Last time on on Unsee The Future, we considered some of the fairly classic real costs of tourism, economic, cultural and environmental, and how much we haven’t tended to think about them much – not in the face of our convenient lifestyle expectations, we haven’t. We’ve been living our best lives with a lot of last century ignorance still cropping the phone camera lens tidily because, well, we have enough to think about and, blimey, we need some anti-stress sun. Some desperate escape from the system for a week. ..But only in half term, obviously, because we can’t take the kids out of learning numbers practice to meet people from other cultures, so we’d better take that second mortgage out after all, darling, rather than go to prison. Because: democracy and education. Or something.
But steadily, as we also saw, there are emerging means for all of us to more easily consider what the hidden costs of travel really are, and more of us are wanting to – so we took a first basic look at one of the biggest lifestyle implications for responding to the planet’s current crises: Personal carbon tracking. How to begin to think about the basic numbers of our real lives, coming and going.
As more and more implications of it unfold, so it becomes more and more clear that the climate crisis couldn’t be more serious.Yet our global system of trade and living and our expectations so built around it are impossibly intertwined between all possible geographic locations around the world – and vitally so for the diminishing of cultural ignorances and prejudices, and the spreading of knowledge. Spreading the burden of running the world potentially better. And you can’t do all that over a patchy 3G signal.
So, we left part 1 of our look at Travel, with this question. Is there not a much more techno-fun way to science our way out of our massive, clodhopping carbon footprints? When it comes to our addiction to criss-crossing the Earth in daily ways, like being hooked on the car, what new forms of actual transport could help us get clean?
Come come, you scoff. Human ingenuity opened up to us all the wonders of the world, so surely it can help us do it better? Fight fire with, er, an afterburner? I guess? Brainbox our way out of whatever mess we think this is.
Well, go on then. I’m enough of an old modernist to like big bonkers tech a bit and a truly sustainable response to the demands of modern society wouldn’t start with the principle of just turning off everything and going back to the smallholding to eat raw root vegetables. Right? ..Riiiight? You.
Actually, a huge place to start – literally – is the oldest field of truly global trade. The oceans. There is a lot to clean up in the technology of life at sea, on which the human planet so complexly relies.
One of the biggest components of the travel emissions challenge is the least flashy – shipping. The UN’s International Maritime Organisation says that the shipping industry carries some 80% of the world’s trade and accounts for over two per cent of global CO2, as Reuters reports. So it’s one heck of a curve ball, on the face of it, for the largest name in the business to declare an aim to turn completely carbon neutral in the next thirty years.
“Denmark’s Maersk said on Wednesday it aimed to have carbon neutral vessels commercially viable by 2030 by using energy sources such as biofuels and would cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050” Stine Jacobson wrote at the start of last December. And he quoted Maersk’s Chief Operating Officer Soren Toft:
““The only possible way to achieve the so-much-needed decarbonization in our industry is by fully transforming to new carbon neutral fuels and supply chains.”
That means designing ships now, to take the place of their old fleet. And I can see why they want to; according to the company’s own sustainability report, Maersk’s container business accounts for most of its almost 35.5 million tonnes of CO2e produced in 2017 alone – to imagine that such a fundamental problem with the engines of your business viability will just go away in the coming years would be business-collapsing. But still, it’s a bold ambition, courageously articulated, given most old money reticence.
As the marine fuels and engines forum MFAME reports, the shipping giant is starting by piloting some biofuel mix in existing ships, testing a fuel blend of some 20% made from waste cooking oil, in particular on a hefty route from Rotterdam to Shanghai in one of its biggest vessels. They reckon the process will save 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions across the 25,000 nautical mile journey. As MFAME quotes the company’s own 2018 environment report: “The pursuit of solutions must begin now. We must have the first zero-carbon and commercially viable vessel on the seas by 2030.” And it apparently adds: “Efficiency gains do not solve the climate change problem. That can only be achieved through decarbonisation.”
Have you seen a typical Maersk ship? I’ve had them cruise past m’starboard a few times aboard sail boats in Southampton Water over the years and they are beyond moving buildings. They’re ridiculous.
When the Emma was launched in 2006, she was the biggest container ship in the world at 397.71m in length, a beam of 57m and able to transport 14,770 containers. It’s nuts. But today, this ship is only third on the stupidly big list. The Moller Maersk is bigger all round by a couple of meters… but also interestingly uses a heat recovery system to reduce its overall fuel use, and the company appears to claim it is some 20% better with its CO2 emissions than previous vessels. So they really are under way to sustainability… I guess.
You might like to know for Top Trumps’ sake that the biggest floating anything human made – if you don’t count Venice, presumably – is the Prelude Floating Liquified Natural Gas platform. And it is still broadly boat shaped, but the biggest offshore facility of its kind in the world at 488m long and 74 wide weighing 600,000tonnes. And still floating. (Because displacement is similar Basically Just Magic as the physics of lift under the wings of an Airbus A380. Science be damned – we made pacts with devils, I tell you!) And certainly if there’s one thing the oil and gas industry knows how to do it’s GO BIG. The biggest ships in the world that aren’t container ships are oil tankers.
For all these flat numbers, though, the shipping industry is less than futury. It seems less than especially capable of even tracking all these enormous machines when they are at sea and The World Shipping Council thinks an average of 1,582 shipping containers were simply lost at sea overboard every year between 2008 and 2016. Losing… what, exactly, into the oceans? All while crews around the world seem prey to terrible working conditions from their employers rather more than pirates.
The Boston Globe’s John Konrad thinks a tech revolution might be poised to unexpectedly help clean up some aspects of human sea trade.
“On the high seas, huge, unmonitored ships and underfunded coast guards conspire to destroy our oceans” he asserts. “Each lost ship and container leaks pollutants into the ocean, but without a standardized way to collect information, we don’t know the specific chemicals, plastics, and hazardous materials dumped into our waters each year.”
From oil spillages to drug smuggling to waste dumping, the sheer scale of the monitoring challenge for ocean business has proved impossible to keep consistent handles on for just about everyone concerned. And it’s not just dirty oil and unglamorous trade responsible.
“Even the largest and most visible ships are difficult to monitor once they’re at sea. Just last month, Princess Cruises acknowledged violating probation terms from a 2016 dumping case. According to filings with the Justice Department, operators of the 951-foot-long, 3,142-passenger ship Caribbean Princess dumped plastic into the ocean, falsified records, and dispatched cleanup teams ahead of inspectors to avoid environmental violations” he reports.
Even the US Navy, he suggests, makes serious gaffs, with collisions with container ships and lives lost as a result. Not sailboats. Container ships. Ruddy great things you’d imagine the best Radar systems in the world might spot before ramming them with a destroyer as happened with the USS Fitzgerald and the USS McCain.
Konrad reports on just how fledgling the marine tech industry is for data, quoting Marine Money’s chairman Jim Lawrence at its first ever US pitch day for startups: “Financial technologies are called Fintech, Medical Technologies are Medtech, but what do we call technology for shipping? Some say it should be Bluetech, others Shiptech, or Martech for maritime technology. Nobody can agree on even the name.”
Initiatives like CargoMetrics hopes to transform the high seas into a much more trackable system, using Amazon’s massive computer system to consolidate and crunch all available shipping data, the article explains. “GPS, cargo manifests, and satellite tracking” – it could all help to: “gain a global understanding of the movement of raw and finished goods in real time. This big-data approach to trade could transform both shipping and markets.” While other startups like Shipin Systems aims to reduce at-sea accidents by monitoring staff more effectively while other projects are looking at really basic things like ships’ lubricant levels – does nobody think to tap the gauge every now and again? For all the BIG BIG BIG thinking giving impossible seeming buoyancy to mind boggling shipping capacities, there seems much about life afloat that seems frontier-risky and badly managed.
But is it really so surprising? As Dame Ellen MacArthur put it, when she was in the south seas below Australia, round-the-worlding for the second time, gunning for the speed record: “The nearest people to me were in the International Space Station.” Our oceans are a big, untamable environment.
So addressing some basic seeming shipping industry-wide tracking oversights with a little shiptech cleverness could have a massively overdue effect on efficiency, it sounds tempting to suggest, planet fans.
“Chances are, before we have automated cars, we’ll have fully automated ships” Konrad reckons, in an AI-bolstered bid to stow the ropes of all this shaggy rigging much more safely. As every competent crew graduate or Practical Boat Owner reader will tell you, it’s basic to know your knots.
As Channel 4’s Dispatches found out a couple of years ago, though, it’s not like some basic problems aren’t lying at the foot of the gangway to the well-heeled cruise industry. Cruise tourism accounts for tons of waste and, as The Independent reported, the programme found that air quality on a cruise ship deck can be: “worse than the world’s most polluted cities”. Stand in the right or wrong place near the funnels of your average mega liner today and you could be breathing in: “More than double the average (particulates) in central London’s Piccadilly Circus” they measured. So, y’know, move your deck chair.
Daniel Rieger, of the German environment association NABU apparently told the investigation: “Ships cause not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. ..Per day one cruise ship emits as much particulate matter as a million cars. So 30 cruise ships pollute as much as all the cars in the United Kingdom.” Per day.
Jeepers. And that’s just what it does to your nan. Never mind the waste, fuel, emissions and tourism infrastructure this industry needs to keep two million Brits alone supposedly enjoying the whale watching from the pool bar.
