NICKY MARR: Is there an answer to our getaway carbon count guilt?
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Is guilt now the real cost of a holiday?
I have written this column in worse places. Right now, I am on the shore of a tiny lake in Normandy. There are fish coasting in the shallows of the water, lazily co-existing with ducks, who are hoping I might spare a few crumbs of the baguette that was fresh from the boulangerie this morning. All I can hear is breeze through the leaves, and birdsong.
Behind me are tents and other campervans, nestled at a discreet distance from each other in the orchard planted when the “big house” was built, an 18th-century hunting lodge for French noblemen and kings. It might be one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever visited beyond the Highlands.
Come September, the apples will ripen and fall. Most will be collected, pressed, and the juice either sold fresh from the campsite shop, or made into Calvados. We’ll head up to the bar later and probably drink too much of it.
I know that’s likely, because we did it last time we were here. It’s instantly relaxing to be back.
But at what cost? I drove to the central belt last Friday to collect Mr Marr before the long hoof down the M6, M1 and M25 to Folkestone and Le Shuttle. The Channel Tunnel is amazing – 20 minutes after the train starts you get a text welcoming you to France. Then all you need to do is remember to drive on the right side of the road. You can also pay for the tunnel with Tesco Clubcard points. Every little helps!
The cost, of course, is the eye-watering price of diesel, but it’s also the cost to the planet. The day before making the 645.5 mile trip from Inverness to Folkestone, I was co-hosting the annual Highland and Islands Renewable Energy Conference and Awards, SHREC, with law firm Harper Macleod. Our theme was “Climate Change versus Energy Security”.
Can we have a greener economy and meet essential climate targets while also ensuring we have enough affordable energy to heat our homes, travel to where we need to, and get every household out of the “heating or eating” bracket? The conference raised more questions than it answered, as all good conferences should, but the conclusion was that, yes, we can be greener, if we’re smarter about it.
I guess I could calculate the carbon footprint of driving our 3l diesel engine all this way, but I’m afraid to. I’m digging my head in the sand.
But – and I hate it when people say this – ours wasn’t the only car, van, lorry on the road. The nearer we got to the M25 corridor, the wider the roads were and the denser the traffic. We were nose to tail and a maximum of 40mph on the 60 miles from the Dartford Crossing to Folkestone. Eight lanes of traffic. Burning fossil fuels. Emitting carbon.
So, what’s the solution? We didn’t have to come on holiday, but we wanted to. So do you. In an ideal world we should get rid of our van and take a public transport or active travel holiday closer to home. But whoever we sold the van to would probably drive it to France too, and while we might have salved our own conscience, the world – as a whole – would be no better off. It would just be someone else who was enjoying our holiday.
We tried to lessen our footprint by booking a long ferry from Hull or Newcastle to the continent, but the cost was prohibitive – £850 each way. And what about marine diesel? Is that better, or worse? Or we could have taken a plane, or a train… but we wanted to take our van.
What we need are global changes. Investment in proper public transport infrastructures – bring back the old “car trains” between London and the Highlands, as they have in France – and in cleaner fuels. I’m excited to hear more about the new H2 Green Hydrogen fuel project in Inverness.
But until then, I’ll enjoy my holiday, and try not to feel guilty. Now we’re here, it’s bikes and walking. And laughing ducks, cheese, baguettes… and Calvados.