Lately I have been enjoying trying out all of the carbon footprint calculators on the web. There are a lot – my favorite is at www.carbonfootprint.com (makes sense, yes?). It’s a way to get a check-up, and perhaps find a few ideas to help us all tread more lightly. As you fill in the blanks, recall that the per capita carbon output in the U.S. is 20.4 tons. And keep in mind that the average in Portugal (one of the lowest in Europe) is 5.63 tons per capita. By the way, you should get to know how many kilowatt hours of electricity you use annually, and how many therms of natural gas. And, what may be most critical, how many gallons of water you use in a month or a year.
Since we don’t own a car, and we have replaced nearly every lightbulb in the house with CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) and we keep our thermostat low in the winter (about 68, though Amy and I have been known to have thermowars) and high in the summer (78 lowest), we come out pretty good. 5.160 tons per capita, just a hair below Portugal.
Until you add in the plane flights. These are a real problem – they double our average, putting us back near Germany (9.79 tons). Which got me thinking.
Intercity rail is a much more sustainable transport mode than a car, or a bus. And way, way better than flying. So as we all watch the airline industry tanking with increasing fuel and labor costs (they’re dropping like flies), we need to recognize that we must reconstruct intercity rail transit in this country. Of course we used to have a terrific interurban system. And of course we ripped it all out…
What I am after is a good high speed intercity rail system for trips in the range of about 500 miles. If we could travel from city center to city center at that distance – say St. Louis to Detroit – in about 2.5 hours or 3 hours, the airlines could then focus on the longer distance stuff, and we could save tons of carbon, and barrels of oil in the bargain.
Think of it. Today, if Amy and I want to go from Portland to Seattle, or Washington to NYC, the drive is about 4 hours. The flight is about an hour, but probably 2 to 3 hours total. It’s about 4 hours on Amtrak, and the Acela, our slow U.S. version of high speed, takes about 3.5 hours here on the east coast. But the distance for both trips is around 200 miles. At 175 mph, which is a bit slower than France’s TGV average speed of 185 mph, we should be able to get there in a little more than an hour. And we would end up downtown, and we wouldn’t have to arrive early or struggle through security lines.
James Howard Kunstler, in an Op-ed piece in the Post this past weekend, said “Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country’s oil consumption.” So not only will rebuilding high speed intercity rail help with carbon and oil, but the benefit will be increased by reworking the airline industry as well.
France’s TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse)
I say call your Senators and Representatives right away, send post cards, and get lobbying. Our National rail system is pathetic. We need to fund Amtrak to grow, and then reallocate our nation’s budget (in so many ways we need to aim our dollars at different targets, so to speak) so we can build high speed intercity transit, as have the Japanese, the Brits, the French, the Spaniards. This is not difficult to do – it just takes the realization that we have to shift the way we allocate dollars toward building the next city and its infrastructure.