How can I travel between continents without emitting much CO2?
September 29, 2008 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I want to travel, but I think doing so by airplane is unethical because of the associated carbon emissions and the inadequacy of 'offset' schemes. Is it still possible to travel by sea from North America to Europe or Asia? If so, how long does it take, and what are the associated costs?
posted by sindark to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
http://www.google.ca/search?q=freighter+cruise

It costs much more than air travel.
posted by thewalrus at 11:07 AM on September 29, 2008


You can take the Queen Mary 2 from NYC to England. The cost here says ~$4,000, but that's for round trip. I'm sure you can get one-way if you call them or use a travel agent. Length: 5 days.
posted by nitsuj at 11:08 AM on September 29, 2008


Cunard still does transatlantic crossings from New York to Southampton. I believe they use the Queen Mary II for it now; expect to pay $3,000+ for a cheap room. It takes five days to cross.

Cunard and several other lines do other (long) cruises, but they're usually round-trip and I'm not sure that you can use them as one-way transportation. Example.

You can request a brochure from Cunard's website, if you like. However, I don't think ocean liners are any less polluting than aircraft and the lack of carbon offset schemes also affects cruise lines.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2008


You can go anywhere by sea if you have time... just book passage on a cargo ship.

Cunard is, I think, still the preeminent transatlantic cruise line if you want to go in style. It isn't cheap though.
posted by autojack at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2008


Here is an Eastbound Transatlantic crossing between New York and England. Looks like it takes 6 days.

However some people don't think cruising is more green although I would take such numbers offered skeptically.
posted by mmascolino at 11:11 AM on September 29, 2008


Oh, slightly off-topic, but if you decide that ocean travel is too expensive and you really can't shake the travel bug, look to flying on brand-spanking-new jets. A lot of US carriers have Boeing 777s in their fleets, which are among the cleanest and most efficient aircraft you can haul passengers in. Keep in mind that fuel is expensive - the single largest expense for an airline - so not burning fuel is beneficial to anyone that flies an airplane for hire. The airlines are making efforts to make their aircraft more efficient (and nickel-and-diming you for all your worth, but that's another story).
posted by backseatpilot at 11:13 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was ideally looking for non-luxury-cruise options. I am fine with spending the time required to travel by ship, but definitely don't want to pay many thousands of dollars for the privilege.
posted by sindark at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2008


You're going to pay a minimum of about $100/day on any freighter cruise booked through a reputable agency. Much more for a brief transatlantic trip, the $100 to 120/day range only occurs for long trips of 20+ days such as Hamburg to East Asia via Suez.
posted by thewalrus at 11:22 AM on September 29, 2008


Just out of curiosity, how much carbon are you willing to emit in order to accommodate your travel plans? Because it's not as though traveling by ship is carbon neutral.
posted by decathecting at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2008


What is your non travel related carbon footprint? How many kilowatt-hours of electricity per month does your house or apartment use and how is that power generated? If you own a car, what are its co2 emission/mileage statistics and how much do you drive?

Unless you live in a Yurt on a hemp farm in eastern Oregon and ride your bicycle everywhere, growing your own food, you may actually be putting out more than you think..
posted by thewalrus at 11:32 AM on September 29, 2008


Your concerns about carbon emissions may be misplaced.

From the Queen Elizabeth II website we find that at 28.5 knots it burns 380 tons of fuel per day which is 50 feet per gallon. If you divide that up among 1900 passengers, it works out to about 18 miles per gallon for each passenger. That is, the fuel mileage is worse than most passenger cars.

From the Boeing website we see that a 747 burns about 5 gallons per mile and if you divide that up among 400 passengers it works out to about 80 miles per gallon for each passenger.

So:

Cruise ship = 18 miles per gallon
Auto = 25 miles per gallon
747 = 80 miles per gallon

So flying is more efficient, carbon wise, than either a cruise ship or driving a car.
posted by JackFlash at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


What is your non travel related carbon footprint? How many kilowatt-hours of electricity per month does your house or apartment use and how is that power generated? If you own a car, what are its co2 emission/mileage statistics and how much do you drive?

My footprint is as small as it can be without very significant lifestyle changes, and much smaller than that of the average Canadian.

I do not eat meat (including fish). Within the city, I travel only on foot, by bike, and by bus. Between cities, I travel by bus or train. I keep my apartment cold in the winter and non-air conditioned in the summer. I have taken what feasible steps there were to make my rented apartment more energy efficient. I buy organic and local food to the greatest feasible extent.

There is definitely more I plan to do eventually, but I am somewhat constrained as a renter. My motivation for finding an alternative to flying is largely that it would only take a couple of flights to bump my annual emissions up to the appalling level of the average Canadian (more than twenty tonnes of CO2 per year).
posted by sindark at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2008


You pretty much have one option: sailing. And even that can create a lot of waste, but not so much in the way of carbon emissions. The thing is, transcontinental travel takes a lot of energy or a lot of time, and often both. And it takes a lot of energy in a form that can be transported as fuel, which at this point means fossil fuels. The two things that make the most difference to the energy use are weight and friction. Airplanes win on both counts over ships, and I am pretty sure they are the most efficient means of powered travel across the Atlantic (per passenger mile).

