SAVING A TONNE - Part 4, Family ties (UK & Netherlands), getting home & assessing the damage (a journey across Europe to save a tonne of carbon)
SAVING A TONNE - Part 4
The CO2 Cube: Visualizing a Tonne of Change, was designed to help people envision their carbon footprint. It's by L.A.-based architect Christophe Cornubert and Denmark-based artist Alfio Bonanno, a multimedia artwork displayed in Copenhagen to coincide with the United Nations’ global warming conference, or COP15 in 2009. More on carbon at the end of this article.
This is part 4 in a series of articles about traveling slowly across Europe to save a tonne of carbon and explore the role of culture in responding more effectively to the Climate Crisis. Read Part 1 , Part 2 & Part 3
Denmark to London
The replacement bus from Aarhus, Denmark to Flensburg, just over the German border, was relatively quick and easy. The disruption was due to industrial action over pay in Denmark and important for me to find out about this and not just be annoyed at the inconvenience. Workers rights are important! Its worth noting that there are a lot of industrial actions going on in different parts of the UK and Europe that impact travel during my trip as rail and airline staff continue to strike in Italy, Sweden, England, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. The bus ran a little later than the train would have done, and the connecting train bound for Hamburg didn’t wait (they often do wait for connecting trains in Europe, which still amazes me). This gave me an hour to walk to Flensburg town square, browse the local flea market and get a sense of the summer vibes there before heading back for a connecting train.
I also got a couple of hours in Hamburg, to drag my bag around the city, pass sleeping geese on the banks of Elbe River and consider the influence of this major Northern port. Home to composers Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) - famous for composing 'Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream' and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), this town has cultural cred, in the 1960’s Hamburg had a vibrant music club scene that, they say, launched the international career of the Beatles. Business is big in Hamburg – both renewable energy and aviation industries have hubs here. This signals transition and I wonder if the detrimental impacts of one cancels out the environmental benefits of the other? I got chatting to a local tour guide who says that the city thinks of itself as a gateway to the world. It piques my curiosity about what stories places tell themselves to shape local identity…how are those stories created and maintained, do they define cultural expectations? Most importantly, can we change them to meet the changing needs of the Climate Crisis?
The night train from Hamburg to Offenberg is packed to the luggage racks. I am glad my Eurail pass insists on seat reservations because loads of people are camped out on the floor. There is a noticeable increase in young people traveling since I started my trip, as the holiday season is picking up speed. Early morning, we change trains at Offenburg bound for Paris, where I dump my bag in a locker at Gare du Nord and spend a few hours looking for a swimming pool. A sunny stroll to Piscine Josephine Baker, swimming pool barge on the bank of the River Seine, was not forthcoming as she was closed for an aqua aerobics class. I head to the Butte-aux-Cailles Swimming Pool with just enough time to swim and get back for the Eurostar. Then I lost my silver neck chain to a locker, it just slid through a gap in the door to the one below. The attendant couldn’t help so I lingered a little too long, hoping that a swimmer would appear to help retrieve my treasure. No such luck. I dashed via Metro to Gare du Nord, just in time to catch the Eurostar to London. In the queues I get talking to a businessman, commuting to Paris from London once a month. Its all got a lot more complex since Brexit when the UK left the European Union. He is concerned that Climate Change will create more conflict and division and is unsure what can be done to save us. Business has to keep working, he says.
