Archive for the ‘carbon’ Category


Carbon Calculators: What’s The Math?

February 2, 2008

cutest graphic award!

best graphic award – link below (UK)

For each person concerned with reducing their personal carbon emissions, there’s a carbon calculator on the internet. Enter in your driving habits, household heating system, and number of yearly trips to the Bahamas and *poof*, your impact on the environment is handed to your all wrapped up in a nice little number. But how do they come up with that little number? And more importantly, who’s they and why should you trust them to accurately calculate your carbon emissions?

One of the most important aspects of a carbon calculator is transparency. The EPA does a great job with this in their calculator located here. Not only do they have a list of all their assumptions, they even have a spreadsheet version with all the formulas you can download. They have the data, after all, they’re the EPA! They take home heating, transportation, waste disposal, and CFL usage into account. However, they miss out on plane trips and other occasional items.

Details can really make a difference, especially when counting transportation emissions. An Inconvienent Truth’s calculator lets you include the make and model of your car, as well as list the number and length of flights you take. They also provide a list of their assumptions. However, in those assumptions they mention that all the aspects their calculator covers account for only 32% of per capita emissions in the US. Therefore, they provide a ranking system that helps measure your emissions compared to the US average.

Including as many aspects of your lifestyle helps achieve the most complete emissions estimate in relation to that overall per capita number. That means looking for a calculator that includes not only your home and transportation emissions, but your recycling, diet, and hot water usage as well. Sadly, most calculators I found revolve around only the first two. Let me know (or comment!) if you find a good calculator that includes some of these extras!

Know who produces your calculator. Government agencies and nonprofits are usually fine, but I would be wary of sites trying to sell products or services based on your results.

Locality is the last crucial step in finding a carbon calculator that is accurate for you. If you live outside the US, don’t just pick a state and use a US calculator. The calculations usually base emissions on the types of power (coal, hydro, etc) prevalent in each state, and these can vary widely. Use a calculator that is designed for where you live. Here are some decent calculators I found for the UK, Australia, and just about everywhere else.

It’s important to remember that no online calculator will likely be complete enough to discover your true and total emissions. What’s important is realizing the difference you can make through sustainable choices to your lifestyle. Some emissions factors you can change more easily than others, and calculators are great at helping you discover those areas in which you can make the largest difference.


Warm Showers: Better For Me, Better For The Environment

January 28, 2008

I’m the kind of person that fights off the cold morning chill with a scalding hot shower.  However, I’ve learned that taking showers that are too hot actually cause your skin to be dryer and less healthy.  In addition, although shower length is generally how carbon output is reduced, shower temperature also effects the amount of energy needed.  So by dropping my shower temperature a few degrees I can not only help reduce my carbon output, but improve the health of my skin.  Tricks like this, which improve quality of life while helping the environment, are my favorite kind of green living. 

So how much can we save?  My residence hall shower isn’t new in the least, so I can safely assume that a 10 minute shower uses about 25 gallons (200lbs) of water.  Heating it to scalding, about 120 F, from 60 F takes 12000 BTU.  But heating the same amount of water to just 110 F uses only 10000 BTU.

(200lb)(120-60)=12,000 BTU       (200lb)(110-60)=10,000 BTU     12,000-10,000=2,000 BTU

That difference of 2000 BTU is equivalent to .586 kWh a day.   As my university uses coal power, it means 1.227 lbs less carbon released each day.  Over a year, that’s 447.86 lbs of carbon.  Putting this in perspective, with the energy and carbon savings you could instead keep 5 10w CFLs (40w equivalent) on for 10 hours a day.  All for giving up just 10 extra degrees of heat in my shower, ones I likely won’t even notice.

