Posts filed under ‘Planet-friendly travel’

Greener train trips

Congrats to Via Rail. Apparently VIA has cut fuel consumption by 25 per per passenger kilometre, and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent since 1990. VIA is now working on equipment and operations upgrades in an effort to further reduce its ecological footprint. That’s good news! (OK, a high-speed electric rail line would be really good news!)

Too bad other train networks don’t have good news to share. Toronto’s new Go train network to Georgetown will likely be diesel instead of oh-so-21st century electric. (OK, many countries had electric trains well before the millennium.)  Actually, they’ll be a type of diesel that doesn’t even exist yet. For some reason it’s better to expect that new diesel technology (I know that’s not an oxymoron, but it sounds like it) to materialize than use tried-and-true electric trains. Don’t get me wrong. Metrolinx is going to study electric. Oh, and they’re going to monitor the air quality. Terrific! Or, they could just do the right thing in the first place, and bring in electrically powered trains with energy offset by Bullfrog power. That’d make a Go train that deserves to be painted green.

November 5, 2009 at 6:57 PM 2 comments

Need a vacation? Win some ecotourism ideas!

Clean BreaksA lot of books come in for review here at Homemakers magazine. I recently received a copy of “Clean Breaks: 500 new ways to see the world.” Penned by Rough Guides Richard Hammond and Jeremy Smith, the travel book featuring international destinations promises to share “…unusual holidays and alternative ways to travel that make a real difference to the lives of local people and the planet.”

The book offers a nice mix of volunteer opportunities (help monitor whale and dolphin behaviour in the eastern Mediterranean), unusual accommodation (dome homes in Patagonia) and hundreds of ways to see interesting global communities (follow an arts and crafts route in South Africa) and natural spaces (the Tarkine region of Australia).

The first person to comment with an idea for traveling more sustainably wins the book!

October 16, 2009 at 12:26 PM 2 comments

Renewable energy: considerate energy?

We call solar and wind energy renewable energy, and sometimes clean energy. I’ve been out sailing for the past week, and it’s become clear to me that clean energy is a good name for it, and I’d go for considerate energy too.

While out moored in the beautiful Thousand Islands, I noted that boats of a size meant for sleeping in are equipped in one of two ways. They either have a mix of solar panels, high-efficiency solar lights, small wind generators and coolers with ice and dinghies with oars OR they have dinghies with outboard motors and they charge their batteries that power the lights, the fridge (and sometimes the stereo system) by running the boat’s engine. Some even have an extra generator on board for even more power. A few people have a mix of these accoutrements, but most seem to be of one school of thought or another.

Let me tell you, nothing shatters the peace of early morning in a beautifully natural island bay like someone’s outboard-powered dingy trip so rover can do his business on the island. Followed closely by the guttural sounds of a diesel engine kicking in, ready to power the coffee maker.       

I just hope that the next generation of boats are made with considerate power in mind. After all, hulls with built–in solar arrays would look neat, LED lighting is plenty bright for the cabin, and then there’s the freedom from the gas dock. For now, we outfit our boats ourselves. My partner has a relatively small but well-made solar panel that provides enough energy to power our phones and recharge our solar light. (We love the Sunnan lamp from IKEA – you take out the solar panel and leave it outdoors. At night its flexible arm provided all the light we needed inside the boat.) At night, conventional solar lights meant for the yard serve as mooring lights, emitting a soft glow from mid-mast and at the stern to ensure we’re visible – without blotting out the stars.

Have you seen clean energy replace an old way of powering things?

August 24, 2009 at 11:59 AM Leave a comment

The benefits of a very compact car

Homemakers' editor Kathy Ullyott and I
Homemakers’ editor Kathy Ullyott and I

Last Thursday I wrote about trying out a smart fortwo for a few days. In the week I had to try it out, the idea of having a small car really grew on me.

Here’s a photo of my boss, Homemakers’ editor in Chief Kathy Ullyott (right) and me. Kathy has had a smart for a few years now, and she loves to wedge her car into tiny parking spots. We thought we’d make a point by putting the two smarts into one spot. So here we are with the two cars parked tail to tail. We also had no problem parking the cars beside each other across a spot – we could have fit three smarts into one parking spot! But the question is, could be get two-for-one parking passes?

I’m pretty much sold on the idea of small cars (powered by various sources) ruling the road in the future. I think with a smaller size comes smaller-scale environmental impact, even just in the resources to build, maintain, service and house them. What do you think, is there a chance for this, or do people just love big cars too much?

