We don’t drive at 200mph, so why do we need HS2?

Cool looking trains, but they’d still be cool running at 125mph on current lines

The reason why Shinkansen trains are accepted in Japan is because they were built at a time when everyone bought into the fast life idea. Practically no one questioned it. The economic benefits, GDP and all of that. Those things that a rapidly increasing contingent of us now know to be unnecessary, and are actually killing us.

It was at a time when we didn’t have connectivity like we do now. How would you justify high speed rail now when you could take a limited express or a sleeper service and work on the way with wi-fi or 5G? The answer is, you don’t talk about it, or you make up some bullshit about it taking strain off the existing network. Well, I’m no railway engineer, but I imagine that building more standard lines in our current railway system would also do that for an infinitely lower cost. Both environmentally and financially.

Who says “it would help the economy if I could drive my car to Manchester at 200mph”. Not even Jeremy Clarkson would say something so ridiculous. Well, I don’t think he has anyway. And who would want to take a coach at 200mph? I definitely don’t. There are enough coach crashes around the world as it is, and I can’t imagine it would be a fun ride, if such an insane bus actually existed outside the realm of video games.

So, we don’t need HS2 because the speed benefit makes no sense if it’s not applied elsewhere (not that it makes much difference to journey times anyway); and because of the connectivity and remote working we now enjoy. But what about the environmental impact? We know that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and we also know that the route of HS2 just happens to trample on 32 ancient woodlands directly, and another 29 indirectly. And considering the fragility of these precious ecosystems, it’s unlikely that those 29 will survive at all.

We can’t lose this. Photo credit: waronwildlife.co.uk

If HS2 was necessary, which it isn’t; the obvious question would be why didn’t they build alongside existing motorways where there is often a lot of space and certainly great grid connections? Is it because nature is effectively worthless under this economic system and therefore an easy target? Is it because the rich business travellers who would be frequenting this service would like a nicer view out of the windows than a motorway? Is it because our leaders don’t care about nature at all and sadistically would enjoy trampling on it? My guess it’s a bit of all three.

And then there’s the climate implications of all of this. We know that in order to give ourselves a chance of survival in the face of the climate catastrophe, we have to slash consumption by as much as possible, and we have to live slower and smaller lives. We will travel less, and when we do, we will go slower and on the ground unless absolutely essential (visiting family overseas for example, not for business travel). We’re already seeing a resurgence of sleeper trains across Europe, and we need to see it here too. We do have a couple of services domestically, but we need to see more; and we desperately need sleepers that use the channel tunnel and serve the major European cities.

But obviously the climate implications of HS2 don’t end there. There is the immense amount of emissions generated during the building of the railway in the first place; but time is also a huge aspect. Because we only have a handful of years at the most to slash our emissions to as close to zero as possible; we can no longer take on decade long mega projects like this (or Hinckley Point C for example). There will be the odd exception, such as a massive upgrade to our existing railway infrastructure that can’t be completed in just a few years. But generally speaking, we have to think as short term as possible. This sounds counterintuitive since we’ve always been taught growing up to think about our long term future. Unless you’re in business in which case short term profit over long term stability has been the name of the game. But as long as the Earth’s climate is in the disastrous state it is, we have to think day by day with a single-minded focus on how to slash our consumption, and therefore our emissions as much as possible. Very little else matters. The byproduct of which will be providing a better, cleaner, fairer world to everyone, and allowing ourselves a chance at a future. In addition, we will be protecting and restoring our natural areas and our precious wildlife. It’s easy to do. It simply requires doing nothing.

Just like with Covid, we solve the world’s biggest crises by just slowing down and stopping. Lounging around and being lazy can stop runaway climate change? If you’re anything like me, that’ll sound pretty appealing.

Talk about Climate Solutions (and make changes yourself)

The biggest problem with the youth climate movement right now is that there’s not enough talk about the actual solutions which we can implement in our own lives as well as from a political and business standpoint. The science is clear. And we have to unite behind it. But people don’t know what that means, and this is still the biggest stumbling block. I want to focus on individual action and list all the things I’ve done so far. Or at least everything I can remember. Individual action is incredibly important, and I’ve realised how much recently. Just going out on the streets to protest is effective, but without voting with our wallets and our behaviours, it’s probably not going to cause significant change in the short term. Politicians aren’t yet worried about kids who aren’t old enough to vote, and businesses are unlikely to change unless they see strong trends away from their current products or services. Or because they’re being forced by regulation, which is obviously less likely due to the previous problem I just mentioned.

