Even Faster Travel? No Thanks, Please

Our Anglo-industrial-colonialist culture never stops conceptualizing new contraptions designed to allow people to travel farther, faster. Ultrasonic jet, higher-high-speed rail, and now … transport by giant vacuum tubes.

Imagine a human-body-sized version of those cylinders you use at the bank drive-thru to send deposits or get cash. I’ve always gotten a kick out of watching those cylinders get sucked into the pneumatic chute. Magic!

Somehow, I am less than enchanted by a scaled-up, human-transport version of this.

Fortunately only in the concept stage for now, it would supposedly travel over 4,000 mph!

A permie colleague posted the link (“Evacuated Tube Transport Could Take You Around the World in Just 6 Hours” – YouTube video), and rhapsodized about the prospect of being able to hop from LA to New York in 45 minutes.

I commented that I’m not sure it’s a good idea for humans to be able to circumnavigate the world even more, and faster, than we already do.

He replied to the effect that I am welcome to cloister myself to my heart’s content, but that he has had great travel experiences and wants more.

I wrote that I agreed with him about the enriching nature of travel — to the travelers for sure, and also to the hosts, though sometimes there is collateral damage to bioregions and cultures from too many visitors.

And, I went on to say that, although travel is enriching in ways (I have experienced it too!), I think extreme access to high-speed travel has already degraded ecosystems and social fabric all across the globe, and I fear that “even faster” access will just make it even worse.

Imagine (as just one example) what the wedding and other event-planning industries might do with drastically reduced travel times: a million weekend jaunts crisscrossing the planet from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska to Papua New Guinea.

Also: Various energy experts have taught me to be very skeptical of anything that sounds like a “free lunch” energy-wise, and that’s what this is sounding like. Even if this totally works as planned, a lot of embodied energy would go into creating the vessels and associated infrastructure. Given how the USA tends to design things, it’d also probably chew up a lot of land.

People who really want or need to travel, but want to do it with a green footprint, are probably better off just purchasing carbon offsets for the “plain” plane, train, bus, or car trip. My two cents; as always I can be wrong.

Later I screwed up my courage and added: Demean my choice as “cloistering” if you choose; I call it exercising responsible choice to reduce nonessential consumption, in light of climate emergency. Something I feel is especally important for me to model, as a permaculture educator and climate activist.

Now, that said, I do love travel and I totally get why people feel wanderlust (or the natural wish to visit their faraway loved ones). I know I might come across as anti-travel sometimes, but I’m really not. Since I myself have gotten to travel and live overseas, I have no room to deny that pleasure to people, especially young people, and people who have never traveled.

But what can I say. The world is changing fast. Huge swathes of continents are literally burning up. If the “traveling me” of yesteryear were faced with today’s climate crisis (including the ongoing pandemic and other wakeup calls from Mother Nature), and if we had had virtual conferences and virtual courses as an option back then, I would very likely have opted to curb a large percentage of that travel.