Side-thread for discussing relative climate change contributions of travel by train, plane, automobile, bike, feet. May 7, 2009 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Side-thread for discussing relative climate change contributions of travel by train, plane, automobile, bike, feet.
posted by maryrosecook to MetaFilter-Related at 3:23 AM (61 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

My feet get 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I like it!
posted by zachlipton at 3:30 AM on May 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


For some context, this is apparently a branch-off from this AskMe: 'London to Berlin by train - what is the fastest/cheapest route?'.
posted by chrismear at 3:31 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks @chrismear - I forgot to post a link back to the original thread.
posted by maryrosecook at 3:34 AM on May 7, 2009


Oh, and here's a good answer for the walking question raised in that thread.
I heard that the energy footprint of food is so big that "it's better to drive than to walk."

Whether this is true depends on your diet. It's certainly possible to find food whose fossil-fuel energy footprint is bigger than the energy delivered to the human. A bag of crisps, for example, has an embodied energy of 1.4 kWh of fossil fuel per kWh of chemical energy eaten. The embodied energy of meat is higher. According to a study from the University of Exeter, the typical diet has an embodied energy of roughly 6 kWh per kWh eaten. To figure out whether driving a car or walking uses less energy, we need to know the transport efficiency of each mode. For the typical car of Chapter 3, the energy cost was 80 kWh per 100 km. Walking uses a net energy of 3.6 kWh per 100 km - 22 times less. So if you live entirely on food whose footprint is greater than 22 kWh per kWh then, yes, the energy cost of getting you from A to B in a fossil-fuel-powered vehicle is less than if you go under your own steam. But if you have a typical diet (6 kWh per kWh) then "it's better to drive than to walk" is a myth. Walking uses one quarter as much energy.
From David MacKay's excellent free-to-download book, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air.
posted by chrismear at 3:36 AM on May 7, 2009 [10 favorites]


zachlipton: "My feet get 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I like it!"

If you move to advanced lacing techniques you can lower your wind resistance and get 42... 43 rods easy.
posted by Science! at 3:37 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ok but if I drank a hogshead of wine, I doubt I'd be able to handle such an advanced lacing pattern.
posted by zachlipton at 3:46 AM on May 7, 2009


Does foot-odor impact climate change?
posted by From Bklyn at 3:49 AM on May 7, 2009


You know, this is an interesting thing that I've been meaning to research. Sparked by an endless traffic jam caused by a highly congested light rail line. I wondered as I sat there idling with the other 100 or so cars, "can this really be more fuel efficient?"

I have no doubt that for the time passengers are on the trains, they are more efficient. But what about all the ancillary effects? Every train, which runs every half hour for most of the day, causes a traffic jam at every crossing. Then you add in the fuel the riders use driving to and from the train, and the fuel the trains use when they are empty, and the energy to lay and maintain the tracks. How could that possibly be more efficient than just getting in the car?
posted by gjc at 4:06 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


How could that possibly be more efficient than just getting in the car?

It's only because we often fail to see the 'automobile system' that we think the costs are so low. Every car has to be made, maintained, and replaced after a few years. Roads have to be laid to every location you want to drive, and likewise maintained and replaced. Then there are the knock-on effects of greater local pollution, greater CO2 contribution, deaths on the road, and the ill-effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It all adds up.
posted by Sova at 4:24 AM on May 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


The "climate change contribution" for a particular individual is basically just the amount of energy they use to get from A to B. Capital costs are assumed to be amortized. Therefore the ranking is:

bike
feet
train
plane
automobile

(items 3 and 4 may possibly be interchanged.)

[thread is now closed]
posted by DU at 4:25 AM on May 7, 2009


Also, the ancilliary effects are more an effect of the way the system is designed rather than an inherent inefficiency of trains. it is always most efficient to design rail without level crossings, just as it is for highways. It is always more efficient to take some form of mass commuting to the train station, rather than a car. The system doesn't have to be the way you describe gjc.
posted by Catfry at 4:27 AM on May 7, 2009


The problem is that more people aren't using the trains! Fewer people on the road, fewer jams. Fewer empty train cars. More train use means more train support, meaning more reliable trains (see Japan for an example of a nation where reliance on trains leads to reliable trains). Then, of course, people want to live near the trains, so you don't drive to and from the train, but walk.
posted by explosion at 4:27 AM on May 7, 2009


Also, trains can be INSANELY more efficent than planes or cars. With the caveat that the energy requirement of a train, like everything else, rises logharitmically with speed due to friction, and there exists a wide variety of trainspeed. A 350 km/h electric train with average load factors of perhaps 60% will probably not be more efficent than a bus, but definitely still more than a car while being faster.
posted by Catfry at 4:35 AM on May 7, 2009


Also, the ancilliary effects are more an effect of the way the system is designed rather than an inherent inefficiency of trains. it is always most efficient to design rail without level crossings, just as it is for highways. It is always more efficient to take some form of mass commuting to the train station, rather than a car. The system doesn't have to be the way you describe gjc.