If you hitch a ride on a cargo ship (Something I have always wanted to do. Expect prices of 100 to 200 dollars a day for 7 to 20 days depending on route. It is strangely difficult to get good information on just who you need to call, but it can be done.), the added emissions caused by your presence will be negligible. However, if everyone did it, they would run more ships, cause more emissions, and so on. It doesn't scale.

To put it another way: the problem is not that all these people are flying across the Atlantic; the problem is that they are crossing the Atlantic at all. You can avoid emissions to some extent yourself, but the problem was never one person's emissions.

I say all this as a frequent traveler, who desperately hopes the answer is not "stop traveling," but who does not see many other options right now.
posted by Nothing at 11:46 AM on September 29, 2008


My motivation for finding an alternative to flying is largely that it would only take a couple of flights to bump my annual emissions up to the appalling level of the average Canadian (more than twenty tonnes of CO2 per year).

As the numbers I presented above show, your instincts are wrong about flying. It is one of the most efficient means of traveling long distances, much more so than by cruise ship. Your only other alternative is to stay home, but if you really want to travel overseas, you should do it by plane.
posted by JackFlash at 11:48 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you hitch a ride on a cargo ship (Something I have always wanted to do. Expect prices of 100 to 200 dollars a day for 7 to 20 days depending on route. It is strangely difficult to get good information on just who you need to call, but it can be done.), the added emissions caused by your presence will be negligible. However, if everyone did it, they would run more ships, cause more emissions, and so on. It doesn't scale.

Actually, this is a good idea. Since the cargo ship is burning fuel anyway to carry thousands of tons of cargo, taking on a few passengers adds almost zero to the fuel burned. This is different from a true passenger ship. But it probably going to cost you a lot more than flying.
posted by JackFlash at 11:53 AM on September 29, 2008


The appeal of the cargo ships does lie in how the additional fuel use would be tiny - though the point about everyone doing it is also valid.

There is also the likelihood that I would need to bring along all my own (vegetarian) food.

To put it another way: the problem is not that all these people are flying across the Atlantic; the problem is that they are crossing the Atlantic at all.

The idea here is rather than jetting around for a week or two here and there every year, spending a lot of time and money on one major journey: perhaps from Vancouver to Asia by sea, Asia to Europe by land, and Europe to the east coast by sea.

It would emit more carbon than staying home, but a lot less than seeing each of these places one at a time, flying to each individual location.
posted by sindark at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2008


One other point:

At present, the marine options seem to be to either tough it out on a working ship or take a pleasure cruise. It enough people got serious about low-carbon travel (either through changed thinking or because of high carbon taxes), there could be a re-emergence of passenger transport as a mass business.

You could fit an awful lot of 16 bunk rooms onto a large ship. Also, unlike with a plane (at least at present), you could theoretically power it using carbon-neutral biofuels.
posted by sindark at 12:12 PM on September 29, 2008


The appeal of the cargo ships does lie in how the additional fuel use would be tiny [...]

This doesn't make sense; you can apply that argument equally well to an airplane. Given that plane X is already going to be flying at time Y with 300 people on it, the additional fuel use from you joining them is also tiny.

The only thing that matters is how efficient the mode of transport is--how much carbon is produced per kg per km. Maybe ships are more efficient; I don't know. But this "additional" rationalization doesn't work.
posted by equalpants at 12:36 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is quite misleading if you don't consider the number of people being carried.

Actually, my numbers already included the number of passengers, except in the case of a car. So if you put 6 people in a car, you get 150 miles per gallon, but very few cars travel with 6 people. The numbers for the cruise ship, 18 passenger miles per gallon and for the 747, 80 passenger miles per gallon are correct and already included the number of passengers.
posted by JackFlash at 12:37 PM on September 29, 2008


Why can't you fuel a plane with biofuels? If we're talking theoreticals.

One more thing to consider: planes travel a shorter distance between points.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:41 PM on September 29, 2008


You could fit an awful lot of 16 bunk rooms onto a large ship.

And you could not find enough people who wanted to travel steerage to make it a feasible venture. Yes, human beings can cross the oceans of the world in cramped, uncomfortable conditions. Emigrants and members of the world's navies do it all the time.

But the likelihood that anyone would choose to do it for fun is pretty minimal. The people who were traveling steerage back in the days when the only way to get across the Atlantic was by ocean were emigrants, not tourists. 19th century tourists traveled in much more luxurious conditions than that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:42 PM on September 29, 2008


JackFlash,

Sorry for the confusion. After the fact, realized that your numbers were already based on passenger-miles and had an admin nuke my poorly thought out comment.
posted by sindark at 12:47 PM on September 29, 2008


You can definitely power planes with biofuels in theory - I know people who are working on this.
posted by pombe at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2008


If you're still interested in a transatlantic cruise, I have often considered the Miami to Portugal route. Carnival Cruises has a few options. Here's one. It looks like they start at $699 but I think that's one way.

