Friday, 8 May 2009

The Man Who Wouldn't Fly

As concern grows over global warming plenty of people are deciding not to fly these days, but only the brave undertake the kind of journey completed recently by a UWE postgraduate student. When Joshua Hart, a native of San Francisco, decided to travel the five thousand miles to Bristol without leaving terra firma, he set himself a considerable challenge. But to this dedicated climate change campaigner it was both an adventure and an important experiment.

“We’re addicted to flying,” he told Venue. “We’re like cigarette addicts in the way we travel. Planning more flights and more road traffic while scientists are sounding the alarm about climate chaos is simply suicidal.”

A student of transport planning at UWE’s increasingly prestigious Centre for Transport and Society, Hart took the decision to quit flying after a soul-destroying trip from Luton to Venice, which left him with ‘a feeling of emptiness’.

“On an airplane you travel from one generic airport located in ugly suburban sprawl to another airport located in even uglier suburban sprawl,” he explains. “The only exchange with the places and people in between are a fleeting glimpse from 30,000 feet, a roar in the sky heard from below, and the ugly legacy of an abruptly warming planet.”

He continues, “It wasn’t too long ago that all long distance travel took time, and people just didn’t do it that often. I don’t think my pledge not to fly will have a limiting effect on my experience of travel.”

As if to prove the point, Hart turned a nine-hour flight into an extraordinary fourteen-day journey, which began with a four-day train ride to Montreal that featured valuable training in blues guitar courtesy of some Chicago musicians. He broke his journey in the Canadian city to spend a week working for Velogik, an organisation that teaches young children about climate change and bike repair. Part of Hart’s personal transport revolution has involved swapping his car for a bike, which he considers – climate change notwithstanding – the most efficient and practical way to travel around town.

You can’t ride a bike across the Atlantic, however, so from Montreal Hart travelled on a container ship, the MSC Malaga, which was bound for Antwerp. This leg of the journey took nine days and gave the traveller a sense of distance and space absent from air travel.

“There were some memorable experiences,” he says, “ Like watching dolphins swim alongside the ship, getting to know the Filipino crew and experiencing the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean despite 5 metre swells and initial sea sickness.”

In the process the student of transport got an inside view of the international shipping trade – from the preferred sport of crew members (table tennis) to the amount of oil it takes to transport a container load of goods across the Atlantic (about 135 gallons).

From Antwerp Hart travelled by Eurostar, completing a fourteen-day journey when he arrived in Bristol for the start of term. Though he is aware that it will be a while before he heads home again, he is adamant that the old-fashioned modes of travel are the best, for all kinds of reasons.

“We can travel to the south of France for £20,” he says, “But we’ve lost the whole experience of getting there. Travel itself should be an adventure.”

First published in Venue magazine. Image from t-cycle t-shirts

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