Surely this demands much bigger thinking than boring old economies of scale, no?
Might a – finally! – more futury design of large vessel look like just one of the proposals from Japanese research company Eco Marine Power, it’s Aquarius. An integrated tech design incorporating as much design thinking in the efficiency of airflow around its wheelhouse as in the striking use of EnergySails – rigid photovoltaic panels using wind in the old fashioned way while harvesting solar energy in the process. Neat, huh? Why has this eminently napkin-able idea not long been an actual thing already? It’s a vessel concept that also incorporates fuel cell technology alongside heat recovery and efficiency systems.
Sounds a lot more first principles in its thinking to me. And it’s not properly escaped the CAD system yet. Talk about shipping being slow.
Something that has escaped the drawing board into the seas, however, is a good last example to ponder here. Because the Energy Observer is currently over 13,000miles into a six year planned circumnavigation, attempting to prove that complete zero-emissions shipping is possible.
A modified racing yacht, the Energy Observer runs on hydrogen, which it extracts from seawater. While running its combined onboard systems also using solar and wind turbine energy. And it’s a ruddy interesting project.
As Jérôme Delafosse, expedition leader puts it: “The ecological transition needs to be seen as a promise for a better world. Through this exclusive Odyssey, we want to make people dream, to raise awareness, to prove that humans can live in harmony with nature and that the fight against global warming can open some doors to a new economic expansion.”
It’s a beaut’ of a hopeful test bed. Definitely worth checking out on the blog. But it’s still a very small beginning to some massive problems out at sea.
And, if we’re talking massive transport problems and trying to get back to first principles in design approaches and just thinking proper futury future engineering stuff… surely it’s impossible not to return to considering the massive pressing issue of aircraft? And, as every sustainability activist with soil under their nails would I am sure be clamouring to ask urgently with me: Where the bloody hell is the Thunderbirds hypersonic near-space travel stuff we were promised to get us to Tokyo in a couple of hours, huh?
At more everyday scale, not unlike car use, humans are simply not going to say goodbye to the aeroplane any time soon, no matter how much you protest. In fact, it’s widely predicted currently to double. I mean, as National Geographic reported, China only put its first home-made commercial airliner into the air in 2017. Where do you think that trend is going to go? Yeah. Exactly. Up.
Alongside this sense of inevitability sits the positive facts that while the aviation’s industry roots may be organisationally in warfare, its notional ones are in exploration, and we do owe it the best views on the planet, alongside all kinds of connections and routes nothing else can sensibly provide us with. It’s a place to work that still has just a hint of the frontiers person and their responsibilities about it, I sense, and if, actually, you do work in flight I imagine you see it as just part of the future, right? But, if so, I’ll bet it’s increasingly bothering you about emissions.
Perhaps, it arguably should bother you, as an airline employee, a practical bit more. Enough to make a bit more noise about it. Because increasingly, it’s the airline industry that seems to be the only business sector not being seen to talk about sustainability. Not to its customers.
As Judy Kepher-Gona, founder of Sustainable Tourism Agenda, told Kojo Bentum-Williams at the Sustainable Tourism Africa Summit in Mombassa: “I do get the feeling continuously that aviation has isolated itself from the larger tourism industry. You look at sustainability discussions and reports… and you don’t find aviation in that discourse” she suggests. Speaking on the AviaDev podcast Insight Africa, she said “You look at discussions that take place around the world, you look at forums that are huge, like sustainable brands today – footwear and clothing and everyone who’s thinking about sustainability – I have never seen an airline among the sustainable brands of the world.”
Airlines are not making offsetting a matter of course in buying a ticket, nor do they talk about how they might do this. And, crucially, they are still built hell-for-leather on that growth model. When British Airways boss Alex Cruz said recently that airlines: “have to be thinking about flying in different ways” to reduce their environmental impact, and that they cannot operate exactly as they have done “over the last 100 years”, even going so far as to say it was: “impossible not to be affected” by the views of young people”, the airline’s chief executive was telling Tom Batchellor of The Independent all this: “onboard the airline’s brand new A350 jet, which features BA’s upgraded business class offering complete with lie flat bed and sliding door…”
The airlines are fairly wildly out of touch with reality in their planet business planning, it rather looks from a passenger’s point of view. Stretched out staring at the ceiling or losing feeling in your feet staring at the top of someone’s seat-reclined head in your lap. But imagine what the airlines could do for the conversation.
“Aviation is involved in moving millions of tourists across the world every day. It therefore becomes a very powerful medium for communicating the message of sustainability and also for demonstrating it” Judy Kepher-Gona suggests. “I think, in 2019, we should not be talking about whether airlines should be offsetting carbon for their travellers or not, it should be a given… A commitment by aviation would send a very very strong message to travellers, the millions that will see this message every day in airports, in airline seat pockets, in every bit of information that is given in booking – it could awaken every traveler that tourism has a responsibility to the environment.”
And she added: “At this summit (Sustainable Tourism Africa) one of the calls to action has been that Tourism must panic about climate change and its emissions.”
The notable exception here, I would suggest, is KLM. Because it has broken the silence. It’s Fly Responsibly campaign actually spells it out, suggesting you don’t have to always fly somewhere, and calls for: “All travellers and the aviation industry to join forces. To join us in making the world aware of our shared responsibility.” It wants us to: “Think about flying responsibly.”
Which is a remarkable breaking of the taboo. But it is still only a “think about”. What commitments the company will actually make to simply demonstrating such values, and the impact that doing it properly would have on its business model… that remains to be seen.
Amongst itself, if not at all to its customers yet, the wider aviation industry does claim to be trying to do one thing to – very very slowly – improve its 500mph business. And it’s technical.
Frank Whittle’s invention that powers flight tourism is utter ruddy genius. The jet engine. The gas turbine. So darned clever, we can’t come up with a financially and load-thrustingly viable alternative. So the big duopoly of airliner makers, Boeing and Airbus, are focussing their R&D on increased efficiency. Of which the flagship is the 787 Dreamliner, of course – made of composites, the latest version, the 787-10 uses 25% less fuel than other planes in its class, supposedly, and so creates rather less CO2. “A lighter, simpler structure, increases airplane efficiency, reduces fuel consumption and reduces weight-based maintenance and fees” as The Telegraph quotes a beaming Boeing. And this build technology makes for a roomier cabin with bigger windows for us customers. And it’s flying. Has been in its smallest version since 2011.
Progress. But creeping progress in the face of a raging stormfront of climate problems, you might feel. I certainly do. And it’s still essentially no real progress in culture – in business aims.
But if we’re going to keep talking the language of engineers for a moment – the chaps who keep us in the air – then instead of a 25% improvement at best, how would a fleet of aircraft that uses fifty percent less fuel do you?
That’s the confident claim headlined over the Aurora D8.
It’s a design developed out of an initial commission by NASA to MIT, now with Pratt & Whitney also on board, and it reflects a bit of a double trend in future-facing large airliner design – the shape of the fuselage and the way the engines work. Double in every sense, you might say, because the design’s double bubble structure is effectively two typical aircraft bodies stuck together, not simply giving a revolutionary cabin space inside but more significantly helping to make a lot more lift with the main volume of the shape. Making for a much slimmer wing profile and reducing drag. But also, pushed into the air, theoretically, with a: “potentially game-changing technology” as Steven Ashley reports for NBC’s Mach. Boundary Layer Ingestion engines.
“Inside rear-mounted power pods are electrically driven fans that provides propulsion while also ingesting much of the slow-moving boundary layer air that flows next to the fuselage. This low-energy air enters a front intake vent and is blown out the back, reenergizing the plane’s wake to cut aerodynamic drag.”
As Aurora’s team put it themselves, they expect us to move: “From the jet age to the efficiency age – the D8 aircraft will usher in a new era of efficiency and affordability in commercial air travel.” And it’s thinking that seems to be appearing across other designs from other teams at the same time, with lots of blended wing and hybrid body shapes turning up in CGs all over the place at the moment – including the back of that conshy KLM advert. Like something may be at last more fundamentally shifting in the basic economically viable aircraft profile we know so well in the skies, because it hasn’t had to change since the fifties.
“NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative, an effort to explore large-aircraft designs and greener technologies is currently unfunded and on hold” says Steven Ashley. “But the four chief contractors for subsonic concepts — Aurora Flight Sciences, Dzyne Technologies, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing — successfully completed their research contracts. One of the initiative’s goals is to craft airliners that burn half the fuel of current jets and generate 75 percent less pollution while also being much quieter.”
With the airline industry still expecting to grow, to the tune of tens of thousands of new aircraft over the next twenty years, as many reports suggest, all while the climate crisis surely changes the game around those plans, perhaps the airline industry is finally feeling the need to invest in significant change, at least in its tools. National Geographic sees the dawning realisation of the climate crisis as a pivotal moment for the industry, with the potential for greater damage to runways, planes, and, oh yeah, staff, was well as cancelled flights all over the place because of hotter operating temperatures and meteorological disruptions alone.
Perhaps in light of this, and a few begrudging commitments the industry has taken towards emissions reduction, Airbus, meanwhile, has been taking a few flights of fancy of its own, most notably with it’s recent Bird Of Prey concept, an 80-seater, 1,500km range hybrid-electric regional airliner of rather striking bio-mimicral design and a technical ambition similar to other schemes to cut fuel use in half. A concept which Andrew J Hawkins writing in The Verge thinks is fittingly named: “because this thing seems designed to prey on your deepest fears. The bird-like concept features multiple propellors, a rudder branded with the Union Jack, and something called “feathered wings” which I can’t seem to unsee” he says. But this “chimeric monstrosity” as he puts it may still have a useful role to play.