Chasing the past in UK and the Netherlands
It was unseasonably warm in England. The people and systems don’t do so well in the heat and yet its apparent that the climate emergency is still not a priority for the UK Government. After a lovely weekend visiting friends in south east England, I return to London to meet my mother off the flight from Sydney. Mum is almost 88 years old and come to visit old haunts and attend her high school reunion. The King Alfred School celebrated its 50th anniversary while Mum was at school there, she attended the 100th in 1998 and this event, the 125th anniversary is her swan song. Despite the impact of a long-haul flight, she was so excited to be back in London that we walked almost 7km around the city. The London of her youth is still standing in the grand old theatres of the West End. She points out places she’s performed in or been an understudy at. Mum trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) at 16 and I had arranged for her to meet the current principal. Niamh Dowling not only welcomed us to the school but had a pile of papers arranged across her desk, all of Mum’s drama school records from 1953. Seeing all Mum’s records, in flourishing cursive on yellowing paper, documenting her training process, was truly special. It was moving for us all. As a ‘pre-war baby’, many of Julie’s memories are of London devastated by bombing, including the middle of the RADA building where they had to cross the ruins on planks. Now the middle has been rebuilt into a small studio theatre . The three student intakes each year of mostly women, because 18 year old boys had to do 2 years national service, has become a richly diverse annual international gender fluid cohort. Times change. It made me wonder how much the aspirations of the students have changed in 70years? Now Film and TV are a strong part of the cirriculum, that's where there is higher paying work. There were many local repertory theatres round the country and a big division between theatre and film. Mum left the course early because she got a job in a regional repertory theatre, a system of a permanent company playing a new play every week at night and rehearsing the next weeks play during the day. It created a generation of quick learners. It has been said that this rep system created a generation of wonderful improvisers. Improvisation seems a vital tool in the process of adaptation, needed now to address the Climate Crisis. I recently directed a community project in Sydney, TEMPEST, a loose suburban response to Shakespeare's last play. For this show composer, Keyna Wilkins, created an improvisational orchestra for local 8-13 year olds pl saying that: Improvisation is a fundamental human drive to spontaneously create and it links us to nature, and allows children (people) to connect to the strength and chaos of an ecosystem shifting out of balance.
Mum wrote a book about her experiences in repertory theatre titled: And Mother signed the Contract at 22yrs old under her stage name, Julia James. The title was taken from the legal requirement for anyone under 21years to have a parent sign their work contracts. Times change! The book was amongst the pile on Niamh’s table and during our visit Mum finally signed RADA’s copy.
From a solid start in theatre, Mum then went to work in TV as a writer, researcher and finally a director, at various regional commercial TV stations as they were starting in the UK in the 1950’s an 60s. She is in the UK to revisit some of these places – Norwich, Newcastle on Tyne, Birmingham and some ancient cousins in the Netherlands..It is an incredible privilege, to travel with my mother and hear her stories, to see these places adorned with her memories. With my half sister Nicky, we visit the University of East Anglia Film and Sound Archive in Norwich where the team was thrilled to hear from a woman about this era, as these stories are less well known. We visit the old Anglia TV studio building now only housing a local news studio feeding into the ITV network. Mostly Mum is welcomed with open arms and its gratifying that this Elder is finding new connections through tales and memories of her past. The media landscape is unrecognisable from those halcyon days. Mum has often reminisced that the start of television was incredibly hopeful and liberating, giving voice to communities outside of major centres, disrupting rigid class divisions, focused on education and social impact. Over time that gave way to big business and centralised programming. It reminds me of the hope we all had for the World Wide Web, now dominated by multinational corporations where personal data has become a commodity. These are recurring patterns of power and wealth, and AI is the latest frontier being hotly discussed while the planet burns.
My sister Robin arrives from Brisbane to share part of this epic adventure with our Mum, and we prepare to travel to the Netherlands to visit some of her cousins. Mum moved back to Australia when I was born and and my father emigrated then. She went on to be a founding force at the Australian Film and TV school, work on media regulation at the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and became the first woman Professor of Media in Queensland. I work in the Performing Arts and my sister works in radio. We have both done stints on TV. Our grandmother, Florence James, was a writer and editor, and her sister Berwyn Hatch was a painter. My mother's sister, Frances Lehmann Kennedy my aunt, was a musician and music teacher and her daughter, our cousin Erica Kennedy plays violin in the Victorian Opera and Ballet orchestra. So many women weaving creative threads, speaking out and traversing the world in the footsteps.