Also, cars can be (and some are) made to shut off their engines if they're stopped for more than a few seconds.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:39 AM on May 7, 2009


Of course, the theory that you taking the train rather than the plane will damage the environment less depends not just on the relative emissions outputs discussed here, but on various market-indicator factors. Will your actions increase the chances, in however microscopic a way, of Easyjet reducing the number of routes it runs from the UK to Germany? Etc.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:59 AM on May 7, 2009


Oh man, this is one of those times where the occasional MeFi inclination towards edgy contrarianism is just so boring.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bloom/actions/europeanholiday.shtml

http://www.seat61.com/CO2flights.htm

http://www.celsias.com/article/trains-vs-planes-in-the-emissions-reduction-race/

If someone asks how to take a trip from London to Berlin without flying, fucking applaud them for leaving some fuel on the table for the next generation, don't start up with this but-why-shouldn't-the-perfect-be-the-enemy-of-the-good nonsense.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:01 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry I didn't make those links live, I was saving energy.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:04 AM on May 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


geez, I'm a human being. of course I'm poison to anything on this planet.

Also, trains can be INSANELY more efficent than planes or cars.
why did you not mention that said train runs on tracks that were built in highly energy inefficient manners? you make it sound like the damn thing runs on thin air. literally.

I care about convenience. I took the subway in NYC because it was more convenient than driving and parking and I took the car in LA because it was the other way around. a train from berlin to london? I did london to cologne by train once and I'll never do it again. (I love LCY now that I've tried it. only LGB comes close to it in convenience.) I prefer doing hamburg-berlin on the ICE train because it's faster and more convenient than the plane but I'd never do the same if I wanted to go to munich or paris, even though CDG is a fucking nightmare.

convenience, not carbon footprint. that's the killer feature. somewhere in there is price as well but they're all close enough to each other for that to have become relatively meaningless.
posted by krautland at 5:10 AM on May 7, 2009


I'm not familiar with the cost of rail track versus highway or airport infrastructure, sorry. On the face of it though , as a one time cost, and subsequent maintenance, this part of the equation seems likely to be of lesser importance than the sustained energy drain from the usage of the respective options.
posted by Catfry at 5:28 AM on May 7, 2009


Actually, a lot of track laying and welding is done from a vehicle that is on the tracks. Without having seen any direct comparisons, I'd estimate that it is probably more efficient than creating car infrastructure, and probably less efficient than plane infrastructure, other than the unmentioned issue that it is in nearly all cases necessary to make use of a few dozen miles worth of either car or train infrastructure in order to take planes.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:36 AM on May 7, 2009


Only slightly related but I have just now seen some very impressive pictures of LA rush hour from the air, and they might do something for people here.

http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=4233720
posted by Catfry at 5:59 AM on May 7, 2009




convenience, not carbon footprint. that's the killer feature.

For you.
posted by chrismear at 6:44 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Catfry: not sure what I'm supposed to take away from that exactly. I mean I think I know what point you're trying to make, but rail yards aren't exactly works of beauty either and anyone who has ever ridden Amtrak knows that trains can get stuck in traffic too. I like trains and transit; I really do. But getting people to use them has to be about more than just dissing cars.
posted by zachlipton at 6:47 AM on May 7, 2009


I wasn't trying to make a point, I just came across this right after writing my comment and trought it was quite amazing. I guess It gives me a sense of the scale of the challenge any transport system has in a megacity.
posted by Catfry at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2009


Hang on. People who drive, don't eat?
posted by MrMustard at 7:21 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess the mods are sleeping in today.
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on May 7, 2009


Motorcycle is the most fun, and therefore wins.
posted by Eideteker at 7:32 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The assumption has to be that you can't go at all if you can't get there within the allowed time (vacation? business trip?) and for a reasonable amount of personal effort. Walking or biking = not going at all for most people, because they have only so much time to get there and back and they have a certain amount of inconvenient stuff (such as fat and babies) to carry.

Assuming (from the question) that trains are fast enough, the options are car, bus, train, and plane. And, of course, hang glider.
posted by pracowity at 7:48 AM on May 7, 2009


L.A. is a great big freeway.

Put a hundred down and buy a car.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2009


I guess the mods are sleeping in today.

Better here than in askme, and as boggling a post as it seems like without context, the second comment in this thread clears it up pretty well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2009


some very impressive pictures of LA rush hour from the air

These photos are stunning, but the really surprising thing is the number of relatively clear surface streets surrounding the freeway in some of the shots. Is surface street connectivity in LA so bad that those streets are unusable for commuters? Or is there some other explanation?
posted by yomimono at 9:01 AM on May 7, 2009


Better here than in askme, and as boggling a post as it seems like without context, the second comment in this thread clears it up pretty well.

I guess my thinking was that meta is for side-discussions on site policy, not side-discussions on whatever people want.
posted by smackfu at 9:02 AM on May 7, 2009


I'm suddenly feeling just a little bit guilty, I take the train everywhere, but it's a personal train, and I have to have new tracks laid and torn up every day.

It's very luxurious, what with the entire thing being made from exotic hardwoods and animal skins, but I think that in the interest of being more ecologically responsible, I'm going to switch over from fueling it with endangered whale blubber to just regular blubber.

It won't run as nice, but damn it, it's for the sake of the planet.
posted by quin at 9:05 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say that that while we don't want metatalk to be the equivalent of metachat, "site policy" in the strict sense is too strict of a constraint on what this place is for. The use of metatalk as a place to redirect a derail from askme to keep the original question from getting sidetracked isn't exactly new. This is pushing to the chattier side of what I feel comfortable with, but it's still in okay territory as far as I'm concerned.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:05 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is surface street connectivity in LA so bad that those streets are unusable for commuters?

yes, particularly if you have to go through the mountains.

the thing about the freeways in LA is, while it's a spectacularly stupid system, when it works, it's very fast. one minute you're cruising along at 70, the next you're at a standstill. it's all about timing.
posted by klanawa at 9:44 AM on May 7, 2009


Hang on. People who drive, don't eat?

Yeah, that's always bothered me about that particular argument too. This theory that walking and biking aren't as energy-neutral as they appear because people eat food OMG! is totally bogus. I feel pretty confident that the suburban fatass driving his car a quarter mile to the 7-11 to pick up a big gulp of Dr. Pepper, a cheeseburger-that-rolls, and a bag of EXTREME KOOL RANCH Doritos is shoving a fuckload more kWh into his face than I am when I bike to the farmer's market.
posted by dersins at 9:48 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am still not clear on how purity is attained.
posted by everichon at 10:54 AM on May 7, 2009


I am still not clear on how purity is attained.

kool ranch doritos?
posted by electroboy at 10:58 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am still not clear on how purity is attained.

Is it...


Ghostbusters 2?
posted by Mister_A at 11:19 AM on May 7, 2009


This theory that walking and biking aren't as energy-neutral as they appear because people eat food OMG! is totally bogus.

The combustion engine is ridiculously inefficient, compared with a bicycle's drivetrain -- about 20% to roughly 99%. That doesn't even begin to look at the waste of energy in a single passenger driver who uses said engine to move a ton or more of metal containing mostly empty space. The driver's weight is almost inconsequential.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2009


I am still not clear on how purity is attained.

Drink three or more liters of water. Pee into a urinal. Pour the collected urine through a strainer and distill. Drink 2.8 liters of water... Rinse and repeat.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2009


Is surface street connectivity in LA so bad that those streets are unusable for commuters?

Klanawa answered "yes", which is true, but I'll expand a little bit. Besides having poor connectivity across the mountains (which is where a huge number of commuters have to travel), you have to keep in mind that Los Angeles is really big. In terms of area as well as population. Travelling on surface streets from one side of the city to the other can be complicated. And where it isn't complicated, it's freaking slow.

For example, if I want to travel from my home to my doctor's office in Santa Monica, the obvious route would be to take Santa Monica Boulevard and travel southwest all the way. The doctor is on Santa Monica Boulevard, and I live just off Santa Monica Boulevard, only about 8 miles away. Except if you do that at anything but like 3:00am, it'll take an hour. Even though Google Maps thinks it should take 20 minutes. To go under 8 miles. So the real way to go is not obvious. It's to take La Cienega Boulevard south for 4 miles and then the 10 freeway west for for 5 and a half miles, and then Cloverfield north for almost a mile. And it'll only take 30 minutes.

So the best way to get from a given point A to a given point B in Los Angeles can be complicated. The direct route is often not the fastest route. The fastest route is hugely dependent on the time of day. And the day of the week. And so on.
posted by Justinian at 12:53 PM on May 7, 2009


Darn climate change stuff. It is all just soooo confusing!