“Hey, if designing some weird bird-plane is what it takes to “inspire” the airline industry to ditch fossil fuels in favor of more clean-burning energy, I’m all for it” he says. “I’ll strap on a pair of Hawkman wings myself like I’m in a Terry Gilliam movie. But the adoption of hybrid and battery-powered propulsion systems in aviation is taking its sweet time because putting planes in the air is heavy stuff.”
And he’s right. The far future of aircraft is likely to be electric, of course. But we’re simply going to have to find a leap in battery technology to power it, because the power to weight ratio of stored energy in battery systems today is struggling to get anything but very light aircraft off the ground. Because good old kerosine delivers waaaaay more energy per kilo than the best lithium ion pack.
As Real Engineering puts it, the best batts currently can store about 270WattHours per kilogram, so to strap enough of them to a typical A320 shorthaul airliner to do its usual job would add FOUR TIMES IT’S EMPTY BODYWEIGHT. Fuel usually adds about 20% of it.
This blithely hasn’t stopped EasyJet committing to getting passengers into electric planes “within the decade” which might be the boldest move of all airlines so far. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIzDEIt2Q3o ) And it’s undoubtedly based on the progress light aircraft have made in going electric, with tech engineering companies like Siemens beaming about their compact motor designs at aviation airshows. It’s getting off the ground alright. It’s just that, while I can pull over at Fleet Services to grab a cuppa and a cup cake to recharge my budget EV equivalent of a light electric aircraft, a jumbo jet in the North Atlantic, um, can’t.
Perhaps a more lateral bit of really futury design thinking comes in the shape of the Mobula, however. And you’ll like this. Because it’s sort of a plane and sort of a boat but not quite either and it looks like a giant sea animal. ( https://designbuzz.com/mobula-hybrid-vehicle-bridges-gap-between-cruise-ship-and-passenger-aircraft/ ) As Design Buzz puts it: “Designed by Chris Cooke as a Coventry University’s transport design project, the Mobula is a hybrid vehicle bridging the gap between a cruise ship and a passenger aircraft. Taking its name from a particular species of ray, the Mobula, which can launch itself out of the water several meters, the futuristic vehicle, or an Ekranoplan, employs the high-lift, low-drag aspects of ground effect by moving close to the surface, allowing a high speed, spacious interior and an efficient mileage.”
And it looks amazing. Lord knows if they could ever build it. But it’s a nice return to some clever thinking by the Russians, originally, half a century ago, that didn’t quite find its place back then. Could the Caspian Sea Monster yet stir into poetic and useful new life in the 21st century? It’s worth looking up, if you’ve not heard of it before. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwNItc_xDSQ )
All of which is a far cry from the other end of the futury aviation spectrum. The much talked about ambitions by many players to take us back to supersonic speeds and beyond, into near planetary orbit. Airbus won a patent for the Conorde 2 hypersonic aircraft back in 2015 ( https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/08/05/airbus-wins-patent-for-concorde-2-hypersonic-passenger-jet_n_7937884.html ) when Jaxa and Lockheed Martin were flashing about similar CGs too. But the Lunatic Ambition award probably still goes to Charles Bombardier for his executive ramjet Antipode – shooting for an eleven minute JFK–LHR trip at Mach 24. Twelve times faster than old Concorde.
That’s some stratospherically expensive pretzels.
Well. This is all very well. But, necks cricked gazing at specs in the cumulo-nibus, have we stopped to think that perhaps while trying to marry speed ambitions with planet death aversion business models, we’re actually looking in the wrong direction.
Why are you still looking up when you could be looking along at ground level. And in the chief challenge of global travel, crossing oceans, there is one solution that might be a genius bit of literal lateral thinking emerging as a solution to air travel. Make it more like space travel. But along the ground. Or even under it.
Yep. The hyperloop.
The Hyperloop! Except… oh.
Look, the thing is. The hyperloop does seem like a radical bit of breakthrough problem solving – if a huge amount of the fuel, wear and time costs in long distance travel are really about overcoming air friction, why not just remove the air? Yeah?
Remove the air. Y’know, so a feather can make it to Boston from San Francisco as fast as a bowling ball.
Years ago, the lovely first lady of Momo and I first dreamed about building our own house. Something we’ve never done, even after more than twenty years since visiting the Build Your Own Home exhibition at Earl’s Court, because we live in the popular seaside resort of Bournemouth and attempting to buy land where we actually want to live, rather than in a flood plane in remote Wales, would be like buying a complete second home just to knock it down. And she works for local authority and I have always been a hyper niche music artist and lifestyle slave. But at the Build Your Own Home exhibition, all those years ago, we saw a home vacuum system straight out of the Jetsons – a tube network to build into your construction walls linked to a central pump that gave you sockets around the house to attach hoses to for hoovering. A Heath-Robinson network of clear plastic tubes fusing Logan’s Run with Unigate Humphreys’ milk straws that, in the demonstration set-up at the show, afforded the bloke on the system stand the endlessly joyous opportunity to suck up a furry sort of tribble thing so we could all watch it SCHTOOOP! around the bends in seconds like a Wilf Lunn invention that the bloke on the system stand did repeatedly with all the wonder and excitement of a very over worked porn star while I finger clapped like a little boy, shouting: “AGAIN!” and feeling for my credit card, mere minutes after entering the exhibition. Well, I think this is the chief appeal of the hyperloop.
The principle is that if you get rid of air friction by creating a vacuum across a tunnel network, a hyperloop train running through that network on either air pockets or a maglev system could theoretically reach speeds of more than an airliner – crossing continents in hours, delivering passengers right into city centres, much more like a rail system. Rather than still having to catch the train or a cab into town after landing miles away from home at an airport. Nifty, huh?
Yeah, I can see you’ve got that slightly far-away tribble-sucking tube system look on your face. And a number of investors have, because after Tesla founder Elon Musk first demonstrated the idea, a number of other companies have stumped up investment and storytelling to signal potential futures in the technology.
The whole thing could run on clean energy and incorporate electric cars into the system on little EV trays, to seamlessly link a driving journey with an automated longer distance network of destinations. It’s fun, future stuff that sounds like it neatly side-steps the big problems of aviation.
I’m tempted to hope in it rather a lot. But I shouldn’t.
The US high-speed rail advocacy group American Rail Club paints a picture of a media obsessed rather uncritically with the hyperloop. Implying rather heavily that this is a bit silly and possibly even a bit fishy. Well, I mean it really would be if they managed to put a hyperloop across the Atlantic and didn’t build the tunnels very well. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. ARC firstly reminds its channel viewers that the hyperloop isn’t a new idea. Not by a remarkably long way it isn’t.
Alfred Eli Beach built New York’s first subway, thirty years before the subway – the Beach Pneumatic Transit. And yes, you heard that right – pneumatic. The whole thing was designed to run on cushions of air.
Traffic on Broadway was the pits in the late 1860s – packed with horses and horse-drawn omnibuses, you can imagine the dense atmosphere the more genteel theatre-goers had to face up there. So Beach took inspiration from London’s remarkably early Tube system – but decided to take it a step further and actually build tubes. Circular profile tunnels carrying cylindrical carriages – perhaps copying, Wikipedia guesses, another recent British idea of sending letters and packages through a pneumatic tube system. That money capsule sucker thing seemed just about the only interesting thing in a bank when I was a kid. And, tribble face lit up, presumably, Beach evidently channeled the same feeling and decided to simply scale up the whole experience to human size. And managed it. Building three hundred feet of tubeway track under City Hall and Broadway that supposedly had over 400,000 passengers take a ticket in its first year.
And to get around the status quo mob on the surface – city politicians apparently doing well out of the omnibus businesses up in the mud – Beach had the whole thing built in secret in less than a couple of months. Sounds a bit Musk to me.
The problem was scaling up the system beyond a surprisingly stylish testbed experience. The technology to slip train-sized capsules along on cushions of air was capability budget busting, and to scale up to anything more than a novelty ride would have been actual budget busting. Then the original Great Depression of 1873 happened, a European and American financial panic that hit New York’s spending reserves hard and it turned out to be the greatest resistance facing the Beach Pneumatic Transit, even above that of the old political guard. And, much as the public loved the idea, air-cushioned pod things were history.
ARC thinks this is going to be the story of the hyperloop. A curiosity that’s a lot of fun, but which hasn’t been getting off the ground to even its crucial inch and a half, not simply because of some pantomimic personalities involved along the way rather unproductively, but actually because of the looming idea-killer – it won’t add up.
“As a mass transit system, your main goal is to safely carry as many passengers as possible from point A to point B while making revenue” it says in its film: Why hyperloop will fail hard. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XFMIqiDWAc ) And it lays out some figures: “ The max capacity for a 28 passenger capsule Hyperloop system is 1,120 passengers per hour” able to be deployed from any given hyperloop station. They calculate a typical Airbus A320 operator could get twelve of them turned around in an hour which would put nearly 2,500 people on their way. Meanwhile, one Japanese N700A Shinkansen bullet train can apparently take 1,323 passengers on its own, meaning that during rush hour the bullet train system can: “Move more than 17,200 passengers one way.” And ARC quotes Lincoln Institute figures that suggest China can attribute 13% of its growth to its bullet train network, even though it wants to be seen to be investing in Hyperloop.