Now this is just one specific way to reduce the carbon impact of your shower.  As I live in a residence hall it’s really the only aspect I can control, besides with the length of my showers.  If I were to reduce that time by even a minute, that’s an extra .36 lbs of carbon saved per day.  But if you want to do more, here are some easy tricks you might be able to use that are even easier:

-Install a low-flow shower head and use 50% less water (1.8lbs of carbon a day with a 10min shower).  Also look for one with a stop valve so you can soap up without wasting water.

-get an insulating blanket for your old water heater

-turn down the heat on your water heater

-get a tankless water heater

-and for the really ambitious, install a solar hot water heating system (no more carbon guilt!)

Good luck and happy showering!!

(data for calculations found here and here


An Attempt At Architecture

December 13, 2007

I was asked recently by Geoff to describe my thesis, as I had mentioned it earlier. I’ll admit it’s a little hard to write about, as it forces me to try and define something that is still very fluid, even though I currently have what looks more or less like a building.


My site is in Chicago on the north side near Lake Michigan. The neighborhood is mostly 2-4 story residential, commercial, and mixed use construction, and many of the buildings are 100+ years old. I’m creating a series of apartment row houses to study the dwelling needs of the modern family and how solutions to those needs can be carbon neutral. While these structures will sit next to each other on site and interact as an apartment community, they are also an iterative process of discrete attempts to create spaces based on different familial conditions. Basically I’m designing them one at a time, each as it’s own study. The point is not to approach architectural perfection, but to examine the continuities and differences within a body of my own work. In each iteration I have been attempting to make private spaces and gathering places (not sure I like the rhyme) and exhibit qualities of simplicity and warmth and sustainability. Here are two of my sketch studies :



While making the structures carbon neutral can influence the architectural language, it often also carries its own set of requirements and research. I’ve accessed local wind data and taken a site model into my university’s wind tunnel to assess the viability of using wind turbines on rooftops. Aerotecture is a Chicago company building turbines for commercial and residential use and has test locations in the same area as my site, so I’m theoretically using their 510V model in an array linked to the main electric grid. I’m planning on linking solar hot water heating to a geo-exchange system to provide radiant floor heating and perhaps even radiant ceiling cooling. 2 foot wide core walls between each design unit will help moderate solar gains, especially those from the non-conditioned access stairwells, which will rely solely on passive ventilation and shading for cooling and the sun for warmth.  Here’s one of my wind studies:


There’s a lot left to do before graduation, as I still have a few iterations to go, plus several decisions about shared spaces, not to mention energy modeling so I can “prove” my carbon neutrality.  I’d welcome any input, so feel free to comment with questions or opinions!


“Make Peace With The Planet”

December 10, 2007

add to :: Digg it :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine ::

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (represented by Rajendra Pachauri) last night in Oslo. His acceptance speech was extremely well-written; providing several great quotes I expect to see circulating in the media for weeks to come. I’m including the full text of the speech below and encourage you to read it completely. However if you have limited time (as I expect) I’ll highlight the sweet spot:

“We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge. These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007

This brings to mind the sentimental propaganda for the American “Home Front” during WWII. Once again we have a problem that cannot be solved by our governments or our soldiers alone. It will take sacrifice from all of us to avert disaster. Interestingly enough, some sacrifices we need to make are the same as those 65 years ago: victory gardens, recycling, and reducing consumption. But the key is that everyone must be mobilized for change. If only he were running for President…

photo by kangotraveler

Full text begins here:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it.

Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life’s work, unfairly labeling him “The Merchant of Death” because of his invention – dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, t he inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, “We must act.”

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: “Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

Seven years from now.

In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.

Even in Nobel’s time, there were a few warnings of the likely consequences. One of the very first winners of the Prize in chemistry worried that, “We are evaporating our coal mines into the air.” After performing 10,000 equations by hand, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth’s average temperature would increase by many degrees if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Seventy years later, my teacher, Roger Revelle, and his colleague, Dave Keeling, began to precisely document the increasing CO2 levels day by day.

But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless – which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.

We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.

Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth’s climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: “Mutually assured destruction.”