On my last day in London, I visit the Dear Earth exhibition at the Haywood Gallery, a group show of artistic responses to the Earth Crisis. One of my colleagues at Culture Declares Emergency, Heather Ackroyd and her partner Dan Harvey of Ackroyd & Harvey have created some wonderful grass portraits. There are stunning works but the gallery is relatively empty and I am concerned that South Bank Centre is not deepening its engagement in Climate Action. I hope its just a quiet Sunday and I am wrong. Later I attend Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, a replica of a theatre built in 1599 in the borough of Southwark, bankside of the Thames, and associated with Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt on the same site in 1614, it stayed open until the London theatre closures of 1642. This modern replica was moved closer to the river, funded by American money, and opened in 1997. It's refugee week and there is a special performance of short acts and songs featuring renowned actors Omar Baroud, Rakie Ayola,MackenzieCrook, Simon Russell-Beale, and Caroline Sheen hosted by Nina Wadia. The intimate Sam Wanamaker theatre, bathed in candle light is sold out, raising money for United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), honouring the 110 million displaced people across the world, including 35million refugees. This is critical when the UK Govt is threatening to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. The Climate Crisis will create more displaced people, whole cultures inextricably connected to place will disappear. This moving show speaks to the need for greater compassion as we navigate environmental damage and disruption.
Waving goodbye to London the next morning our train drives through the Chunnel (under the British Channel), and landscape enroute to Amsterdam is comfortingly familiar, old windmills and new wind turbines dotted across the skyline. Changing trains, we head to Apeldoorn in west where Mum’s cousin, architect John Harbraken is living. He is 95 and in the 1960's initiated the international "Participation movement" in architecture. These ideas about involving communities in architectural design are closely related to principles in the co-design movement currently empowering communities across Australia. John has continued to write, and recently contributed to a book published in April. His wife Marlene is also a gifted artist and from a famous family of bankers. In fact a film about her father - The Resistance Banker, was released in 2018. Their daughter Julie, once a dancer in the extended family tradition of artists, cares for her parents and continues John’s legacy.
I am held in the many stories of my Dutch great grandmother - lone parent and proud theosophist, my grandfather and his six sisters, growing up in Indonesia and then spread across the world as the 20th Century globalised. Grandpa came to Australia with the theosophical society and lived at The Manor, an incredible mansion in Clifton Gardens on Sydney’s North Shore. Later he met my New Zealand born grandmother who was studying in Sydney, they both traveled to London, married and had two daughters. During WWII my grandmother brought my Mum and her sister to Sydney, my grandfather was in the RAAF, posted in London. Two of his sisters (one, mother of John) were held in a Japanese prison camp in Java. Back in Holland one sister was a collaborator with the Nazi’s, one was a compliant citizen as the war raged, and one involved in resistance, hid a Jewish boy throughout the war years. Relationships with these women were kept alive by my New Zealand grandmother who divorced my grandfather but maintained friendships with his sisters that continue to resonate across generations. Strong women with mostly undocumented lives inform my identity, with four generations of single mothers, many stories of resilience, hardship, and forbearance, traversing the world. The Dutch colonists, returning to Europe after WWII when Indonesia claimed Independence, told tales of being culturally isolated and misunderstood. Survivors of the war in Europe had no concept of the war in the Asia Pacific region. Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) remains a national dish in the Netherlands, and in our part of the family, gestures the five generations who lived and grew old in that part of the world. These travels were undertaken before cheap flights with many many voyages.
When we go to lunch the next day in Amsterdam we meet more of my mother’s cousins, prolific writer and philosopher Bart Nooteboom and former tour guide Kees. It is a joyous reunion of these Elders, something my mother has been looking forward to.
Reflecting on the Climate Crisis and the next generations, Kees observes that the EU seems to have dampened the Dutch spirit of competitive leadership, and while they have so much specialist knowledge about water management and living on reclaimed land, particularly relevant to sea level rise, the sense of urgency about the crisis has dissipated, for him at least.