If you add in other factors, like the basic fact that no one has gotten test platforms anywhere near bullet train speeds yet, never mind seven hundred miles an hour in a successfully vacuumed system, or the fact that in practice the hyperloop will need massive turning circles built that will be as nightmarish a challenge of land acquisition as it will be tunnelling through California’s hills, to say nothing of the safety questions over sealing people into Apollo capsules with a hell of an escape system needing to be conceived to work anywhere at all in the system and… man. How will this ever get off the ground viably?
Interesting Engineering thinks: “Small scale preliminary experiments reveal the Hyperloop is entirely feasible and more so, it functions extraordinarily well. However, constructing a perfect tube hundreds of kilometers long capable of sustaining a near perfect vacuum will undoubtedly be one of the greatest engineering challenges in the 21st century.” ( https://interestingengineering.com/biggest-challenges-stand-in-the-way-of-hyperloop )
In fact, it looks at more of the geeky details of how to achieve and maintain even pressure in a steel tubing system, all without crashing the tribble at the speed of sound or having its turbine blades just explode through the train and… well. As they put it, for the physics of the system at the moment: “There’s no foreseeable solution… yet. It’s not impossible (but)… The Hyperloop is absurdly expensive, and moreover, insanely dangerous. The entire system is prone to a single point of failure that would be catastrophic to the entire structure. A simple breach and all passengers inside would perish almost instantaneously” they think. In fact, they point out: “The only comparable vacuum tube anywhere near the magnitude of the proposed Hyperloop is the CERN Large Hadron Collider.”
It’s starting to sound easier and cheaper to get to Mars.
Yet. The point of the hyperloop may not be the hyperloop at all. It’s really about the breakthrough in thinking represented by the tunnels.
As Zac Cataldo and Ross Tessien’s slight fanboy site Now You Know suggests, the revolutionary take on digging tunnels that Elon Musk’s Boring Company has developed could one day make that company worth more than Tesla: “Disrupting a trillion-dollar market.” And perhaps the extremely pertinent allied expertise of battery and EV technology could one day look like digging holes in the ground was Musk’s business plan all along. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8p0pC7vcpGg )
Essentially, the maths is based on a bunch of tweaks to the process of tunnel construction all coming together. Electrification of vehicles means a much cleaner digging environment and a much smaller one – no need for such enormous extractor units for NOx emissions and CO2 from fossil engines. And planning to place all vehicles on train trays rather than drive regulates the efficiency of the system with automation, all of which means the tunnels can be a lot narrower. Digging tunnels that take up a quarter of the volume of normally engineered traffic tunnels is a very boring tech headline but a bit of a financial game changer, they think. Helped by the efficiency of the machines they’ve developed for both boring and structuring tunnels in one kind of moving process, along with a few side hustles they think possible with some of the waste material.
Has Musk already dug a tunnel under the Atlantic without telling anyone, I find myself seriously wondering.
A factor in giving the usefulness of these new tunnels a following wind is the concept of the hypermile – blowing air down the one-way tunnels to seriously reduce headwind drag on freight trucks, and so reduce the cost to ship stuff down them. Competitive with trains, in fact – famously the cheapest way to freight but, in America, the slowest. And that includes competition from the pack-ant. Not withstanding the potential of the figures Now You Know quote about cost per mile of this new Boring Company infrastructure – toll plus electricity adding up to perhaps 15cpm as apposed to 20 or more for normal road fuel costs, so they reckon – or the fact that the car tray thing will carry passengers along at 120mph all the way, without traffic jams, two to six times faster than current freeways.They seem to think the tolls will add up to pay off the roughly $1b per 100miles construction costs within years. To say nothing of shifting a load more Teslas and Tesla Energy products. And all pushing billions of dollars out of the fossil fuel transportation industry into renewable energy.
But there is, I think another factor in play that simply helps all this seem possible. A technology that is tried and tested and working for paying customers in the real world that is not so far behind Hyperloop for speeds but a lot more buildably viable. As American Rail Club puts it: ““Meet the Hyperloop killer: The superconducting maglev. Japan has invested over fifty years and millions of dollars, that can seat over 1,000 passengers max per train and reaching speeds of 375mph, with more room to grow.” Theoretically, maybe making it up to 500mph one day.
While the tech is famously Japanese championed, it was invented by an American. James Powell, back in the 1960s.
As Loes Witschge reported for Delayed Gratification: “The idea of maglev came to Powell in the early 1960s on a Friday night. He was on his way from Long Island, New York, to see his girlfriend in Boston when he got stuck in a five-hour traffic jam on the Throgs Neck Bridge, which connects Queens to the Bronx. At the lab, Powell had been working with superconductors – materials, mostly metals, which dramatically lose their electrical resistance when cooled, allowing current to flow with virtually no energy loss. One property of superconductive materials is that when they are in this state of near-zero resistance they can create powerful electromagnetic fields – strong enough to repel objects as large as passenger trains and keep them suspended in mid air.
“I thought, ‘Gee, you have all these very strong forces. Why not just use this to levitate something that can travel very fast without contact to the ground’,” says Powell. “The idea happened right on that bridge.”” ( https://www.slow-journalism.com/from-the-archive/train-of-thought )
Of course, standard rail as an industry has had a big set back in the 20th century in America, where Hyperloop and high speed rail enthusiasts as well as Elon Musk are planning to start up the travel future. The car lobby famously curtailed investment in trains with the expansion of the freeway network in the 50s and 60s. I think it might have felt like a feeding frenzy for auto industry leaders then – the car was unstoppable. Meaning that today there is effectively no high speed rail whatsoever in the USA – laughable sounding compared to Europe and Asia. And in California, where they have broken ground on trying to rectify this for a stretch up the coast, there’s a huge question mark over how it will ever find funding to get finished.
“There’s a lot of forces in America that really don’t want to see rail become our major mode of transportation,” claims Andy Kunz, President and CEO of US High Speed Rail Association. “Especially because it will affect passenger numbers on airplanes, it’ll affect the use of autos. So you have the politics, the message shaping and then the straight advertising and all three of those coordinate and work together to keep America focussed on cars and not focussed on rail.” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qaf6baEu0_w )
Yet. Could the forces of workable economics ally with the fearsome forces of the climate crisis to crack the asphalt on the old ways of doing things in America? And so much further afield.
Could the right buildable tunnels, with the right train system, potentially reshape the more serious miles we expect to be taking all around the world?
Maybe. Perhaps hopefully. But this last word is the giveaway – expect. Is the real challenge to our travel hopes in the future not about mega structures and massive engineering plans, unstoppable as they seem. Is the real key to adjusting the human planet to more sustainable travel the same as all sustainability challenges in the age of endless growth consumerism – the challenge of changing our expectations?
Lesson one in human geography: We are all in different places.
In our current times, if there is one name that seems unavoidable when talking future transport tech – Elon Musk – then there is another when talking future climate responses. Greta Thunberg.
The afternoon I wrote this, she was leaving Europe for the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Allowing two weeks to get there, so she can cross the Atlantic with zero emissions. She chose to go by racing yacht. And the world has been watching.
“By stopping flying, you don’t only reduce your own carbon footprint but also that sends a signal to other people around you that the climate crisis is a real thing” she says, with her usual flatly quiet authority. This sixteen year old school climate striker. ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/science-environment-49331885/greta-thunberg-s-zero-carbon-journey-i-might-feel-a-bit-seasick )
As you likely know, her flatly quiet authority has garnered plenty of criticism. And some of it has been truly grim symptoms of our social emotions flooded age, I feel, with accusations of abusive misappropriation of a young person’s passions – by all sides of all sides. Sounding like banks of people who’ve forgotten what it means to be a young person, to me. And many nautical miles outside all the clicked-up outrage and digital heat, is Greta. Crossing a biting cold ocean, because of her convictions.
Borris Herrmann is skipper of the Malizia II and says simply: “Greta is an amazingly courageous person to be standing up against ignorance and injustice regarding the climate crisis”. His transatlantic co-skipper and team founder, Pierre Casiraghi, says: “Convincing governments and international institutions to make the step and enforce laws that will protect humankind and biodiversity is of the utmost importance for the future of humanity. Greta is an ambassador who delivers a fundamental message both for our society and for the survival of future generations.”
However you feel about Greta, or how canny the Malizia II team might be about PR, this pair of sailors looking after the boat and the girl along 49° latitude does have a passion for ocean science and education. Yet Malizia II is a competition machine – and it’s the real deal. ( https://team-malizia.com/en/home/ ) No frills. No heads – that’s no bog, to you and me, only a bucket. Two weeks of rolling north Atlantic swell and no usual privacy lay ahead. Days after competing in the Fastnet Race, the IMOCA class 18meter monohull set back out of Plymouth Sound carrying Greta, sporting its Global Goals colour wheel on the mainsail, all to make a big point to the news outlets and private jetters at the UN. It’s time we looked at global travel very differently.
Casiraghi renamed the boat Malizia in honour of the nickname given to his homeland Monoco’s dynastic father Francesco Grimaldi, who was apparently known as The Wiley One. Setting out from a symbolic enclave of worldly glamour to the gateway to the new world via the departure city of the American pilgrims, aboard a solar and water turbine powered racing sail boat with a big sense of a clock ticking and a very uncomfortable ride ahead for a vulnerable seeming young person. Yeah. Someone here is a wiley one indeed. And I think she’s leagues ahead of the landlubbing criticism.