Does the climate change/resource consumption/energy usage concept of biking/hiking take into account the benefits of regular exercise folk not needing as much health care as those who do not exercise regularly?

Hospital stuff is usually pretty heavy on the consumption grid. And not just the Kw/BTU side; it is literally one person needing the attention of another or more people; just for them.

The bike and walk "footprint" has a little more to it than sitting on ones arse in a car seat and the "at this moment what was required to do this" wonderment.
posted by buzzman at 1:32 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


i think people are using totally the wrong metric.

cycling --> buns of steel
driving --> buns of lard
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:57 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


flying --> buns of some kind of sugary substance, and you can't tell if they were baked yesterday or last month, if at all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:14 PM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


trains --> bahns
driving --> autobahns
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:17 PM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


gay cruise --> seeded buns
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


hopping --> bunnies
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:18 PM on May 7, 2009


pogosticking --> bounce
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:26 PM on May 7, 2009


sixcolors --> homecooked BBQ in the trunk
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:24 PM on May 7, 2009




From the original AskMe:
@mdonley
This seems like the right place for pointing out that most of us around here really hate that horrible @ notation you learned at some other site.
only raising the issue because the actual purpose of this thread is too fucking depressing for words
posted by Chuckles at 7:46 PM on May 7, 2009


This thread is classic beanplating. You know those thoughts you are thinking? They're wasted energy too. To generate thoughts, which we can consider to be of higher order than random brain activity, you must expend additional energy. The more you concentrate, the more energy you burn. And because of the second law of thermodynamics, the net effect is an increase of disorder, meaning you create more disorder in the energy you burn thinking a thought than in the order generated by that thought.

So don't overthink that plate of beans, lest you overcook them.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:56 PM on May 7, 2009


Ah, but overthinking one's climate contribution is the opposite of making out, thereby possibly reducing OVERPOPULATION THE TRUE CAUSE OF ALL ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS LA LA LA.
posted by salvia at 10:00 PM on May 7, 2009


Plate of beans --> methane?
posted by double block and bleed at 10:33 PM on May 7, 2009


I wish Amtrak was cheaper. Damned subsidized highway system. Damned subsidized airlines. I wish the semi-nationalized rail system got a bigger chunk.
posted by serazin at 11:29 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish Amtrak was cheaper.

If I have to take a rush hour train from Liverpool to London, a ticket will cost me around £185 round trip. Off-peak, it's more like £70.

If I take my 1.6 litre Honda Civic, the petrol round-trip will cost me about £50. And I've got four empty seats, so if I was travelling with others, we could do the trip for about `£10 a head.

Only the wealthy can afford train travel these days.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:14 AM on May 8, 2009


Ok but if I drank a hogshead of wine, I doubt I'd be able to handle such an advanced lacing pattern.

Hogsheads have a surprising number of holes, and are therefore discouraged as beverage containers.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:42 AM on May 8, 2009


a lot of track laying and welding is done from a vehicle that is on the tracks.
oh man, I wished that was the case here. the DB is famous for making those mammoth projects. then again all they build is high-speed rail. everything else already exists.

For you.
yes, hippie.

Is surface street connectivity in LA so bad that those streets are unusable for commuters?
yeah, kinda. it's also too far. silverlake -> santa monica must be 120 traffic lights on surface streets. no matter how clogged the 10 FWY is, it's impossible for you to arrive later.

cycling --> buns of steel below some idiot truck
driving --> buns of lard

fixed that for you.
posted by krautland at 6:59 AM on May 8, 2009


If I have to take a rush hour train from Liverpool to London, a ticket will cost me around £185 round trip. Off-peak, it's more like £70.

If I take my 1.6 litre Honda Civic, the petrol round-trip will cost me about £50. And I've got four empty seats, so if I was travelling with others, we could do the trip for about `£10 a head.


This ignores the increased cost of maintenance due to your trip. Not to mention the amortized costs of the car itself, insurance and registration, and other maintenance. The HMRC-approved mileage rate for a car is 40p/mi meaning the total cost to an average car user is estimated to be £170.40 for the 426-mile round trip.

I don't have a car right now since I live close to work, and have my groceries and most other goods delivered. I would probably only use a car a few times a month. At those times the benefit of using a car would be high compared to the marginal cost in terms of gas and maintenance. But those fixed costs would be pretty killer—spending several hundreds of dollars a month in amortized costs to purchase a car seems crazy to me right now. So I don't have one.

Once people have to own cars as an essential element of part of their lifestyle, they will use it in other parts as well. So the battle is making it possible for people to do without cars completely, which will save lots of emissions and energy over time, not trying to convince them to do a single trip by train.
posted by grouse at 7:45 AM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


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