Amsterdam is an incredible city with many canals, bicycles and coffee shops. The waterways, wheels and weed maintain a calm flow despite the sheer volume of human traffic. Tourism has been a mainstay of this place for many decades but the streets seem somewhat quieter this trip and I’m told there is a concerted effort to dissuade big groups in search of a ubiquitous European party to visit this city, instead promoting culture, cycling and more locally aligned tourism that is less destructive.
As a family, the reflection on connections and traumas leads to greater understanding of our shared behaviours. There are many stores of individual leadership based on strong principles, long creative threads, and critical thinking that can lead to negative self talk. This impacts the closest to us the most. Again, I wonder how these stories and patterns relate to bigger cultural narratives, how the personal and political intersect? Tackling big change is personal, professional and political, we have to bring our whole selves to the challenge.
JOURNEY BACK TO ISTANBUL (Amsterdam>Vienna>Budapest>Bucharest>Istanbul)
I wave goodbye to my Mum and sister as they board the Eurostar back to London, and leave Amsterdam on the night train to Austria. This is a quiet trip and I sleep well. I have taught myself to sleep sitting up, and its been very helpful on this journey. In Vienna I spend an eventful few hours. After walking the tree lined streets, filled with majestic buildings and taking a dip in a beautiful art deco city swimming pool, I return to the station only to realise I have lost my phone. This spells DISASTER. I miss a train, and with the help of an app and a friendly taxi driver watch it wander around a park adjacent to the swimming pool and then retrieve it from reception. I depart an hour later that planned. Thank goodness for technology and the kindness of strangers.
The train from Vienna to Budapest was delayed and then cancelled part way through the journey somewhere in Hungary. We catch the next train to Budapest, already full of people and I perch on the racks in the bicycle compartment with a family returning from a shopping expedition. The 3-hour journey took over 5 hours. Stations are infinitely fascinating places of transition and Budapest Keleti is no exception. I recall visiting the station on a tour led by artists at an IETM meeting back in 2015, a few months after the refugee crisis saw 1 million people, mostly Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, Afghans, and Eritreans fleeing war, ethnic conflict or economic hardship. Then thousands of people camped out assisted by Hungarian citizens because the government failed to act. Many artists engaged in this big humanitarian effort with creativity and care. If only these stories led our world news.
The late-night train to Bucharest was also delayed by 90minutes with drama over a carriage for those of us sitting up (rather than the sleepers). At the Hungarian/Romanian border the sitting carriage was cancelled, and all the sitting passengers stood in the corridors of the 2 sleeping carriages for 4 hours as the train sped through the night, until they found another carriage for us and we could all sit down again. The journey took 15hours.
In Bucharest, I got to meet my nephews who are on their first adventure overseas. Our experiences of travel have quite a lot in common as none of us have much money. We compare stories and notes. And yes, that's 5 other family members currently in Europe, with many colleagues and friends also traveling, all for great reasons. What privilege do we all assume? What point my measly carbon tonne?
Then the last bus, to Istanbul, where my overland journey started a month before, and I meet some young Romanian women travelling to shop. As I later discover, Istanbul is a centre for replica designer gear, reportedly 80% of which is made in China where forced labour, impossible production expectations and long working hours are standard. This is relevant to the systemic challenges of the Climate Crisis and the role of culture. Unpacking supply chains of fast fashion, including all the ways in which wealthy countries promote exclusive lifestyles so that young women want these fake 'luxury brands'. These hierarchies of influence can be traced through to the contemporary performing arts, my own field, and the need to focus on Climate Justice.