I’ve come to think the principle of more planet-minded travel is about adjusting your perspective before you’ve left your house. And so I’d like to paint a picture of a different way of going about coming and going. Because, just like all sustainability, this principle is one that we kind of most don’t want to address with post-modern minds – changing our expectations.
Heaven forbid, any mortals dare dictate, eh? It’s why the whole climate crisis story grinds your gears, isn’t it – it’s lefties preaching disaster utopianism from very expensive yachts, right? Well, sure. But all I know is, in a different context, you can suddenly find yourself very grateful for a bucket.
Do you remember being a toddler? Particularly a time when, if she was any good at it, your mum said no to you about something you wanted more than anything in the world, right then and there? Don’t clutch your pearls just yet, they’re Mummy’s anyway. Stay with me. That something you really wanted could have been having way more sweets from the sweetie shop or running out of the front door into the street, or not going to bed. A boundary line she might have tried vainly to contextualise for you by saying you wouldn’t eat your dinner, or you might get squashed like Tufty’s football in the road, or you might be a grouchy selfish little swine if you didn’t get used to going to bed at a regular time – and you might enjoy your dinner rather more if you had room for it, and you might enjoy being alive rather more if you weren’t prematurely dead and, trust her, you might one day dream of afternoon naps and going to bed after CountryFile… but all you wanted in that denied young moment was exactly what you thought you wanted. And you just went purple trying to change her mind with brute force, whining until you cried, crying until you screamed, screaming until you pooed pleasingly into your nappy and got distracted with the dog.
Can you re-feel that innocent infant moment a tiny bit?
Nah. You never did that of course. You were a delightful child. Plus, you’ve had way too many Jager Bombs between then and now to remember. But if you can remember anything of that emotional certainty and put it together with your more potentially parental view of this now… you might be primed helpfully here to deploy a little empathy to us all as consumer travellers facing the rest of the 21st century.
We don’t want to be told our travel choices and travel businesses might have to have significantly modified expectations applied to them. But it seems very unlikely they won’t have to be. The adult upside being, beyond the petulant tears, a much deeper, richer experience of what travel even is. And the human planet itself.
The parent here isn’t any preachy greeny. It’s Earth. And the patterns of data she’s giving us. The signals about our own behaviour trends. A kind of call to become better parents ourselves – whether our parenting style is to rally to a righteous mission or to rebel against our idea of the status quo.
Looking around me, it’s obvious some of us are a ways further down the road of discovering and feeling this sort of Earth ship thing than others. I’m not sure I’m even half way yet, or what there is supposed to look like. But as individual people, we aren’t simply all in different geographic contexts when we think about travel, of course, we’re in a very wide range of perspectives and experiences. And expectations. So to tackle the converging crises of our criss-crossing age it’ll be no help telling each other, while feeling lost: “I wouldn’t start from there, mate”.
We all have to start from right where we are. And no two journeys will be the same.
Sustainability mate Gwyn Jones sent me this poem by David Wagoner a few days back. ( https://beyondmeds.com/2015/05/17/stand-still/?fbclid=IwAR0VFKW4dYeW46mMXI1JqY2DTGAX7KBp4y3jydoBQ2E921NWzxmY1W8_KIE )
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
..Yeah, you might not be ready for that. The secret to traveling well is standing still? What, mate? Or it might be obvious to you – you go to different places to find moments. Of clarity. Of renewal. Of Inspiration. To ‘be’ somewhere else.
If there’s a central principle to the very idea of travel, it’s the same as that of Unsee The Future – making connections. And so is the implication of doing it – it can inspire your sense of context to come alive. And that can change the way you see your whole life. It has mine.
The original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road looks like a road. One long reel of typed paper. It’s almost a stream of consciousness that book, from a time when forms of storytelling were being challenged and changed yet again by raw creative instincts wanting to break out of all kinds of social contexts. Published the year Sputnik was launched and old human perspectives at ground level must have seemed suddenly so small. On The Road is an instinct enacted – to just go. Go and keep going and just listen to the road as it travels to meet you. And maybe, though I’m due to reread it I suspect, the Beat Gen bible is a book that if nothing else re-iterates what everyone I know who’s ever traveled demonstrates when they come home, even if they don’t realise it consciously – you won’t exactly find yourself somewhere out on the road, the road might help you see what you’ve already got inside you. Facing that is the real work of discovery.
Ol’ JK there is really following the urge to do more than escape, but peel back his immediate context to get to something deeper. Something gnawing at him. A particular act of travel that most gets to the human heart of it, perhaps. A type of expedition rooted in ancient traditions the world over which you might imagine has been lost by modernity. Pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage sort of combines a funny human need, that won’t go away, for ritual and repetition with the need to live a shared idea as a personal experience for ourselves. Walk through it, feel it. But combined also with the even more basic desire to get outside and connect with terrain, pathway and journey. Pilgrimage can make some powerful emotional connections in us. Partly because it is a stepping out of the usual flow of our lives for symbolic purpose, pausing the normal. And you bet we find ourselves trying to pull a sense of it into all sorts of modern experiences. You at Burning Man. Me at the Zeppelin Museum. Or Hansa Studios. Your dad at Lords. Half the Southern Hemisphere thinking of Old Trafford.
And I think this is very interesting, especially thinking about travel in the context of researching the state of the current human planet for Unsee The Future. Because if there’s one thing I’ve been gently surprised at coming home to me so strongly from this coalescing picture in my mind, it’s the clarity with which I’ve come to see kinetic learning. Habits. Physical repetitions to change your synapses. Using your body to reform your brain, and so your perspective and feelings. By doing stuff, not just thinking about stuff. We are simply wired to do this – and modernity has turned this basic truth of us into a revelation, apparently.
The Hajj is just one big ritual pilgrimage, still going very strong, from centuries before modernity. Something you could do every year as a muslim, but which a person of this faith is called to attempt at least once – to go back to the symbolic source of the cultural voice of Islam, Mecca, the holiest city, and more specifically to the House of God, the Kaaba. I’d be interested to chat with folk returning from their first one, to hear how it felt for them. I can only try to imagine that were I to feel the roots of the Islamic story grown through my own life, a sense of myself or of something beyond me so connected to the sounds, tastes, rhythms and scents of the middle of the world, that I might take for granted in parts of my normal life as a muslim, wherever I lived… yeah, I can only imagine the effect it might have on me taking this trip for the first time. Seeing it all reflected back to me. Because, maybe above all, the Hajj is a physical statement of solidarity.
Talking about the history of skiffle and folk and rock & roll and how punk followed what these records and bands started in modern British culture, Billy Bragg said this: “It wasn’t The Clash, it was the crowd.” Back in the day, the late seventies and early 80s, as a young singer songwriter in new times of tough social calls and challenges, reflected with fresh energy in so much music of those times in the UK, the heartfelt desire to see such a symbolic band for him live for the first time, delivered to him, in the end he says, a visceral experience that wasn’t really about the band. It was being in a space packed with people there for the same reason, the same heart, as you.
A crowd can give you a strong private sense of how much you belong or not, to your context, your traditions, your identity, your politics. Which means, you should probably go find a few and stand still in the middle of them, to see what comes to find you from each.
“For the first time, I felt I belonged” Patrick Colucci tells George Pierpoint in a BBC article. Because Patrick was at Woodstock – fifty years ago this summer. A big music festival that has come to symbolise the true emergence of the counterculture of the late sixties, of which On The Road was a mere starting gun, twelve years before. ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49276979 )
At 19, Jim Shelley felt like he didn’t fit in with a more conservative America but finding himself also on that overwhelmed farm in Bethel in the summer of ‘69, he recalls: “I remember looking around at the crowds of people like me and thinking, ‘Look how many of us there are’.”
Look how many of us there are. Half a century ago.
It was a life-affirming experience, rather than life-changing, Jim says: “”My wife and I cared about the environment so we used recyclable nappies when our children were born. She was the only woman on the maternity ward to breastfeed. I was the only man to be in the delivery room. We wanted to do things differently, and we did. Woodstock didn’t teach me those ideals but it made me confident they were legitimate.”
In a way then, it’s the journey not the destination that is the real lesson of any pilgrimage. Every festival, every journey of faith, every adventure, is about surviving the flies, loos, crowds, hunger, blisters, boredom, scammers, weather, lostness and the smell of rotting hay to recognise what’s magical in your life. What’s possible.
Greta Thunberg is on a kind of pilgrimage across the Atlantic right now, as I sit here pondering. But not to New York, to the possible more inclusively sustainable future. The more hopeful human tomorrow.
Artist, writer and performer and great art mate Hazel Evans undertook her own pilgrimage in 2015, deciding to pause other work for forty days to walk the Camino de Santiago. A route of pilgrimage in various ways over the centuries that she used as a path symbolic of an inner landscape.
“Pilgrimage. It’s a surrender to the route and the discipline” she told me. “A surrender to the path. The unknown path and what it may or may not bring. A letting go and facing of fears. Then at the end, a celebration of achievement and acknowledgement of how far I have come as well as a deep gratitude for the landscape and all the landscapes that have supported me on my way and the people who I have met along the way.”
And her motivation was more than just storytelling.