More than two decades ago,scientistscalculated thatnuclear war could throw so much debris and smoke into the air that it would block life-giving sunlight from our atmosphere, causing a “nuclear winter.” Their eloquent warnings here in Oslo helped galvanize the world’s resolve to halt the nuclear arms race.

Now science is warning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution that is trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of the atmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent “carbon summer.”

As the American poet Robert Frost wrote, ” Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.” Either, he notes, “would suffice.”

But neither need be our fate.It is time to make peace with the planet.

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; thatProvidence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penaltiesfor ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”

In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we,” creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations.” He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. I n that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.

We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters – most of all, my own country – that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish toredeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.”

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act? ”

Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2007


Break Transit Summary: Car (with Parents)

December 9, 2007

12-9.jpgThis is the final post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

After a delicious Thanksgiving holiday I headed home from St. Louis with my parents in my dad’s 2005 GMC Yukon. In my ideal world we would have taken my mother’s 2003 Toyota Prius which gets about 40 mpg. However as my aunt had made my mom a sizable piece of furniture for her birthday we needed the Yukon’s trunk space and so settled with the painful 17 mpg highway. To be completely honest, we probably would have taken the Yukon anyway, even though it costs $120 more in gas and releases 1236lbs in extra CO2 roundtrip. My dad prefers the Yukon’s roominess. I must admit it’s pretty easy to fall asleep in the backseat, but I abhor driving this behemoth.

This was easily the “worst” leg of my journey environmentally. But it fascinating to learn just how “green” the Prius really is when compared to the current kings of the road. My efficiency data came from; a site I highly recommend for anyone considering a car purchase. Besides showing the EPA’s estimate of gas usage, they display information graphically and with “real-life” assessments such as “how much does it cost to drive 25 miles?” Nearly all makes and models from 1985-present are included. Surprisingly, the figures were recently recalculated to reflect more accurately driving speeds and climate, which has caused most of the ratings to go down. Go see how your car compares!

Other posts in this series:





Break Transit Summary: Train

December 1, 2007

This is the third post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

I was looking forward to my first Amtrak train ride that was the result of research into carbon emissions of different methods of transportation. Picking up my ticket upon my arrival to Chicago instead of just before boarding made catching the train far less stressful than it could have been, as there was a lengthy line for a security checkpoint with a K-9 unit. The security came as a slight surprise after my experiences in Europe last year, but is still far less than any airport.

The train itself was a pleasant surprise. Amtrak’s superliners are two-level cars, with the main seating areas and car-to-car access on the upper level. The lower level hosts extra luggage storage, handicapped seating, 5 toilets, and 2 “dressing rooms.” The dressing rooms were probably geared more towards overnight passengers, but were a perk for an afternoon ride. The best part by far are the seats; I could have sworn I had accidentally entered first class. There was more legroom than I had ever seen, with a fold-up legrest that along with a tilted back allowed for lazy-boy posturing. Again, while this may be only tolerable for overnight passengers, for this trip it was fantastic. My train also boasted a lounge and a dining car. The lounge car had skylight windows and conversational seating arrangements, although I preferred my own car with its more comfortable chair. The dining car appeared to have reasonable offerings and prices, but I overheard some extensive delays with the reservations.

My carbon emissions for this trip were probably higher than I previously calculated. The cars were slightly over half full, and I was grateful for the empty seat next to me. But the reservation delays were blamed on the high volume of passengers traveling that day, so I don’t believe that Amtrak regularly runs full trains. This changes the per capita carbon emissions for my journey. As I had a similar experience on Megabus, I think in the future it is imperative to calculate the carbon emissions based not on full occupancy, but instead on the price point load for each system, assuming that information is available. The train would probably still be a better choice than the bus, but both might more closely approach air and car travel levels.

