As it´s getting more convenient and cheaper to fly for a wider range of people we seem to forget about the impact of our actions too easily. According to a 2014 statement by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of passengers will be expected to more than double within only twenty years. At the same time, the aviation industry strives to cut emissions only by 50 percent to 2050 compared to 2005. Questionable math skills considering the Paris Climate Agreement, huh? For those of you who have never heard of it, flight radar is a pretty convenient tool to check out in real time what´s going on in the sky above you.
We made the decision to lower our environmental impact while traveling a while ago. You can say we are not perfect but we are getting better with every trip and we feel good about our growing environmental responsibility. Yes, the best solution would be to cut down on traveling in general, but our Fernweh is still too harsh… So, we try other ways: Back when we were still based in Berlin, we hitch-hiked all the way to the Pyrenees, took a bus into the Italian Alps and shared a camper van with two other people to the South end of Spain. Not to mention that we try to take the train as often as we can afford it. It was neither the comfort we chose, nor the time. We wanted to experience more along the way than waiting in an overcrowded airport terminal, plus, we didn’t want to increase our CO2 footprint by flying. And with the sacrifice of time and comfort, we always ended up with a story to tell or people we got to know. Some of these stories are still our favourite bonfire classics. Like this one time, when we hitchhiked with a Polish couple in Norway and ended up witnessing his wedding proposal on top of Preikestolen! Over the course of all these trips, we only had one bad hitch-hiking experience, which some of you might have read about.
Concerning our big Canadian adventure, we actually did some research about getting here on a cargo ship – only to find out that emission-wise, it was not really better than taking a plane and it was also extremely expensive. The only true alternative would have been to row here but that adventure had to stay on our bucket list for now… However, we made the resolution to not book any inland flights until we go back to Germany. Therefore, we would like to share some easy tips on environmental-friendly travel in Canada with you (even though some guidelines are the same all over the world). If you stick to these simple rules you should already make a change:
- Avoid flying if not necessary
- compensate your flight if you can´t avoid it
- take the public transport as often as possible or
- use car sharing, rideshares and hitch-hiking opportunities
Of course, Canada is HUGE so we understand why many people prefer a plane over a Greyhound bus (quicker, cheaper, easier booking, …). In that case, you should make the effort to compensate your flight. Our own flight to Vancouver was compensated over atmosfair, a German carbon offsetting NGO Sebastian used to work for in Lesotho. But that´s a post in itself as CO2 compensation is a huge topic we´ll talk about another time. Feel free to send us an e-mail if you need some advise. So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty:
Getting around in Canadian cities:
Travelling responsibly is easy if you are within the big cities. The main question that you should ask yourself is: “Do I really need a car?”. In his book “The High Cost of Free Parking”, the author and professor Donald Shoups names some interesting facts about using a car in cities. For example, in under-priced parking areas, an average of 30% of congested traffic is only causes by people cruising around in search of parking! Furthermore, the average usage of a car during its total lifespan is only 5% compared to 95% standing around in your backyard. After living in Berlin for more than seven years, we can state that it’s easy enough to find alternatives. Same for the big Canadian cities. Buses, Subways, Skytrains, Metro – they often get you to your destination quicker than a car because they are able to avoid the city’s rush hour and you don’t have to worry about parking. Another alternative but not yet available in every city in Canada would be Car Sharing. There´s quite a variety out there (evo, CAR2GO, Modo, zipcar…) which are worth checking out. And if you think public transport and car sharing both suck, go get yourself a bike, longboard or inline skates. We´ve found especially Vancouver to be an extremely bike-friendly city.
Traveling loooong distances:
Cities: easy-peasy. But what about long distance, for example traveling from the East to the West coast? As you might have heard, the population density of Canada is pretty low in most of the interior provinces. Public transport might not even be available and then, it’s comparably expensive. We found that some shuttle buses on Vancouver Island charged more than it would have cost us to drive our own car… Indeed, it’s not as easy as in Europe over here. Nonetheless, it’s still the better choice if you want to lower your emissions.
- Travelling by Bus
The major touristic long distance buses companies we´ve used are Greyhound (USA/Canada), island link (Vancouver Island) and the Tofino bus (Vancouver Island). Unfortunately, we must say that we found their booking systems more complicated and not as organised as the ones we’re used to from Europe. But it’s manageable and we didn’t have any other serious complications. If you are looking for an overall listing of in Canada operating bus lines, the lonley planet offers a nice summary including the areas they are operating in.
