Thursday 30 April 2009

Carbon footsteps to Brighton

It's around 10 o’clock on a rainy weekday morning and I'm driving into Brighton. I've always been a fan of public transport, although living in London taught me it's sometimes neither cheaper nor quicker. Today I thought I'd compare the costs - not just financially but also the environmental impact and the time I'm spending.

Fortunately there's a Brighton & Hove Council car park opposite my destination. That's £2.20 for two hours, which is pretty competitive for somewhere as busy as Brighton. I could have parked further away for less but time is of the essence today.

My journey took 33 minutes to cover 12.3 miles. Now, let’s assume my car does 28 miles to the gallon. Okay, it’s not an assumption. I’ve been keeping track of my average fuel consumption for the last couple of years. That’s just under a gallon of petrol for the round trip. Petrol’s 94.9p a litre at the moment, or £4.31 a gallon if you prefer, so – putting my trusty solar-powered calculator to work – that’s £3.79 on petrol, plus £2.20 on parking, which is a penny short of £6.

If I head over to, I learn that my car emits 248g of carbon per kilometre. That’s pretty high compared with smaller, newer cars. So, swapping between imperial and metric again, my 24.6 mile round-trip left 9.8kg of CO2 floating around. I don’t know exactly what that means but another quick internet search suggests it’ll take a single tree a whole year to absorb that, so it doesn’t sound too good at this stage.

£5.99 for the round trip, 9.8kg of CO2 footprint and 33 minutes each way. It’s time to take a look at a bus trip.

Brighton & Hove busJourney time on a bus is going to be longer. To start with there’s the five minute walk to the bus stop, plus the extra five minutes to make sure I don’t miss the bus if it’s a bit early. Then there’s what should be around 42 minutes on the bus and another three or four minutes walk at the other end. Let’s say 55 minutes in total if I’m lucky.

My return ticket costs £3.50. Nothing more to pay. The driving’s slightly Brighton & Hove bus stopshorter than the car trip because the bus stops on the main road. So we’re looking at 11.1 miles each way; a 22.2 mile round trip. I can’t calculate a precise personal carbon cost because it’ll vary depending on the number of people on the bus. Apparently a bus produces five times more CO2 than my car – but it also carries more people than my car. Looking at, they say figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggest an average 89g per km per person, so I’ll use that – which gives me a figure of 3.2kg of CO2. I could also factor in my personal CO2 emissions from breathing more heavily when walking uphill, wear and tear on my shoes, wear and tear on my car – but I’m just after a rough figure to compare a trip to Brighton and back.

So – driving from Lewes to Brighton takes 40% less time than catching the bus but the bus costs 40% less and only produces a third of the Carbon Dioxide. What does that mean? Nothing that I didn’t know or couldn’t guess. If there’s time for me to choose between taking the bus and driving myself, I’ll take the bus. And I’ll be looking more closely at carbon emissions when it’s time to change my car.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Rhinos on Kilimanjaro

Around 10 days ago a friend of mine swam about a mile for charity. A great effort for a good cause. He's now considering a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro for the same charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and asked for thoughts about raising sponsorship.

Well, I thought about a few ideas - including adding an optional donation to the quotes/invoices his business sends out and/or finding an angle for press coverage - but I got distracted by the concept of sponsorship. The more I thought about it, the more I thought the recent Red Nose climb for Comic Relief had 'devalued' climbing Kilimanjaro as a challenge. We got the impression it was hard work but anyone who was reasonably fit could do it... which made it seem noble yet a bit silly. Another concern was the funding: this type of event isn't as clear-cut or as inexpensive to arrange as a sponsored swim. Because some of the sponsorship may go towards paying for the trip, not towards the charity's work, technically a sponsor could raise more money for charity by asking people to donate and then not going!

One alternative for the Marie Curie walk would be telling everyone that you're paying the organisation costs yourself - which has the disadvantage of emphasising the 'fun' aspect of the challenge and making it sound a bit like a holiday.

Of course, the big flaw in my theory is that sponsorship works. Even cynics like me will support their friends. It's all about the greater good, as Mr Spock once said. Although he didn't ever sit in a bath of baked beans.

Anyway, I wouldn't have thought much more about this if I hadn't just read a chapter in Douglas Adams's 'The Salmon of Doubt', a book he wrote when dead (yet is considerably better than anything I've yet managed while alive). He talks about campaigning with a team of people in rhino suits who were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and summarises his thoughts thus:

...the deal seems to be this: "Okay, you are trying to raise funds for this very worthwhile cause, and I can see it's an important and crucial matter and that lives or indeed whole species are at stake and something needs to be done as a matter of urgency, but, well... I don't know... Tell you what - do something really pointless and stupid and maybe a bit dangerous, then I'll give you some money".

[Update: It was the London Marathon on Sunday - but Major Phil Packer isn't likely to finish for a couple of weeks. Now that's a sponsored walk. He quotes philosopher John Dewey on his website: "Without some goals and some efforts to reach it, no man can live".]

Thursday 23 April 2009

Lewes: the Cuilfail Tunnel

A few months ago I moved to East Sussex and now live just outside the county town of Lewes. I was born and brought up over the border in West Sussex – and grew up with the slightly odd idea that West was best. Because I’m here in Lewes, I thought it was time to learn slightly more about the East; my new home. And I’m going to start by heading underground.

Cuilfail TunnelThe Cuilfail Tunnel is the single reason that many people don’t visit Lewes, because it allows traffic on the busy A27 to bypass the town. It’s around 430 metres long, boring through a chalk hillside between the eastern edge of Lewes and the roundabout south of me at Southerham.

The tunnel was officially opened in December 1980, although it’s part of a traffic planning process that started before the Second World War and involved a couple of angry public inquiries in 1964 and 1972. The bypass itself was started in 1975, with work on the tunnel beginning a few years later.

Today, the tunnel is having more than £2 million of government money spent on renovating it. There’s new cladding and new lighting going inside, which will apparently help to reduce future maintenance costs. It may not be pretty but it’s a welcome alternatCuilfail Tunnelive to the original plan from the 1970s, which would have seen all the houses demolished along one side of South Street.

The tunnel gets its name from the Cuilfail area of Lewes, although it’s not a local name. Just over a hundred years ago the land above the tunnel, which is now a golf course, was owned by a local solicitor who named it after a house he owned in Scotland. Apparently the Gaelic root means "Shelter” or “Retreat”.

And the tunnel’s not the only modern landmark in the area. At the Lewes end of the tunnel is a spiral sculpture of Portland Stone that suggests a giant ammonite fossil – the kind of thing you might find in the chalk that the tunnel cuts through. It was created by Peter Randall-Page and was placed here in 1983 to Peter Randall-Page ammonitemark the tunnel’s opening. Locally it’s often called the snail – perhaps an appropriate metaphor for the state of local traffic if the tunnel wasn’t here.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Merging your offline and online life

I read something the other day on someone's blog - oh, how I wish I remembered where - about merging your online and offline lives. The reference was made by a chap who'd published a book about his attempts to become famous online. No, I can't remember the details. (I'll edit this post if I ever find out!)

Anyway, as the result of assorted circumstances, he felt there was little point in pretending to be someone different according to the medium he was using. And I'm inclined to agree. Hence my FriendFeed account.

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