How to Limit Carbon Emissions While Traveling

Ready for my next adventure: I will travel more than 2,000 kilometers by train. From Berlin to the North of Spain. About 26 hours on wheels.

Three years ago, I’ve committed myself to not flying anymore unless there is a really, really good reason to do so. I want to pave ways for the “new normal” towards the zero green house gas emissions society that we need to reach by 2050 at the latest to stay below the 1.5°C climate target.

On average, one German emits 12 tons of carbon dioxide per year. In a just world, everyone is eligible to 2 tons. The return flight from Berlin to Madrid with Iberia emits 918 tons of carbon, half of that personal budget. Stopping to fly and omitting meat are the two most effective ways of reducing the personal footprint.

EU scholarshiop encourages flying

The EU just launched the Green Deal to transform Europe to a net zero society and economy. Today, however, it encourages university students to fly for international academic exchange, even if other options are feasible.

I received a scholarship to participate in a summer university on Bio Economy; fully funded by the EU’s program Erasmus+. The travel allowance (270 €) is enough to cover flights (around 270 €, depending on the flight) but is insufficient to cover interrail tickets (450 €).

Kindly the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, who is sending me to the summer school, allowed me to make my own travel arrangements and will partially reimburse the train tickets. The other universities would not have allowed that, I was told. HNEE is very supportive and continues to try and acquire additional funding for my greener travels. The EU scholarship offers no incentive to take the train. I’m sure the EU will soon encourage international mobility without flying.

Carbon Calculations

I’m fully aware that trains also emit CO2. Deutsche Bahn might soon receive their power from the new hard coal power plant Datteln 4. France uses nuclear energy for which no final storage space has been found in the 60 years history of civil nuclear useage. My train ride will emit anything between 3 and 100 kg, depending on the efficiency of the train and the utilization of train capacity. In short: Less than 0.01t, according to engineering toolbox.

How To Interrail

The challenges of the adventurer start with the booking process. At the phone desk of the train travel agency Gleisnost that friends in Freiburg have recommended sits a fire-breathing dragon. I tried to answer her question “When do you travel” with “I intend to arrive in Spain …” “WHEN DO YOU TRAVEL?!” yelled the dragon with volcanoes erupting from her nostrils (I imagined over the phone). Confusedly I paused, then rearranged my sentence: “On the first of February I want to arrive in the North of Spain.” She gave me a mail address to turn to and while I was still asking my next question: “When will they get back to me?”. She already hung up in the middle of the sentence. After having passed the dragon the service and guidance to the foreign world of interrail was really knowledgeable and polite.

Old School Travel Documents

An interrail pass comes with a certain number of travelling days within a specific time frame. I chose five days within one month for 282€. For people under 28 it costs 212€. However, you cannot just take any train you like. Before embarking on your journey you need to buy reservations, particularly for trains in France and Spain. The interrail pass is not very intuitive to handle, at least for someone used to having all travel documents digitally. It is completely analogue. I will get used to it.

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