- Travelling by Train
If you want to see Canada by train you could book the grand tour from Toronto to Vancouver with a total of 4,466 km, taking up to 3 days and 4 nights in total. We would absolutely love to experience more of Canada’s wild landscape by train, as there is something very convenient about traveling by train. It gives you the opportunity to work, hang out and see the country all at the same time without having to worry about directions, gas stations, accommodation etc. Yet, we haven´t had the opportunity to experience that trip ourselves, so check out this helpful blog post where you’ll find pictures and quite a lot of information concerning the whole trip. But keep in mind that this post is also advertised on the VIA Rail Canada, a company with a travel-by-train focus, so it might not be neutral!
However, although you won’t see any dark fumes behind the train, you should keep in mind where the train’s electricity comes from. States like British Columbia already use up to 98,4 percent of renewable energy, which makes this choice a low emission alternative but that’s not always the case. Alberta for example produces 47,4 percent of its electricity from coal, 40.3 percent from natural gas and only 12,3 percent are generated renewable. And there’s another downside: most of the train fares are pretty expensive. Compared to the low petrol prices in Canada, trains just aren´t the regular alternative for most travellers. But if you can afford it, they sure are a great and more comfortable alternative to a Greyhound bus!
- Travelling by ferries and cruise ships
Even though we highly recommend taking a longer trip in a kayak or a canoe, not everybody has the time, gear or physical condition to do something like the race to Alaska. Most likely, you will eventually take a ferry or cruise ship to visit some of Canada’s famous coastal islands.
We won’t give you a list of every ferry operator all over Canada as there are quite a lot of them out there. BC ferries are a large one and a good example since they offer an overview of their sustainable operation program online. They are also part of the Green Marine, a programme which issues certifications for environmental responsibilty. Furthermore, their fleet is operated with diesel, which is not perfect, but at least they are not using heavy fuel oil. (FYI: heavy fuel oil/crude oil is a low quality and cheap by-product of the oil industry with an extremely high amount of sulphur. It’s commonly used in the heavy marine industry such as cruise ships and cargo vessels).
And what about cruise ships? Ahhh, that topic has us ranting on a regular basis. Just don’t. According to a 2012 study of the German NGO NABU, the daily SO2 emission of an average cruise ship is comparatively the same as the daily emission of 376,030,220 cars and the numbers about CO2, NOx and particulate matter are equally shocking. Yes, that figure is not a typo, check it out. It’s mainly so high because these beasts of the ocean run on the already mentioned heavy fuel – which is not allowed in traffic on land due to its toxic composition and wouldn’t work in normal car engines anyways. The pollution caused by cruise ships is just one of the reasons why we would never book a trip on one; there are more environmental, ethical and economic issues which led to that resolution.
- Ridesharing and Hitch-Hiking
Have you ever heard of POPARIDE? The idea is to share rides and therefore fuel costs and emissions. It’s very common in Europe so we were surprised how few local people know about that Canadian version! Canadians really are as nice and helpfulas their stereotypes and even though everybody seems to have a car, not a lot people seem to share rides to work. We see it here on Quadra every day: Ferries are packed with big trucks and parking lots seem to take up more space than buildings. That “big-truck-mentality” felt strange to us when we first arrived and reminded us of similar experiences in America and Australia. Anyways, why not start offering rides to other people – especially when public transport is rare? Sharing is caring and with most Canadians being so friendly and social anyways, we can’t see why ride sharing shouldn´t get more popular around here. Ride sharing instantly helps your travel to become more eco-friendly, cheaper and way more social! If you have never tried it, do it with your next ride. Log in, offer or search a ride, and see who you get to know that way. Oh, and there´s also a pretty big variety of local ridesharing Facebook groups out there. If you do need help finding them, let us know and we might be able to help.
Yes, hitch-hiking is completely for free but ride sharing is still cheap and in our experience way more organized, more comfortable, safer and it lets you plan your travel schedule (e.g. departure & arrival) better. If you think about the big picture, ride sharing and hitch-hiking are no long-term solutions either, but at least it helps to reduce emissions quickly and easily until humankind figures out a better solution. We’d love to hear back about your personal experience with it!
Last but not least: Our own mobile situation
It would be hypocritical to withhold the information that we have – for the first time in our lives – bought a car over here. We made it to month 4 without one but then we came to Quadra Island. There’s ZERO public transport here, some roads are lone dirt tracks and the island is just too big and wild to always go by bike. So, with a very heavy heart, we finally settled on a Subaru that allows us to get around here. We still take the bike on short distances, pick up every hitch-hiker we see and offer rides over Poparide (which we really hope will become more popular over here!!). Yet, that car remains a thorne in our side and we are looking forward to the day we won’t need it anymore. We still strongly believe that even small changes in everyone’s lifestyle can make a big difference and although it’s harder over here, we keep trying and so should you 😉