Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Carbon offsetting again

I spent last weekend at the Joint Session (a major UK philosophical conference with about 250 delegates). It was hosted at a rather unpleasant campus which seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to the surface of the moon—or particularly the moon as it would look if covered in a maze of rectangular concrete buildings—, on the edge of Bristol, currently known as UWE, though in days gone by it was called Bristol Poly. It's not a place I am keen to see again in my lifetime. As a colleague pointed out, if they'd done the abbreviation properly the University of the West of England would be known as University of the WOE.

We weren't originally supposed to be at the University of WOE, but at the real University of Bristol, which might have been better aesthetically, and certainly would have landed us in a more desirable urban environment (as it was, the only things within walking distance were Hewlett Packard's works and, I gather, some examples of the edge of the city retail park with its B&Q and so on). But thanks to Bristol University and its building programme, the conference had been relocated at rather short notice.

But the point of this post is not the place we were in, but the process of getting there. This is what they said on the conference information:

Directions to the UWE Frenchay Campus are available at Note that the nearest train station is Bristol Parkway rather than Bristol Temple Meads.

The Philosophy Department at the University of Bristol operates a carbon off-set scheme. Any delegates wishing to minimize the environmental impact of their conference travel are requested to contact Finn Spicer:

Now when unpacked as a guide to how to get to Bristol this seems to me to say the following:

We assume that you will typically be coming by car. You'll need directions for how to get there which can be found on the web site mentioned. Some people prefer to come by train, but we don't specially recommend that. Bristol Parkway is nearer than Bristol Temple Meads, but it's not really very near and not really very convenient. We don't see much difference in environmental impact between coming by car and coming by train, and since we now run a carbon offsetting scheme, there's really no need to use the train or to worry at all about the impact of driving, as long as you're prepared to pay a few pence for someone else to do the tiresome bit of being green on your behalf, so you might as well drive, use the free parking on campus and just send us a bit of money to salve your conscience (if you have any: we're proud that we do have a conscience as you can see).
Now it seems to me that what they should have said is the following:
Although there is free parking on campus, we strongly urge you to consider travelling by train rather than by car. Bristol Parkway, with high speed trains from London, Didcot and South Wales, is only a five minute bus ride from campus and there are plenty of taxis to be had. Train travel accounts for far fewer carbon emissions than road travel, and your train journey will assist the Bristol University Philosophy Department's attempt to become carbon neutral in all its activities. Contributions to the carbon offsetting scheme can be made by contacting ... but such contributions should not be regarded as a substitute for a low carbon lifestyle.
I hope one would say something like that even if train travel were quite a lot more difficult than it was in this case.

No comments: