post #1, by Gijs
It is late February and there are 2 months to go before we leave on our first overland trip from Auroville to Europe, laying the foundation for what we hope will become the normal way to travel for may more people: hash tag #theforestway #greensilkroad. Spending time with people who live along the way, helping ecological projects where ever possible, ultimately leaving not just less pollution, but more positive impact. Perhaps even a green corridor of restored ecosystems — just like the mythical ancient forests that connected Asia and Europe.
Why not simply fly?
I admit we are slightly crazy: when everyone else is using aeroplanes to get from Asia to Europe and back, it is quite radical to refuse this option. However, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (that’s a quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti, I did not make that up myself). Flying is sick because it forces humans to participate in the destruction of the life support system of our beloved planet. Flying has been the single biggest cause of carbon emission in my life, as I already eat very little meat (the other common culprit) and use bicycle for local transport. Granted, an even more effective way to behave as a good climate citizen would have been to not have kids. Reducing human population is the best thing any of us can do to save the world. My fellow travellers Omid and Naimeh are much greener in that regard: they chose to work with other peoples’ kids and not have any themselves.
But back to flying: in grams of CO2, we emit 300 gr/km when flying, compared to 100 gr/km in a car (with 3 people) and 30 gr/km in a (full) bus or train. And in Asia buses are almost always full (or overfull), so that’s a factor 10 difference between flying and public transport! In other words I could visit my mother and friends once every ten years, or go overland.
And it seems I’m in good company. Climate scientist Peter Kalmus calculated that his jets set conference lifestyle was not only hypocritical, but unsustainable (see YES magazine infographic below). He says,
“the total climate impact of planes is likely two to three times greater than the impact from the CO2 emissions alone. This is because planes emit mono-nitrogen oxides into the upper troposphere, form contrails, and seed cirrus clouds with aerosols from fuel combustion. These three effects enhance warming in the short term. (Note that the charts in this article exclude these effects.)”
These complicating factors are described in detail in this UN Climate research group IPCC report. It seems the science is clear, but what’s holding us back is a question of habit. Peter Kalmus puts it very eloquently:
“With the world population approaching 8 billion, my reduction obviously can’t solve global warming. But by changing ourselves in more than merely incremental ways, I believe we contribute to opening social and political space for large-scale change. We tell a new story by changing how we live.”
So here is my story with all its twists and turns. And I invite you to join this story and make it a shared narrative. We plan to build a platform on which anyone can add contacts / tips / experiences, related to specific parts of the route. To start with we’re trying MapUnityGroups as a forum for this.
So if you know a friend who teaches in a school in Pakistan or Turkey please add them to the map! Likewise, if you know a good place to stay, or a place travellers should avoid: post away!
With our current group we cover 4 main areas of interest and potential:
- Social Entrepreneurship — connecting people who use creative ways to solve social challenges
- Ethical Fashion — learning from professionals involved in green and fair textiles
- Conservation Ecology — reforestation, restoration and protection of wilderness
- Cultural Exchange — the Silk Road has been a chain of mutual transformation for 1000s of years, with everything from recipes, melodies, ideas and technologies handed up and down. We want to honour this tradition and continue is in a 21st century manner.
But first, logistics: which overland route is best?
When travelling through Pakistan to Iran, is it better to go over China, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan or DIRECT over Quetta and through Baluchistan? According to European embassies such as The Netherlands, West Pakistan is off-limits due to terrorism and sectarian violence (see map below).
If I want to prepare a route that is safe to travel for families with children this does not look very practical. But on the other hand: the China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan option means crossing three extra countries, each with border control issues and VISA hassle.
I have found an amazing sponsor for my trip, but my co-travellers did not, and we don’t want climate-positive travel to become an elite sport. Maybe the official reports are exaggerating and life in Baluchistan is like life in other places: insecure. The only reassuring line in the UK Govt website is “Around 270,000 British nationals visit Pakistan every year. Most visits are trouble-free.”
But how to know beforehand? The latest overland travel forum posts (best source: www.seat61.com) are 6 years old, and the security situation seems to change from month to month. My travel companion Omid is of the type that prefers to jump on a bus and “let’s see when we get there.” Somehow I find that unsatisfactory. But once we started assuming we’d take the direct route, many signs started popping up: Omid found an article in an Iranian newspaper announcing the re-opening of the Zahedan-Quetta train connection (although it mentioned September 2018 as a starting date which is a little late for us), and we found out about various travellers who passed this route in their private cars within the last months. And even on Twitter I found out about friendly Baluchi changemakers promoting #positivepakistan. So it’s off to Baluchistan we go!