August 4, 2009 at 11:45 AM 8 comments

Great day for sailing in the Thousand Islands


View from the boat

View from the boat

Well, the sky is blue, there’s a bit of wind, it’s nice and warm, and apparently the river is about 20 degrees C, perfect for a refreshing dip. No, I’m not in the Thousand Islands today, I’m in Toronto. But my little sailboat is there, and I can’t wait to spend a week on it sometime soon. After all, what’s more ecological than slipping through the water on wind power, making no noise aside from the hum of the rigging? Sit tight, boat. I’ll be there soon.


 What’s your favourite summer escape?

July 31, 2009 at 12:45 PM Leave a comment

Test driving a lighter load on the road

The smart fortwo

The smart fortwo

I’m getting pretty excited about the lower-eco-impact cars coming on the market. I think Canadians have had a taste of high gas prices, and the concept of fuel efficiency has really taken hold. Why pay more to go the same distance? (And release more pollutants, including greenhouse gasses?)

I snapped up the opportunity to try out a smart car this week since it’s the epitome of efficient vehicles, so here’s me with the little white smart fortwo passion. I absolutely love driving it – it’s a speedy little beast with smooth braking and precise handling. I can park in places I wouldn’t consider in my (fairly small) hatchback. I thought I would be nervous about taking the smart car out on the highway in heavy traffic, but it’s very visible (the fact that it’s cute doesn’t hurt) and I can change lanes very nimbly.

I know the smart car is a good choice because my boss (Homemakers‘ editor, Kathy Ullyott) has one; she said that she filled the tank from running-on-fumes to full the other day for $15. Apparently the fortwo’s fuel consumption is 5.4L per 100 km. Not bad! smart has made the fortwo fuel efficient by making it light – not only is it smaller in size than most cars, it has plastic body panels. Apparently some of the car’s parts are made from 100 per cent recycled plastic, and, in general, many parts of the car are recyclable.

The smart (starting at about $15,000) may not be the right car for everyone, (nor will an electric version, which is currently being offered in Europe). But these kinds of vehicles are no doubt right for a lot of people, a lot of the time. (Me! Me!) Hopefully, within the next couple of years, we will see a mix of smaller, lighter and alternative fuel / electric cars on the roads made with parts that can be reclaimed and recycled.

Government incentives may help this happen; the Ontario government recently introduced a $10,000 rebate on the purchase of an electric vehicle, and they also offer rebates on alternative fuel vehicles.

What do you want in a “green” vehicle?

July 30, 2009 at 3:26 PM 3 comments

Japan trip: All aboard!

subway_stationI’m visiting friends in Tokyo this week, so I’ll keep my eyes out for interesting things with an ecologic bent. After arriving into Narita airport yesterday afternoon, my partner and I validated our Japan Rail passes and boarded a train for Tokyo. It was no shock to me that the train system was so efficient, having heard about the legendary bullet trains, or “shinkansen” in Japan, but after a 12.5 hour flight, seeing that the rail system is integrated into the airport was a relief: I knew that trains would be available at regular intervals, and that we would be efficiently whisked to our destination. While the train we were on wasn’t a high-speed one, it was quick by Canadian standards. A woman even came by with a snack cart, from which we could purchase food using a card you just touch to a sensor. The efficiency was delightful. As we rocketed toward Tokyo, additional rail lines showed up around us, carrying trains of many vintages, from what looked like 50s era trains to modern transit. When we arrived in Tokyo, we seamlessly transfered into the subway system, and switched lines to get to our destination, using escalators and moving sidewalks all the way (no need to lug suitcases up stairs).

I plan to ride the shinkansen out of Tokyo later in the week; I’ll try not to spend the whole time thinking about the possibilities for Canada if only we had high-speed rail. But our country was practically founded on the dream of a national railroad, and it seems like it’s more than time for an update!

Do you have a rail dream for Canada? Have you taken high-speed trains in other countries?

June 22, 2009 at 10:11 PM Leave a comment

Slowing the spread of invasive species

Today is the UN’s International Day for Biological Diversity. Invasive species have hit us pretty hard in Canada, from the forest-decimating efforts of the mountain pine beetle, emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle to the the invasion of zebra mussels and the round gobi in the Great Lakes. These invaders don’t have natural predators, so they usually thrive in new locales, displacing the native population.

What can you do to help stop the spread of invasive species? Being careful of the materials you move from one area to another, particularly when on cottaging, camping and fishing trips, is key.
– Insects are easily transported on firewood, so don’t take wood from one area to another unless it has been kiln dried
– Insects and fungi can ride along with bulbs and greenery shipped overseas, so buy locally grown plants
– Pull out invasive plants, such as purple loosestrife and English Ivy, which displace native plants and disrupt entire ecosystems
– Try to grow native plants in your garden, and avoid any invasive species that tends to spread. For a directory of native and non-native plants in Canada, consult the Evergreen Native Plants database.
– Clean off the bottom of your boat before launching it a new waterway
– Gone fishing? Don’t use the round gobi as bait

For more background on invasive species, consult this guide from Hinterland Who’s Who.

May 22, 2009 at 5:15 PM 3 comments

Electric cars not far down the road

tesla_types Now usually I take public transit to get around Toronto, but once in a while, as I’m waiting for the subway, I dream of driving my electric car (powered by renewable energy) to work, nary an emission along the way. So this week, when Tesla Motors of California released their new Type S electric car, at approx. US$57,000, that dream got a little bit closer. You can order one now, for delivery in a couple of years.

OK, I’m hoping a less expensive electric car will hit the market soon (are you coming, plug-in Prius? Wherefore art thou, electric Mini?), but I’m betting that my next car will be electric. I’ve heard a lot of reasons why electric cars won’t replace gassers (as my partner calls them), and I agree with that — but perhaps EVs (electric vehicles) will become the norm, the gasser the exception.

There are a bunch of arguments against EVs. First, there’s range. For most of us, a car that will go even just 100 kms on one charge is plenty far enough. Yes, we’d need a backup plan for long trips, but most days, 100 kms would be fine. (The basic Tesla model has a 250-km range.)

Next, there’s looks and size. Some people are nervous in small cars. Did you get a look at the Tesla? Does that look like a golf cart to you? Can you imagine anything much sexier?

OK, how about the carbon footprint of the electricity that powers the car? True, if you’re hooking your car up to the grid, and the grid is powered by coal in your area, then it’s not a green car. But if you purchase power from a renewable energy supplier, or your area gets its power from more renewable sources, then that car is looking pretty clean. (And yes, you can plug your Type S into a standard outlet.)

Batteries are often a point of concern. Batteries are nasty! But we have become pretty good at recycling them through reusing the materials, and the batteries companies such as Tesla are using are lithium ion – they pack a lot of energy into a small space, just like laptop and cell phone batteries.

What about speed? True, the top-end speed of the Tesla Type S is only about 210 km/h. Oh wait, that’s crazy fast. The company’s Roadster can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Not too shabby.

The most difficult change? Accepting that our deeply worn infrastructure around gas stations and combustion engines will have to evolve. But when I think about the potential for cities and towns to reduce smog through zero emission vehicles, I feel a lot of hope.

How about you, would you consider an electric car, or do you drive a vehicle that seems green enough already?

March 31, 2009 at 10:39 AM 6 comments

Carbon offsets: Getting credits for flying

To get to a recent spa appointment with my girlfriends, I had to fly. I wouldn’t have been able to get there via a four-hour drive or train trip, but a 50-minute flight would work beautifully. It was ridiculously convenient, actually, and that made me feel a bit guilty. I was worried about my flight’s carbon footprint since planes use so much fuel. Apparently the type of plane I was on, the Q400, uses less fuel than other planes of its size, but I still thought I should do something to offset the cost.

I looked around at some of the carbon offset organizations that plant trees, but I wasn’t really clear on exactly what they would be doing with my money. I really don’t need to pay for something just to feel better about my impact on the earth. If I’m going to offset, I want my money to be used well.

I think it’s sensible to support a local environmental group that you know gets results, whether they plant trees or collect recyclable material or whatever else. I decided to make a donation to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve my dad works on in the Frontenac Arch / Thousand Islands area, since I know they’re doing a lot to enable the local food movement, help businesses operate more sustainably and create a trails network so that people can enjoy the outdoors (and skirt around sensitive areas), among other things. (How’s that for a shameless plug? Hi, dad!) But seriously, it just might make sense to pick a way to offset carbon in your own backyard, and that might mean finding a volunteer opportunity to help a local group.

Do you think it’s important to make up the carbon for your flights or other travel? Have you bought carbon offsets, donated to a group you believe in or planted a tree or native plants on your own?

March 16, 2009 at 11:07 AM Leave a comment

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