I have a day to decompress. It’s a holiday in Istanbul, the last day of the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı) – a Four-day religious festival where sheep are sacrificed/slaughtered and their meat is distributed to the poor. It’s warm and the streets are alive with families. I walk all day and join crowds on ferries criss crossing the Bosphorus Strait, then retrace the exact public transport route that started my journey, a tram along the strait, a train to Kagithane and then metro to Istanbul airport. I slip into the homogenised climate controlled international airport, at once both comfortingly familiar and alarmingly sterile. I could be anywhere except for the small souvenir shops touting last minute goods, often made in China. And back into passport queues and baggage checks and fluro lit duty free shops. I board a plane to Dubai and then race across Dubai airport to my connecting flight to Sydney.
The woman next to me on the plane is watching a nature documentary and as I walk restlessly through the cabin, wondering at us all plugged in to the cultural offers on the entertainment system, there seems to be more people that usual making this content choice. I wonder whether they are conscious of the irony, how flying is killing that wildlife. We are not neutral passive observers but active participants in the destruction of the earth's ecosystems.
As we descend towards Kingsford Smith airport, the Australian Government announcement comes on, about protecting Australia’s biodiversity. At least they don’t have agents in the aircraft spraying us on landing anymore. The messaging is comprehensive and serious, we are told a bio security officer will check all of our luggage. A seemingly healthy Koala is one of the poster beasts for this announcement. Koalas are a globally recognised cultural icon. These once-thriving marsupials have been ravaged by land clearing, bush fires, drought and disease (Chlamydia and Aids). The east coast (Queensland, NSW, ACT) declared them endangered in 2022. And once again, seem blind to our impact.
I have now been home for over a week. The jet lag has worn through foggy days and disturbed nights, winter colds are plaguing the household. I get a call from my sister and mother, still in London. They were in a pub to see Australia win the Ashes. Apparently 110,000 Aussies were also in London for the event. If 50,000 of these fans had travelled from Australia for the event would be 306,650 tonnes of carbon. We have just had the hottest global days ever on record and a El Nino weather event has been declared. The Climate Council has released an article and one sentence puts the crisis into sharp relief:
'The last strong El Niño was in 2016, but we have released 240 billion tonnes of CO₂ into the atmosphere since then.'
SAVING A TONNE
Lets look at the carbon impact of my journey. There are lots of carbon calculators out there and I have used several to cross reference my own calculations. For simplicity's sake, I am using the Carbon Positive Australia carbon calculator
My flights to and from Istanbul in economy class via Dubai cost 5.257 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).
If I had flown to Sydney to Aarhus, then to London, to Amsterdam and back to Sydney the carbon footprint would have been 6.498 tonnes
The combined rail (78hrs) and coach (33hrs) travel covered 6880km across Europe and cost 0.199 tonnes.
SO, I saved 1.042 tonnes of carbon in this adventure, that represents almost 20% of the journey. I wish it was more.
The average Australian household (2.6 people) has an annual carbon footprint of approximately 15-20 tCO2e.
And the kicker - according to the UN, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050 we must limit our per-person emissions to 2 tCO2e per year.
I note that air travel is by far the most carbon intensive thing I do personally. I am mostly vegetarian (60%), moving slowly from pescatarian (10%) towards vegan (30%), I grow food and do my utmost to reduce food waste. I live in a solar powered house, have vastly reduced family car use and walk/bike for daily transport, I haven't bought new clothes for over 10years (except underwear) and last year gave up flying in Australia. However, if i do the Climate Hero test, I am still a Climate Consumer (5-10tonnes CO2e) whereas without the international flights I would be elevated to a Climate Friend (2-5tonnes CO2e) and this site is encouraging people to be Climate Heroes, under 2tonnes CO2e.
All of us with privilege can do more personally and I have targets I am working towards. I am acutely aware that not everyone can choose and that many people are caged by unsustainable behaviour with devastating impact. This is why I am focused on systemic change. Time is running out. I am impatient for people to stop lying to themselves and each other about the severity of this crisis. Arts and culture have a lot to offer. Hope keeps me going. We have to generate energy for the challenges ahead, there is so much to do.