If there was one thing I regretted bringing, it was Dramamine. The second level of the train swayed far more than I expected, and the overall track condition was worse than I had experienced in Europe. The first few hours of the trip were filled with trying to sleep away a stomachache. However the other passengers seemed to be doing just fine, so I would recommend motion-sickness pills only if you have had problems in similar situations, such as riding in a car through mountains or on an airplane.

Surprisingly, Union Station was not Union Station. We were approximately 30 minutes late arriving into St. Louis, the result of traffic on the rails. We pulled into Union Station and I “detrained,” only to find myself on a gravel shoulder next to a parking lot and a building smaller than the train it serviced. This was not the grand St. Louis Union Station with food and entertainment at which my parents were waiting. After a hectic phone call and some visual reconnaissance we determined that the two were only three blocks apart, and I was indeed not lost in the middle of industrial St. Louis at night. Apparently Amtrak will be constructing a more formal train and bus terminal soon, but I’ve learned it’s always a good idea to check your depots on Mapquest rather than assuming they are the traditional stations of 60 years ago.

Recent events shouldn’t make passengers more wary of train travel. A speeding Amtrak train coming to Chicago from Michigan rear-ended a freight train that was on the same track. 71 out of 187 passengers were taken to area hospitals, although only 3 were held overnight. While this collision could have been avoided, no transportation method is completely safe. What is significant is that even with such a collision there were no fatalities or permanent disfigurements. I can’t recall hearing of that kind of outcome in any recent plane or bus crashes. The risk of injury in a train crash can be lessened by some common sense practices: don’t be out of your seat more than necessary and don’t leave extraneous objects unsecured where they can become projectiles in a crash.

Overall, I would highly recommend train travel for 50-500 mile journeys. It was an extremely comfortable ride aside from the swaying and my stomach. There was far less stress surrounding boarding and packing than compared with air travel, and I reached my destination with reasonable timeliness. Once I move to Chicago after graduation I anticipate utilizing Amtrak frequently to visit my relatives and new niece in St. Louis.

Other posts in this series:



Parents (car)


Break Transit Summary: Bus

November 24, 2007

This is the second post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

I have to admit, thinking about bus travel usually causes me to flashback to the 22-hour ride from Florida to Ohio with my high school band. After incurring a delay, we got in hours late and approximately 2 days since any of us had seen a shower. And somewhere in the process of generally occupying 3.75 square feet of space for almost a day I managed to pick up a freshman stalker that followed me around for the rest of junior year. Overall, the experience doesn’t make my top ten favorites.

Even with that as prior experience I was looking forward to my 7-hour Megabus ride to Chicago, mainly because it was 7 hours I could sleep instead of drive. The bus was pleasantly empty, with only 12 passengers the first leg of the trip and perhaps double that for the second. Our chariot was a late-model coach liner that seemed very clean and provided appropriate temperatures, lighting, and a restroom that didn’t even smell bad. Even with a 20-minute stop for lunch, one passenger stop, and a driver smoke break we made it to Chicago on time, early even. Perhaps that’s just good estimating, but I have great appreciation for transit that gets me somewhere when it said it would. The only sour note is that since Megabus has not paid for an indoor waiting area in Union Station all passengers must wait outside unless they patronize one of the shops within. While this was no inconvenience during drop-off, if one were waiting for a ride in winter I could see a slight problem.

In terms of cost, financially this trip set me back a whopping $20.50, saving at least $10-15 in gas costs. A carbon footprint calculator says 63 lbs of CO2 were released with my journey, although my share is probably much higher given that the bus was sparsely populated. However, it still doesn’t reach the 190 lbs of CO2 that would have been released had I driven.

Overall, if you are a single traveler with a slightly flexible schedule, I highly recommend utilizing inter-city bus transit. If you’re part of a couple it’s still probably worth it. Not only will you save the environment and cash, but you’ll free yourself from the hassles of driving and the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. If you are traveling with a group, the cost benefits decrease, so it’s important to look at what works best in each situation.

Other posts in this series:



Parents (car)