Here’s everything I’ve done so far:

  • Decided not to have kids (obviously we need people in the future, just less than now. And I don’t want to put any kids I could have through our likely disastrous future)
  • Cut out red meat entirely and cut back on chicken and fish
  • Insulated home
  • Switched to green energy supplier
  • Bought an EV (smaller / more efficient the better)
  • Cycle (buy a nice bike or e-bike. You’ll thank yourself for it)
  • Bought a reusable water bottle (and don’t buy a bunch of them, just one or two)
  • Use reusable coffee cup or flask and ask Starbucks or Costa to fill them up
  • Avoid as much single use plastic as possible.
  • Switched to LED lightbulbs (Philips Hue)
  • Don’t buy stuff I don’t need
  • Limit new technology purchases where I can. I still have my iPhone 6 (2014) and iPad Air (2013), original Apple Watch (2015). Need to replace them all soonish though. But 5 years is a good lifespan for tech. Don’t buy a new one every year or two.
  • Buy only digital games and other media.

If many more of us did these and other things, it would be impossible for governments to ignore the calls for massively increased climate action.

Are hydrogen powered cars the future or the transition towards electric cars?

Hydrogen fuel cells have one major benefit over fully electric cars. You can fill them up in the same way you fill up your petrol or hybrid car. You don’t have to wait for them to charge.

The benefits probably end there though. They’re about half as efficient as fully electric, require a complicated process to create the highly pressurized hydrogen, which then needs to be transported around the world as petrol does. That doesn’t sound like an ideal solution.

The instant refilling is a huge benefit right now of course, but as battery technology improves over time, the situation won’t be clear cut. Hydrogen cars aren’t going to be mainstream any time soon, and in the meantime the world will be covered in fast charging stations, which will be constantly improving speeds. Not to mention the fact that the batteries themselves will increase dramatically in range. These advancements should render Hydrogen fuel cells as largely redundant.

The lack of infrastructure will ultimately hinder hydrogen adoption. Even though electric superchargers aren’t everywhere yet, everyone can charge their car at home whether it’s through a dedicated fast charger, or through the mains.

Even in a best case scenario in which Hyrdogen stations become commonplace worldwide, the production of the fuel and the fuel cells themselves become far more efficient, it will be hard to ever match pure EVs. But I’m excited to see how it pans out. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong.

Personal Green Transportation, what are the options?

This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently. I don’t own a car and I don’t intend to any time soon but I do want an alternative to walking or taking the bus around.

The obvious answer would be to cycle. And while that was my initial thought, road / pavement cycling laws aren’t clearly defined from what I can tell, and generally speaking, I’d prefer to be away from traffic especially since the area around where I live always has heavy traffic. The stress of not knowing what’s behind you along with the petrol fumes really add up to make it a very un-enticing proposition.

That’s a shame because when I used to cycle to school and college for around 6 years when I was younger I really enjoyed it, and I’ve always had a love of mountain biking and extreme sports so it is disappointing that the local council don’t seem to be too worried about making permanent cycle lanes in order to make cyclists feel safe and get more people out there on bikes and getting fitter.

Once you get past bikes, the only real viable alternative that I can think of is inline skating. Skating is an interesting subject law wise. From what I understand, skaters aren’t classified as either a pedestrian or a road user. This means that technically they should be able to skate on the pavement as long as they are mindful of pedestrians and are courteous. Similarly, on an empty road it should be legal to skate along it while being very careful to watch for cars and bikes / cyclists.

While they aren’t as fast as a bike, they do provide an excellent workout and of course are a lot of fun too as well as being considerably faster than walking and comparable to jogging or running at a medium to fast pace, depending on the surface and effort being put in of course.

Not only that, but generally speaking there’s a lot less that can go wrong with a good pair of skates than a bike with all its brakes and puncture vulnerable tires, not to mention bikes are big and you most likely won’t be able to keep an eye on it all the time in which case theft or damage is a possibility. Skates can go in a bag to be replaced by shoes when you need to switch.

Aside from these options, there’s always things like skateboards but they aren’t very practical at all for anything other than tricks.

If you want to bring electrical based devices into the fray as well, then hybrid bikes are surely going to catch on in the near future and if they can store energy from braking or simply the wheels spinning in order to generate extra power for the battery, then that could be an excellent choice moving forward.

Unfortunately, things akin to Segways will most likely stay as a novelty and for police forces in city centres. They just look too ridiculous and too hard to control for the majority of people to get behind. Plus, Segways aren’t necessarily green depending on where they power used to charge them up comes from.

Maybe sometime in the future we might even see intelligent hybrid skates which store energy to give you a small boost in performance when you don’t have to slow down for a significant distance, or possibly cause lights to glow on the skate itself to improve night time visibility. There are lots of possibilities for the future of personal transportation and as technology continues to advance, we’ll certainly see these new advances applied to tried and tested products like bikes or skates.