5 votes

Carbon hacking: Least carbon-intensive traveling between US and Europe

My life is split between the US and the Netherlands, where I have friends and work in both places. I try to fly as little as possible: only one intercontinental flight per year. But even that puts my individual carbon footprint far above the average human's. I buy carbon offsets but that just shifts responsibility.

I've long been deeply inspired by Greta Thunberg's protest act of sailing from England to New York to attend a 2019 climate summit. But sailing across the ocean in a racing yacht with a crew simply is too extreme.

So I'm curious what are the options for reducing carbon emissions when traveling between continents.

I've contemplated hopping on a freighter ship. My thinking is that: freighter ships are extremely efficient cargo-weight-to-emission ratio-wise, so the marginal carbon emission of me as added 'cargo' must be much lower than as another passenger on an airplane. Plus, the freighter ship will be sailing with or without me on board; whereas as a plane passenger I enable the business of a passenger flight.

3 comments

  1. rosco
    Link
    It's a really interesting question. I'm going to go 2 directions with this: 1) actually reducing carbon through alternate forms, 2) introducing the concept of a carbon shadow. So to actually...

    It's a really interesting question. I'm going to go 2 directions with this: 1) actually reducing carbon through alternate forms, 2) introducing the concept of a carbon shadow.

    So to actually reducing the amount of carbon. I'm going to start by sharing the Union of Concerned Scientists carbon reduction report (no worries, it's pretty accessible). Ok, man, the freighter idea is really cool! I just looked into it and boy is that a pricey option. It turns out renting a cabin on those ships for the X nights the crossing takes adds up. Still, could be a really interesting option. I'm going to pause freighters and think about other options, because there really are so many. If you'd like to stick to the sea and have experience sailing, joining the crew of a mid sized yacht can be a really cool experience. It has a similar carbon footprint to a freighter and you'll get to refine your sailing/navigation skills in the process. There are sites like Crewseekers where you can sign up for a voyage. I've done a number around California and have friends who have travelled extensively this way. My only warning is that in many cases you are at the mercy of the captain so have a chat first and if things are going sideways, take the first opportunity to disembark. With a transatlantic voyage you might be able to do some nearshore practice runs to feel out how the crew/captain interact.

    For me, as a west coaster, sailing to Europe has some issues as it's not a straight shot and I don't particularly fancy a trip around the horn. So I think it's worth talking about less extreme reduction methods such as train/bus to sail or train/bus to air. For me, a flight from SFO to Amsterdam creates 3.2 metric tons of carbon. Limiting to London only saves 0.1 metric ton. New York to Amsterdam is 2.0 metric tons and New York to London 2.1 metic tons. Taking a coach from SF to NY is only .15, so in theory I could save a third of the total carbon by taking a bus to NY and then a plane from there. Finally, I could take a bus from SF to NY and then sail from NY to London or Amsterdam. Total net on that would likely be around 0.2 metric tons, around a 15x reduction. Oceans do make it much harder to engage in low carbon transit but it is not impossible!!! However you do need time and flexibility.

    This is more of an aside, but I want to introduce is the idea of a climate shadow over a climate footprint. The idea is instead of just assessing your direct impact to CO2 (food consumption, travel, etc), you also factor in your indirect impact (the impact of your work or activism). For example, an executive at ExxonMobil may live a modest lifestyle with a low carbon footprint but still have an incredibly negative impact on total global carbon emissions through their work. They would have a tiny footprint but a massssive shadow. It's a very common talking point for those who want to maintain the status quo to criticize climate scientists for taking flights to speak at climate conferences. Many times those meetings are responsible for setting new emission standards or protocols that drastically reduce CO2. Taking our impacts into account is really important and I applaud you for doing so, but I also want the British Petroleum designed carbon footprint to take a hike!

    4 votes
  2. [2]
    vektor
    Link
    https://www.langsamreisen.de/en/freightertravel/europe-to/freighter-travel-europe-central-america-northamerica/germany-france-usa - looking at this, you're going to be paying 140€ per day, and a...

    https://www.langsamreisen.de/en/freightertravel/europe-to/freighter-travel-europe-central-america-northamerica/germany-france-usa - looking at this, you're going to be paying 140€ per day, and a one way trip takes 8 days. That's.... actually quite substantial. Add in the cost of those vacation days, basically, unless you can work from the ship.

    Do let us know if you find something. I'm curious too.

    Sadly for me there's going to be some hardly avoidable business travel coming up. I don't think the company will pay for freighter ship transit, or long-distance train travel. Sadly.

    2 votes
    1. pallas
      Link Parent
      That seems to be a bit misleading, actually. The 140€ per day is for trips that are longer than 13 days. Also, the specific 8 day trip from Le Havre to New York is more expensive, at a minimum of...

      That seems to be a bit misleading, actually. The 140€ per day is for trips that are longer than 13 days. Also, the specific 8 day trip from Le Havre to New York is more expensive, at a minimum of 210€ per day. If you aren't a US citizen, it apparently also requires an explicit visa, not just an ESTA. If you actually need to go to the West coast of the US, you'd then be looking at another 3-4 days on a train, and unless you wanted to spend those three days in a seat somewhat larger than an airline seat (~$500), a room would cost around $1000 one way. So overall, to the west coast, you'd be paying around 2600€ one way, or, it seems, around 5000€ round trip. That's comparable with a good business class seat round trip on a good airline.

      As someone else who lives a life split between Europe and the US, there's no good alternative transport to flying, unfortunately.

      1 vote