“For me, I wanted to face walking alone as a woman. My biggest fears of walking through the woods alone, sometimes stopping in the face of all the fears rising up inside myself and choose to keep making those steps. Sometimes, other times, the route and the body carry my spirit so obviously, it is not even me doing the walking anymore.”
“As I see it reflected in me years after,” she adds, “the pilgrimage keeps growing inside of me. Teaching me courage, making me a stronger being. The path let me be free to explore and feel and clear parts of myself that, when coming back into everyday life, I was lighter, more free to feel more truth of myself.” ( https://www.hazelevans.co.uk/40-pages-of-pilgrimage#1 )
Everyone, she says, should do a pilgrimage.
Which makes me think of another family member. One who felt drawn to a kind of pilgrimage at the dawn of her adult life – setting it up right, perhaps, by faithfully setting out to map the world a bit. And so maybe her life’s mission. At nineteen, Tara Geoghegan decided that she: “Wanted to find out about the issues that effect our world but see the issues first hand”. And so she devised 12months12issues.com ( https://www.12months12issues.com/blog-1 ) – a plan to turn her gap year into a tour of the world’s big challenges as a kind of template. Using the UN’s SDGs as her frame of reference. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised that the other had heard of the Global Goals, my niece or me. But it’s lead to some fascinating insights from her experiences – and a year after first leaving, she’s already seen the real challenges of the human planet better than her uncle and aunt have with three decades head start on her.
From looking at climate change and life on land in the Peruvian Amazon, to gender equality, reduced inequalities and sustainable cities and communities in Bangladesh, it was a crash course in Planet Earth today. Refugee support in Greece, education work in Cambodia, sustainable fashion research in Australia… Tara returned from working with people in some extreme circumstances, poverties and prejudices, all in the context of a heightened sense of where economic culture meets the climate crisis. All neatly filtering an understanding of it through the Sustainable Development Goals. It was a field BTEC in Unsee The Future, is what it was. Telling me it’s high time I really left my shed.
Tara has decided to lock down some background understanding with a degree in International Development & Media but how does she feel about it now?
“One of the biggest things that I learnt whilst doing these projects, that may seem obvious, is that volunteering really isn’t about swooping in and trying to make change” she told me. “It’s really about finding out how a community wants to improve their lives and giving them the tools and knowledge to achieve that. I think that’s the thing I found hard about the nature of my project. I stayed no longer than three months in each place so it was hard to tell whether I had helped at all, but really the biggest changes probably happened after I left.”
She explained she really didn’t want to do a year of “voluntourism” but wanted to work with a range of projects to piece together more of an overview, keeping sustainability in mind. And I wonder whether her Planet-saving 101 lesson was the word compromise. There’s no way to do this and get everything right.
“Even though I was doing charity work on my project, I dealt with a little bit of judgement for taking a lot of plane travel” she said. “I took coaches and trains when I could, but the reality is, you can’t do it all and I do think it’s unfair to judge people on this.”
Even when you’re wide awake, trying to help, trying to learn, it’s impossible not to be part of the problem. But then she said something that encapsulates why there’s no meaningful substitute for walking the real, physical miles and going somewhere.
“The trip also made me pose the question about poverty. I remember the ten-hour drive to our village in Bangladesh. On the way I was shocked at the constant ten hours of poverty I saw, and I felt sorry for literally anyone I saw. But then on the same journey after living in the country for three months I saw it completely differently. Instead I saw food stalls and shops selling many things like we have at home, they just looked different to ours. It made me question whether we have too much, not why they have so little.”
No one comes back from a pilgrimage unchanged.
“I’ve been back for nearly four months now and I can honestly say that I still don’t feel adjusted back and I don’t really think I ever will” Tara admits. “I can’t unsee anything that I have seen this year, nor do I want to. I definitely can’t walk away from it after seeing what I’ve seen. These global goals aren’t just news stories or statistics now, they are my friends and they are real people.”
Some difficult things you don’t quite want to unsee. Because they’ve changed your perspective meaningfully. Compared with this, FaceTime can feel like just another part of the global YouTube collage.
There’s something in the, I dunno, tone of pilgrimage that resonates a bit with the way I think future travel could be approached by millions more of us in the climate crisis years. Choosing where we go and how we go with the mindset much more of pilgrims than consumers.
I think it’s been happening for a while, unrealistic as it sounds now, already bubbling under as part of the angsts of our times. Our searchings, if you like. None of which has to be stuffy or worthy or lacking fun – it’s travel, for goodness’ sake – but planning a trip with that attitude would run deeper into you as a traveler, undoubtedly. If you could do it.
What about the idea of tourism for sustainability? UNWorldTourism.org thinks tourism is essential to meeting the SDGs! Apparently. Or what about the idea of tourism as peacemaking.
As Anita Mendiratta, International Institute of Peace Through Tourism Ambassador says: “It is through our differences that we learn compassion, we learn understanding, we learn respect. This applies to not only how we see and accept responsibility for our engagement with other people. It is also about how we engage with the environment around us, living harmoniously with Mother Nature. Powerfully, to travel is to also learn about oneself. It is through tourism that all of these prisms of life are brought to life, creating connection. That connection creates harmony, which in turn, at scale, creates peace.” ( https://peacetourism.org/anita-mendiratta-iipt/ )
The IIPT was founded in 1986 and claims to have introduced the idea of sustainable tourism at its first global conference a couple of years later, producing the world’s first codes of ethics and guidelines for sustainable tourism in 1992. As Passion For Fresh Ideas puts it, it’s an organisation that promotes: “The mission of encouraging every traveler to be an ambassador for peace”. ( https://passionforfreshideas.com/ethical-living/journey-peaceful-sustainable-travel/ )
The problem is, you might say, the disturbances from the climate crisis, caused significantly by our globalised expectations of how we move around the planet, are not going to help world peace.
So here is where I think richer twenty-first century travel expectations could take shape in our imaginations.
As Unsee The Future thinkers, you and me, when we spin the globe, we can look at it understanding a bigger sense of the connectedness of it all now – how climate, economic cultures of consumption, human habit, physical and mental unwellness and addiction, poverty, failing democratic models, mountains of waste, corruption and cycles of violence, the extractivist burn-it-once fossil fuel powering it all… how every part is really just a different symptom of a stuck, industrialised human planet belief system. And that’s the place to start your journey from, psychologically. Nothing is disconnected. Everything we did before, lead us to here. Our cultural habits always have consequences.
So many of our models of transport are based on the culture of convenience. Of speed.
What if we started traveling with a stronger culture of consciousness? Of slowerness? Awakeness to the land and its people we want to cross to get somewhere else?
It just won’t fit the current model, will it? The fact that you have to cram in getting to somewhere like your schedule is really banking on you being able to teleport everywhere. Rushing. And so getting stuck. Driving like a nutter because, guess what, modern life has gifted you with the constant concept of “lateness”. Jumping on a plane because you’re needed in Geneva that evening. Cramming the numbers to make the cost of lift add up. Eating crap in plastic on the go, because what else is available and you need a caffeine sugar hit to stay on it. Blue light in your eyes between stressing over lost networks.
It’s all about factories, that thinking – models of manufacturing. With factory-like outputs – conformed expectations. As much in your personal wellbeing as the communities and life systems of the world.
What if our whole expectation of time had to change in the coming years? Partly thanks to automation. What if the four-day week became a thing, as so often spoken of now. ( https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/work/four-day-week-benefits/ ) What if more businesses started banking on the idea that their people need fuller lives to be more emotionally fit to do their work? What if you only worked nine months a year? ( https://www.wired.co.uk/article/four-day-working-week )
Hold on to your middle class guilt or your working class anger at this. Right now, millions of us are spending on desperate bids to find some escape – quick breaks to come up for air somewhere else. Whole industries rely on us finding the spending to do this. As more of us fall below the poverty line under the the current failing system, holding down multiple jobs to try to make the modern basic costs of living add up, we simply have to be envisioning future ways of getting around this economic fail. Changing the system. And part of that fail includes the fallout of the climate crisis, built on our economic expectations of how fast we can get anywhere.
In that context, by contrast, how much does this completely different perspective seem like a breath of fresh air?
Learning to solarpunk your whole perspective on the world, by getting to know an underground network of profoundly different economies of travel? Ideas that will at first sound daft to you. But in coming years, may turn out to be a whole new adventure for us – as part of a much more emotionally connected life.
Like learning about freighter ports, perhaps, and taking a very slow trip across the oceans once or twice? Or how about taking it further, by rag and stick – crewing your way across an ocean on sailboat? Grab your Greta bucket and get into the swell, getting to know how to find work at different ports to piece together your travel.
Or car-pooling communities across the globe. Using digital groups to find a trustworthy shared ride. Obviously getting to know train routes overland.
Then just how good is your bike and just how far could you go on it? Or on an e-bike?
Go Mad Nomad outlines some of this nicely ( https://gomadnomad.com/2011/04/04/going-jet-freealternatives-to-flying/ ). And Climate Perks is an initiative to help employers give travel days extra to their staff to encourage being able to do this, ( https://www.climateperks.com/ ) aiming to help: “kickstart a movement for clean travel.”
The project attempts to tap into a sense of growing appetite for responding more consciously to the climate crisis that seems coupled, however, with inertia. “We found that 50% of people are ready to reduce the amount they fly in response to climate change – but only 3% of us do” they claim. “There’s a key barrier: time.”