Another valued IETM colleague, designer Lian Bell from Ireland, slow travelled from Dublin to Aarhus and asked me for a contribution to her report. Her questions provide a useful summary.
How do you pass your time while in transit?
Traveling slowly takes time; the arrangements, the physical demands of getting to a station with time to spare, finding the loo, food, a cup of tea, plus all the dynamics of making connections (people and transport).
At times I was 'productive' and got on with the pieces of work I had intended to do. I also paid attention to where I was, the places I was travelling through, the chance encounters and all the small things that make up a journey. I didn't get as much work done as I'd hoped. It prompted reflection, dislodged from my own place and habits, that I think is useful for making change.
What did you gain by traveling like this?
Impressions of places and cultures that I would never have had on a flight. Being immersed in different languages that I don't speak or understand, relying on other senses.
Changing habits also takes time, the consideration of where you are, exploring resources and responses, trying to figure out how to do things differently.
What if our carbon intensive cultural festivals, conferences and symposiums could do more to help consciously dislodge and reset people with the Climate Emergency as a focus. This seems a useful role for the cultural sector now.
What did you have to sacrifice to travel like this?
Time - which I happened to have because I am underemployed at the moment.
Money - which I really don't have much of. I borrowed some, the grants I applied for did not come through. I have had to be very frugal and this brought its own kind of sacrifice. Luckily, I don't eat much and had some family/friend support in the UK.
Privilege - this is something that needs explicitly tackling. Expectations and assumptions, what you believe is essential, feel you deserve or are entitled to, and how that manifests in your work and personal journeys is all part of what needs to shift to meet the Climate Crisis. E.G. my friend in Bulgaria always toured by bus because it was the cheapest and only viable option. Buses are considered less desirable than trains. The status of flying is currently under review. Those of us with choice need to notice this and learn from the experiences of people who have been systemically oppressed.
Are there any particular travel tips you'd give someone taking the same journeys?
Give over to the process, allow for detours and opportunities to be spontaneous. Get your phone sorted so you can communicate cheaply.
Bring your whole self to this mission. Your carbon and ecological footprint is everything you do and that means the professional and personal are all part of the picture.
Practice sleeping sitting up before you go. It can really help with cost and overnight travel saves on accommodation.
Its easy for waste to increase on a slow journey. I took a keep cup and water bottle and tried to limit the amount of single use plastic I consumed, but it wasn't always easy. This requires additional effort.
How does traveling slowly affect your thoughts, or your work?
First Nations people ask permission to enter another's country and there is a spirit of reciprocity and respect for all living things that underpins travel to other places. If we had responsibility toward every place we visited, what would our world be like?
I am deliberately trying to rehearse a different future and unearth old ways that are more sustainable. I am tired of working in broken systems. I can imagine alternative ways of managing time and resources and understand how to hold the creative processes needed to allow new systems to flourish. However, the world of work I am in is desperately hanging onto old ways, and aggressively defending them. Redirecting my own energy is a form of active resistance.
Traveling slowly helps me have perspective, finding strength to go back in for another round of discussion and debate. My effort offers another example and has provided me with more ideas about how to do better.
What will you do differently next time.
Living in Australia is a major travel challenge. This time I have traveled 6800km by rail and road, 20% of the overall journey to and from Denmark, to save a tonne of carbon. It’s an ethical action and its not enough. Next time I will try and not fly at all, traveling across Asia to Europe. It was a well worn path in the 1970's that needs reviving. It’s going to take more time and money. I am not sure how I am going to do it yet. I will rise to the creative challenge.
This is part of giving up an addiction to fossil fuels. In Australia most of us are privileged addicts. Maybe collaborating with other recovery programs could be a way forward. Certainly flying without any thought about impact has to end.
I am on this mission to make change and explore the role of culture in addressing the Climate and Ecological Emergency. If you need a creative cultural worker, with long experience of considering the Crisis and a lot of imagination for systems change, please get in touch.