I have my own reasons for wanting to try to cruise to Europe, though - mostly a paralyzing fear of flying. Good luck! I hope you make it to where you want to go, one way or another.
posted by bristolcat at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2008


It enough people got serious about low-carbon travel (either through changed thinking or because of high carbon taxes), there could be a re-emergence of passenger transport as a mass business.

A few months ago I took a six hour ship journey. There's basically nothing to do except read*, and I made the mistake of taking a boring book. It was an extremely unenjoyable experience.

I don't think there would be much market for long journeys by ship without either a bunch of onboard entertainment (i.e. a cruise), or rendering all travellers unconscious, Fifth Element style.

*Well, you could also buy expensive food and drink, watch some sport on a TV, sleep, or look at the ocean.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2008


I don't mind the time and isolation involved. In fact, it might be liberating to have no means of accessing the internet, newspapers, and the telephone network (barring expensive sat phones and/or ship-to-shore radio lines).

It would be an ideal situation in which to carry out a big writing project.
posted by sindark at 2:14 PM on September 29, 2008


Hmm. I just did a rather pointless amount of maths to find out that the Queen Mary 2 will get you 21.9 miles per US gallon per passenger (assuming a service speed of 25 kts and 2620 passengers on board, as opposed to the more optimistic 26 kts and 3090 pax). Of course, to properly compare this to air travel, you'd need to add the fuel costs of staying in a luxury hotel in a desert for a week to the fuel for the flight (or subtract it from the 0.56 t of fuel per passenger for a transatlantic crossing, whatever). Then you can decide for yourself if you want to stay in a luxury hotel in the desert for a week.

Running the numbers for a passenger ship, you're splitting fuel costs between all the passengers. For a passenger on a cargo ship you'd be doing it by mass, 100 kg or thereabouts per person vs x thousand containers of y tonnes each. As I don't have fuel consumption figures for any container ships to hand right now, I'll leave it for someone else (or come back tomorrow if I'm still trying to skive off work). But at a glance, it looks like a much better efficiency.
posted by Lebannen at 3:04 PM on September 29, 2008


I don't mind the time and isolation involved. In fact, it might be liberating

I thought that too, but my practical experience was at odds with my expectations. I advise you not to commit to taking a multi-day journey by ship without first experiencing the boredom.

You can experience the boredom in your own home by locking yourself in the toilet for six continuous hours (Take a book if you like). If you can't enjoy that, you won't enjoy travelling long distances by ship.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:32 AM on September 30, 2008


Sindark, I can't help but notice you have not responded to any of JackFlash's comments

Cruise ship = 18 miles per gallon
Auto = 25 miles per gallon
747 = 80 miles per gallon

Carbon emissions aside, large ships spew all sorts of horrible waste into the water during their voyage. Sailing is probably the best bet energy / carbon wise.
posted by kenbennedy at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2008


kenbennedy,

JackFlash's point is well taken. I would feel much more positively towards ships that carried people much more efficiently than cruise ships do, and which would thus do better per passenger-kilometre than planes.

It may well be that no form of intercontinental transport driven by fossil fuels is environmentally sustainable enough to be ethical. The answer to the question: "How can I travel between continents without emitting much CO2?" may be "your only option is sailing."
posted by sindark at 6:11 PM on October 1, 2008


You could ski across the fronzen Arctic Ocean.

An important thing to note about cargo ships is their lack of stabilization. I understand that they can be quite a rough ride, compared to a cruise liner. I'm not sure whether they'd go along with your vegetarian wishes, either. The norm is that you eat with the crew, your choice whether officer's or not. They might not accept your preparing meals privately, but I don't know.
posted by Goofyy at 3:10 AM on October 2, 2008


More on ships versus planes

"For a time, I thought that the way to solve the long-distance-transport problem was to revert to the way it was done before planes: ocean liners. Then I looked at the numbers. The sad truth is that ocean liners use more energy per passenger-km than jumbo jets. The QE2 uses four times as much energy per passenger-km as a jumbo. OK, it’s a luxury vessel; can we do better with slower tourist-class liners? From 1952 to 1968, the economical way to cross the Atlantic was in two Dutch-built liners known as “The Economy Twins,” the Maasdam and the Rijnsdam. These travelled at 16.5 knots (30.5 km/h), so the crossing from Britain to New York took eight days. Their energy consumption, if they carried a full load of 893 passengers, was 103 kWh per 100 p-km. At a typical 85% occupancy, the energy consumption was 121 kWh per 100 pkm – more than twice that of the jumbo jet. To be fair to the boats, they are not only providing trans- portation: they also provide the passengers and crew with hot air, hot water, light, and entertainment for several days; but the energy saved back home from being cooped up on the boat is dwarfed by the boat’s energy consumption, which, in the case of the QE2, is about 3000 kWh per day per passenger."
posted by sindark at 8:59 AM on May 26, 2009


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