“Climate Perks works with climate-conscious employers to offer paid ‘journey days’ to staff who travel on holiday by train, coach or boat instead of flying – empowering them to act on their values.”
It’s really no more than a badge scheme for businesses. Not unlike Flight Free 2020 is for the individual – a pledge not to fly all that year to build an awareness campaign. To badge your behaviours with specific purpose. ( https://www.flightfree.co.uk/ ) Because a badge is an identifier and, really, a story signal – and so a potential plot twist trigger for all characters affected. A values device, to help everyone think differently about travel and wellbeing.
(Wait. ..Write that down: Story Signal, definitely. ..Yeah, okay, and Values Device…)
It’s a tough call. Still, with wildfires across the Amazon and in the Arctic, with Iceland leaving a letter to the future as a memorial plaque to its first fully lost glacier, saying: “Soz, everyone, eh”, ( https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/07/23/iceland-glacier-memorial-glacier-lost-climate-change/1805232001/ ) and with the hottest years on record all adding up during our most recent years, costing an estimated $14B in the US alone in 2018, according to its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ( https://www.noaa.gov/news/2018-was-4th-hottest-year-on-record-for-globe )… for all this and an incomprehensible twister season of frightening global climate new stories, we are currently still doing almost nothing to change our lifestyles. Of the merely 100,000 people Flight Free 2020 is hoping to recruit, its pledge tally as I check it here is still less than three thousand. And even I am still hovering over whether to commit, with all that I’ve researched. I guess, in case something really cool comes up for me to fly to, yeah?
An additional problem in our populist times is that it all sounds like a meaningless media bandwagon to lots of us. An actual bandwagon would be a much more meaningfully sustainable way to travel, and way more fun, I suspect. There’s a powerful sense of “limousine liberals telling us how to live” as just one tweet put it about the duke and duchess of Cornwall jumping on private jets while talking about the environment. Doesn’t matter what else might be tangled up in criticism of such a high profile couple, it sounds like a simple equation of hypocrisy to plenty of people feeling growing pressures about lifestyles. The rich and famous don’t know how to stop being exclusive globetrotters, right?
The real problem there is, all of us will be signing up to hypocrisy if we dare attempt anything public. That’s now adding to our inertia, isn’t it? Many of us don’t want to be seen to be too virtuous, especially if we know we’ll muck it up; social media is a merciless maelstrom of righteous anger. And as just as one example of how we’ll definitely muck up our virtuous clean travel ambitions, if more of us are going to have to take more holidays across land and sea instead of by air, is the main alternative waiting to take the travel strain, rail travel, really so much greener, as the carbon trackers all claim?
As Amit Katwala says for Wired, ( https://www.wired.co.uk/article/trains-planes-emissions-co2-comparison ) train travel isn’t a simple green equation. The occupancy level of each carriage and the sourcing of the energy to power the locomotive all makes a difference, if you’re being picky on offsetting. “More than half of the emissions related to rail come from infrastructure activities such as building stations, laying tracks, lighting stations and powering escalators,” Katwala says. “Of course, that’s not enough to bring train emissions close to those of passenger flights, but it’s something to bear in mind when high-speed rail is touted as a greener alternative. If the routes don’t already exist, there will be a carbon cost to building them.”
And as Michael Segalov puts it in a Guardian article, we’re incentivised to do the much dirtier and easier route when we travel, which means if we’re going to switch to rail more often, we’re going to need help to do it. ( https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/02/travel-more-sustainably-train-plane?CMP=fb_gu&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0hixmD-8lLQwEjqOUQYCTbAYUOlp5Pnt-oKrYYFQA1igyt9vRIxxKBa-g#Echobox=1564734431 )
“Money is limited for almost everybody – and the pressure to work to earn that money means that your time is limited, too. Consequently, the desire to save the world from self-destruction isn’t always enough for us to make the most ethical decision. That’s why the burden has to be shared.”
For so long as states don’t intervene with a more balanced tax and subsidy structure for rail over flight and fossil road vehicles, suspending flying will continue to sound mostly like insufferable virtue signalling from joyless lefties in an age where any truly effective shift in CO2 vomitting won’t be at the lifestyle level but at the corporate global industrial policy level.
Which I think begs the increasingly pressing question: How do we change that? Politics and business? How do we influence that, if not with concerted attempts at shared behaviour changes. The sheer numbers of us lot? Signalling patterns of shift in consumer behaviour?
I think this might be how we reach peak old travel – at least in the established travelling nations. We might not right now, but I suspect we’re increasingly going to want to do it differently. I think you are.
Everyone knows commuting sucks, but as the technology and will to implement Mobility as a Service takes hold in all sorts of ways, we’re going to be doing ever more work on the go, not in central offices. Maeve Keane writing for Wired quotes research from Regus in the UK that found: “50 per cent of workers now report that they work outside the main office at least 2.5 days a week”. Flexibility that, she says: “has potential health advantages, especially for those who can reduce the amount of time spent commuting or eliminate it altogether. The Office for National Statistics reports that feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that one’s activities are worthwhile decrease with every successive minute of commuting.” ( https://www.wired.co.uk/article/future-commuting-london-underground-travel-sleep-predictions )
What this might mean, ironically, is more time spent traveling. Taking longer routes to get places to feel less rushed and maybe do more work on the way. While with old infrastructure this will seem less environmental, it might feed a crucial change factor – mindset. A whole new expectation of how time, work and travel fit together. In the end, will we all be digital nomads? And how might this effect our behaviours?
I think there’s just no hiding from massive infrastructure projects across the human planet; they’re taking shape as we speak. But it may be that while China can scattergun centralised spending on just about every conceivable kind of getting about and technical connectivity imaginable, as it shoots still for the heights of modernist ambitions, ageing western nations might begin to get themselves unstuck by focussing on the most efficient combinations of smart thinking – cheaper, smarter tunnel building, maglev high speed rail and the implications of electric vehicles.
A key bump up in this regard would simply be better battery tech. And if what the Irish Times reports is correct, we should feel encouraged.
“In a highly significant breakthrough, scientists at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, and Nokia Bell Labs have found an inexpensive way to make batteries more compact, scalable for industry, quicker to charge and with 250 per cent more energy density than any other battery on the market.”
Valeria Nicolosi, professor of nanomaterials and advanced microscopy at Trinity College, combined her expertise with Jonathan Coleman, professor of chemical physics at the same university, working with Paul King from Nokia Bell Labs to tune up the efficiency of current battery architecture with carbon nanotubes, to make a more complex particle structure for energy storage than using the normal carbon material of current batteries. ( https://www.irishtimes.com/business/innovation/irish-battery-breakthrough-could-help-save-the-planet-1.3930722?fbclid=IwAR1YF1FsIUnvmvopsyaCCgiKw7kzflqQrvX0PACkCtkTAU7A6crw4npw3-0 )
The implications? It’s a bit neat and tidy, but too much so not to quote here. Professor Coleman told the paper: “Tesla has a branch that is looking at battery-powered aeroplanes. Their founder, Elon Musk, says that large battery-powered aircraft could become feasible once the batteries can store 400 watts per hour. Our technology is at 480 watts.”
There is a long way to go on that one. But it illustrates the point: There’s all to play for in technical fields across the planet in our travel-powering energy needs, and people are playing hard for it.
It’s just, as with all aspects of sustainability, we’re not going to ultimately build our way out of a built problem. It’s a new mindset we’ll need to drive new technology towards healthier human planet habits. And I can’t help feeling there’s one bit of technology that might embody this attitude beautifully. The crossover outlook between technology and environment. One I’ll bet you’re surprised I’ve not mentioned yet.
Airships. Eighty years ago, they burned through their progressive seeming economic worth, superseded by the jet aeroplane. Seems inconceivable that they couldn’t form a very savvy climate crisis culture response to ocean crossing and many other things now, no?
Once you’ve culturally factored in the idea of taking days not hours to get somewhere, an equivalent of the Graf Zeppelin taking just three days to get to New York from Germany will seem like efficiency compared to five or six days at sea. And that airship will be able to deliver that power electrically much sooner than something the size of a liner yet can.
Plus – AIRSHIP TRAVEL, BABY. Who’s not going to want to do that?
Which is why Mac Byers’ Luxury cruise airship concept Aether just seems so saucy. ( https://www.beautifullife.info/automotive-design/luxury-cruise-airship-aether-concept-by-mac-byers/ ) “The concept visually communicates a new generation airship that is not only safe but clean, influenced by the Thunderbird 2, Star Wars and the NASA space shuttle.” Which, okay, all sounds as silly as fantastic. Go look up the CG of it on the blog – it’s splendid. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LKgtdNFi-g )
The challenge might well be that it’ll all be treated as exclusive and expensive by operators investing to reboot a whole technical industry here. But it strikes me that, in principle, cruiseship businesses and airlines could be combining their muscle, experience and climate guilt into a new normal for big numbers of their customers with airship services.
