport will always depend on the particular itinerary. But the government confirms that taking the train emits, on average, approximately 10 times less carbon than flying, and 5 times less than taking the car.

b. However, the DfT continues to make rail the poor man of transport:

i. While the low cost air industry has mushroomed, rail travel just keeps getting more expensive. Last year, ticket prices for trains rose by an average of 7%. Six out of ten fares aren’t capped. Uncapped fares rose by as much as 30% on some lines.

ii. Furthermore, the DfT expects the proportion passengers pay towards the cost of rail travel to nearly double by 2014, raising concerns of anti-competitive behaviour from the Office of Rail Regulation.

c. Second class ticket holders represent 90% of passengers. Yet they occupy only 50% of the space.

(5) On faith and fallibility:

a. Last summer, the Bishop of London pronounced air travel a sin and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated, “We are not consumers of what God has made. We are in communion with it.” The comments were made as the Church of England undertook a commitment to cut its carbon emissions by 40% by 2050.

b. By contrast, the Vatican appears to be cashing in on climate misery, hoping that liveried aircraft, headrests stamped with the words, “I’m Searching for Your Face, Lord”, and on-board religious guides will prove compelling for the 8 million annual pilgrims to Lourdes alone.

Train Smart

Train Smart is an unincorporated social movement currently in development. Supporters have professional backgrounds in media and the arts, travel, social change and policy-making. It enjoys access to tens of thousands of activists through established networks.

Train Smart is independent of Plane Stupid and the Camp for Climate Action and is not a religious organisation. It is committed to non-violent action.

Train Smart is further defining its objectives and programming through the autumn, but it is likely to seek:

An end to short hauls by plane;
Price parity between train and air travel for inter-city journeys in the UK and across Europe;
Transparency on pricing and fast, integrated booking across Europe;
An end to ‘battery carriages’ in second class and other barriers to a train culture for transcontinental travel.