Ski resorts by train

Paris attacks, train travel and the bigger picture

Sun 15 November, 2015


Daniel Elkan

Tragic, tragic events in Paris on Friday night. Thoughts and condolences to anyone directly affected by this awful event. Words can't really say it.

A lot of the journeys from the UK to the Alps that Snowcarbon recommends go via Paris.  And it seems relevant to talk about the situation.

Eurostar services from London to Paris are running as normal (except for security checks taking longer than normal).

The journey won’t feel so normal for a while, however.  Nor will the world. In Europe we aren’t used to this kind of attack and it feels like things have changed.  Politically, the world seems to be increasingly complicated place – what can we do to make it a more peaceful one?

Firstly, some perspective about risk: our perception of risk gets skewed in these situations.  In the year that followed the 9/11 attacks, a lot of American’s avoided flying and started making long journeys by road instead.  As a result, more Americans died in road accidents (driving is more dangerous than flying, per mile) than died in the attacks themselves.  Every year in the UK, about 3,400 people die in road accidents.  Yet we don’t hesitate before getting into a car.

Why is this perspective important? We are using up the Earth’s resources at an alarming rate.  At the weekend I read about an eco disaster in Brazil, where a massive toxic mudslide caused by negligent mining companies is about to cause catastrophic poisoning of land and sea, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.  What are those companies mining? The precious minerals that we need for our latest mobile phone upgrades; the built-in-obsolescent products that we buy and then throw out; and all the rest of the ‘must-have’ stuff that we don’t really need.  We might feel that we need, deserve, want a ski holiday. If we have the opportunity to make it far more resource-light by travelling by train, that can only help.

The debate about the environment and recourses, about bio-diversity and the welfare of people in far off lands whose land or hard labour supply us with goods, often seems to get swallowed up in statistics about climate change and global warming. Not only is this difficult-to-visualise concept a turn-off for many people, it also helps us to forget the actual effects on real people that our consumerism has.

Tar sands destroyed in Alaska; mining and pipelines devastating pristine environments – uprooting people, bulldozing their homes; precious rainforest destroyed for agriculture to produce crops that will actually end up wasted in a dustbin, simply because people forget to check what they’ve got left in the fridge or to check the BBQ isn’t burning a whole tonne of chicken.  (Oops. Oh well, at least it’s cheap). Or because a supermarket decided to impose a ridiculous ‘best before’ date on perfectly edible produce, and throw mega-tonnes out into skips.

Political decisions are skewed by the desire to secure oil resources, while we waste so much of it.  We buy bottled water in plastic bottles – made of oil itself  - without even thinking of it instead of bothering to refill from the tap, fuelled by drinks companies that want to sell us the myth that this mineral water is better for us and makes us sexier and more attractive.  We have to see this BS for what it is. I’m shocked at how many bars, restaurants and pubs now use blue-roll paper tissue to wipe tables and floors, instead of using a reusable cloths or mops:  literally trees being wiped away – for what?  The amount of food we throw away is simply staggering  – and brings shame on us all. 

It’s so easy to disconnect, to not join up the dots.  I was asked to speak about sustainable and responsible tourism at the World Travel Market last week.  This huge event is part sponsored by Qatar Tourism Authority.  Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet in the building of the stadia and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, over 1,200 migrants workers – toiling in slave conditions, have died.  Many of these fit men die of heart attacks. Shocking, just shocking. Big corporate sponsors won’t use their muscle to stand up to FIFA and get this addressed. Shameful. I told the audience that if we in the travel industry are serious about sustainable and responsible snowsports we must not just turn a blind eye to Qatar sponsoring a travel industry event.  We are connected, and we can’t in good conscience pretend that we aren’t. We owe our fellow human beings more than that. We have the opportunity to influence Qatar by speaking out and not accepting sponsorship until the situation is resolved.  The point I made was well received – and I plan to try to take this forward. It feels the right thing to do.

Stand on the beaches of Lesbos, Greece – as I did recently – and watch boats coming in overloaded with families escaping the kind of horror stories – happening on a daily basis - that we saw in Paris.  There’s an art-therapy project there to help the children communicate their trauma the pictures that the children draw about the situation back home in Syria or Afghanistan is really shocking: helicopter attacks, beheadings. Drawn by children. 

I believe that the disregard that we have for the world’s recourses is a contributing factor to the unhappiness both in the ‘developing world’ and in the ‘developed world’.  Travelling to a ski resorts by train saves many kg of oil and pollution compared to flying or driving, but of course is only one of the many positive actions we can take.  

We live in a world now where radicalised Islam is able to persuade or indoctrinate people to commit atrocities on innocent fellow citizens.  Indeed, many of the suicide bombers in Paris are reported to have spoken in perfect French accents.

It seems likely to be the case – intuitively - that kind of radicalised ideas cannot flourish without the right base conditions. It's easy to blame politics. "We shouldn't have attacked Iraq/Afganistan/Syria. We should have attacked Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria. Etc etc. But let's look a little wider, a little deeper too.  Are we playing our part in creating these conditions? Can we examine the effect that our so-called ‘civilised beliefs’ might have on creating ‘uncivilised’ ones - the kind that can persuade someone to gun down and blow up fellow citizens?  Are we turning a blind eye to the effect that our unfettered consumerism plays?  Can we waste less stuff, reduce the damage that we are inflicting on other parts of the world and spread the wealth better?  Is much of our existence becoming so ‘radically consumerist’ that our perspective is being skewed and perverted?  Are we turning blind eye to the effect we have on the planet and other people that we share it with?  Can we change this?  Of course we can.

Travelling by train is a small step to reducing our demands on the planet, leaving more resources to be shared. A drop in the ocean, in terms of it's of the effect, of course. But the ocean is only made up of small drops. If we start to care more about the planet's recources, this will inform far more actions and decisions than just whether to fly, take the train or drive to a ski resort. Let's think about this, let's talk about this. We can't afford not to.  

It would have been easier not to write an article like this - and the ideas here aren't mean to be prescriptive, but instead provoking of thought and discussion. In arguing against hypocrisy, it is easy to be hypocritical oneself. But the message of this article is well intended and valid all the same: let’s make this planet a happier one, a kinder one, a fairer one, a safer one, and a wiser one.  We really can.