The more immediate challenge is simply that very few seem seriously interested enough yet. One of the most viable new designs is HAV’s Airlander 10, for which Design Q have done a splendid concept of the gondola cabin for. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGTEVWIefYM ) And Hybrid Air Vehicles have test flown the craft successfully and have a very conscious view of its place in the future – “Rethink sustainability, rethink capability, rethink the journey…” They want us to rethink the skies. ( https://www.hybridairvehicles.com/ )
The Airlander 10 is also a prototype for the 50, tilting at the same heavy lifting hopes of a project like the Aeroscraft. Which is a bit of a silver monster, but which I don’t think has clocked up even as many air miles as the Airlander yet. ( http://aeroscraft.com/company/4575610685 )
There may be good intent in such big engineering schemes, but in reality changes will have to happen with technology we already have to hand. The impending explosion of the electric vehicle market is going to bring a lot of transitional benefits, I’d say, perhaps most especially in mindset for ordinary us lot – as we explored in EP25 of Unsee The Future. But ultimately, automation – selling miles not cars – and a significantly switched-up view of connected transportation from governments will have to combine to ween us off car ownership and use in the numbers we’ve been unthinkingly used to – if we want to get serious about living with more sustainable travel, especially at polluted, congested, stressful ground level. It all starts with where you live. Something echoed by a recent Science and Technology Select Committee report from MPs here in the UK – we’ve got to invest more in public transport. Because I think people increasingly want it, and this has to be the job of visionary government with a sense of social contract, not simply disconnected start-ups. ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49425402 ) So, more heartening to many good greenies will be a signal like that from Luxembourg – becoming the first country to make all public transit free. ( https://www.archdaily.com/908252/luxembourg-becomes-first-country-to-make-all-public-transit-free?fbclid=IwAR0WF9nVIEy8lGvTWGq5VSq2imi1S36HsbyxPOoqKn3Uqr48rV7s3af9Nno ) “The newly re-elected prime minister Xavier Bettel and the coalition government have announced that they will lift all fares on trains, trams and buses next summer. Taking aim at long commutes and the country’s carbon footprint, the new move hopes to alleviate some of the worst traffic congestion in the world” as Arch Daily reports.
Having had to park a long way from where I’ve stayed in the topographically challenging city state, I can picture how helpful this will seem to visitors, but also how challenging to locals’ commuting habits.
But if I’ve heard one story of a brand putting its logistics where its mouth is that’s really put some wind in my sails, it’s that of cosmetics company Lush. Because its begun trials of shipping ingredients for its products to its head offices in Poole under sail. Yep. By sailing ship.
( https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/17751724.lush-brings-goods-poole-sailing-ship/ )
As a local newspaper mate of mine Darren Slade reported in the Bournemouth Echo: “ Senior buyer Agnes Gendry said: “It’s not a PR or a marketing exercise. We are trialling it to see how we can expand this. Can we do more shipping every year on this type of boat? What goods can we put on board that work for us?””
The SV Gallant took a four day trip from Portugal with a couple of other stops, after Lush made contact New Dawn Traders, which co-created the Sail Cargo Alliance to transport ethical goods by sailing ship. And having walked down a gangplank from a sailing ship on Poole Quay, exploring the history of the town’s maritime heritage with Valise Noire Storytelling’s beautiful Cargo project, I can say as an almost local, this idea resonates. It’s history coming alive again. Which makes me even happier in the shower, lathering up m’locks with their shampoo bar. Call me a soap signaller all you like, mate, you can’t deny how nice my hair smells.
Travel like this, for trade or pleasure, doesn’t fit the nine-to-five model. But the nine-to-five model doesn’t fit the planet, not for ten billion of us. Nor does it properly fit the human. Which may be the real source of all our anxieties and emotional unwellnesses in the modern age – we don’t function well in this prolonged schedule of work-life. Hacking your whole perspective on the speed your planet really wants you to see it at could change everything, absolutely everything, about your life. And maybe one day it will mine.
After all, as a Cornel Study found a few years ago, doing makes you happier than owning. ( http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2014/09/doing-makes-you-happier-owning-even-buying ) “To get the most enjoyment out of your dollar, science says to focus your discretionary spending on such experiences as travel rather than material goods” they say.
Jonathan Foley makes this observation: “None of us want to be the first people in history to knowingly imperil their children’s future.” So what is limiting us to change?
As an environmental scientist, he says simply: “I think the thing that’s most limiting us from building a better world is culture.”
“Culture matters” he says. “It did for other challenges we faced, including reducing rates of smoking and associated illness, cutting incidents of drinking and driving, legalizing gay marriage, and achieving broader civil rights. While scientific studies, technological innovation, policy change, and widespread education were all crucial in these battles, it was cultural change and acceptance that really helped them reach a tipping point.” ( https://globalecoguy.org/whats-limiting-us-a049cbf16306 )
New ways of seeing, mate. New stories. Art, rolling up its sleeves in the disaster efforts.
Speaking with a couple of scientists lately, I wonder if there is in the strict principles of scientific research a kind of incredulity that builds up as you do it, that the peer-reviewed, verifiably objective data from whatever aspect of the human planet you’re currently analysing isn’t received as truth from on high. Science has never been more human, more exciting, more connected, more shared and more relatable, even as it gets truly weird in some fields, and the humans practising it have never been more like the rest of us. They know the emotional score – but looking up from the workbench, eyes full of deep study, I think it could be easy to forget the fact that data is always human. It always carries and releases emotion. Of course we don’t simply respond to facts and change accordingly. Of course. We’re always in an emotional context far richer than facts.
Art is an emotional translator.
As poet David Whyte said: “When you’re talking about a subject with a room full of engineers, at Bell Labs or something, usually if you try to talk about very precious experiences, the more you talk about them, the more they go away. But with poetry, which is not about an experience but is the experience itself, you can create that experience in the room.”
One of the best calls to change my behaviours I’ve experienced in recent years is oddly more profound than any health campaign or holiday company ad could ever match. Banff Mountain Film Festival. It’s a curation of short films about getting outside, essentially – all in the spirit of the arts festival that took root in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies and now travels the world each year. And sitting through a screening of all these testimonies to being actively engaged with the geographic character of Earth inspires you to want to leave the theatre and go feel the wind and rain and snow and sun on your skin, and to just climb a mountain so you can ski back down it. You could use these films as background eye candy in an outdoor sports outlet, maybe, but sitting in front of them thoughtfully and listening to all these people’s testimonies of connecting with life outside? I tell you. It’s really a call to feel a lot more alive.
In the light of our travel crisis, I wonder if there may be two nested levels of principle looking forward. We can’t paint a purely reductionist picture of the total future – to say: “less, forever” just won’t compute for motivating, I think. But if we more honestly say: “Less, for now – for the sake of forever” perhaps my generation can find our flinty purpose. We’ve had our life of flights and consumption. It’s time we paid back and took the hit.
I can’t yet work out how to say I will never visit Australian friends again. Or Canadian. American. Never see India. Never see Japan. And, y’know, never say never. But the big question must always be: What’s it worth?
To just be functioning about it, a next step might simply be, for me, to say a practical never to jet flying within Europe again – where I most like to play. But perhaps one flight return every two years for everything else? Sounds more like it to me, and even then – always ask why.
Yes, let’s get real about carbon dioxide costs. This is the episode to begin it – if cars get you thinking about the energy it takes to run your life, travel can get you thinking about the CO2 it takes to move your life. But as environmentalist Stuart Lane said to me: “It’s not all about carbon.” We could get obsessed over the mathematical certainty of chasing that one metric and find ourselves bought by the very economic system we’re trying to evolve. Carbon offsetting is the smallest of beginnings for those of us who’ve been brought up to never ever have thought about that particular cost before. It’s no kind of end in itself.
I found a practical perspective from the former ethical tourism charity Tourism Concern: “So should we fly? Yes, but we need to fly less, stay longer and ensure our holidays are as good for the places we visit as they are for us. If we are going to use a years’ worth of carbon in one flight we must make sure that our holiday brings real benefits to the destination community.” ( https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/campaign/should-you-fly/ )
We’re not going to stop exploring. It’s still my heartfelt contention that we need inspiration more than we need technical fixes, but we’ll need both. Expressed across every end of the scale – from the choices you make on lastminute.com to being able to look up at the stars and see a future there. It’s why we still arguably need the frontier science of space work.
As PhD students such as Hannah Sergeant work on ways to make human life on the moon a returning possibility, developing chemical ways to make water on the surface and grow plants in habs, she herself says with certainty: “I feel like my generation are definitely going to see this through. I’m confident that it will happen in my lifetime”. ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/nkzysaP3pB/to-the-moon-and-beyond )
And it’s that kind of frontier determination we will need to crack previously unsolved problems in our travel ambitions. But you just know it’s not simply the scientific coalface riddles to crack that lead her and a new generation like her to look up at the sky and want to make a living there. It was the dream of humans going beyond their current cultural and technical limitations. It’s in our blood. Our job, as we explore this current unprecedented convergence of crises in the time we are in, is to dare to challenged unchallenged ideas all around us, like a time of revolution. So that our frontier work doesn’t become only a desperate bid to resettle a lost tribe of nomads.
I think it’s worth remembering, when all seems immoveable around us and we wonder if we can ever leave our comfortable settlement homes. Humans were nomads for thousands of years before they put down roots. We were roaming the Earth in much closer relationship with her millennia before we learned how to survive a fall from a cliff jump.
We’re just where we’ve always been. On a journey. Together and individually. And I know, in this fearsome pilgrimage, I for one feel very unfit to find a promised land. In the search, I’ve not arrived yet. But hopefully, even if I’m a limping future pilgrim, I’m getting there.
Perhaps, if we can all learn how to stand still, wherever we are, we can begin to allow an as yet undiscovered country to find us.