News from the front desk 450: We’re amazingly quick on the uptake when it comes to some kinds of innovation – air travel for example, which has only been a thing for just under a century. But the cost of close to 100 years of flying has been a whole new source of pollution and carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, east coast rail services have devolved from the experience of just a few decades ago when one could enjoy a leisurely cup of tea and full fry-up breakfast served on china in a buffet car with big picture windows for a scenic outlook.

We seriously need to bring back Spirit of Progress and Southern Aurora standards circa 1960s and 1970s. Rail might be the most eco-friendly way to traverse our country, but when first class only means a tad more legroom and a trip to a compact snack bar for questionable comestibles in plastic and Styrofoam, it’s easy to see why it lacks appeal compared to the faster option of a plane. If one is going to be uncomfortable, making the duration of discomfort as short as possible seems a sensible decision.

And we DO want to get places fast. Travelling between Sydney and Melbourne by air means only a few hours aloft. Travel by train is an all-day proposition.

Cost also enters into it – to take a train from Sydney to Perth will set you back a couple of grand and take a couple of days. The plane might be as little as $500-odd and take around five hours.

International business also requires folk to constantly leave the country and attend meetings and events elsewhere. And being girt by sea makes this a hard country to leave quickly. There are options including taking a cruise ship, being a passenger on a freighter or even combining a freighter berth to SE Asia followed by Trans-Siberian Railway to get to somewhere like the UK, but which company will ever say “yeah, we’ve got time for that”?

The emphasis on speedy travel and minimal inconvenience is, however, one we might need to question. Maybe we need to keep in mind that empires were once built and managed quite effectively back in the days when the fastest things were sailing ships and carrier pigeons.

Sailing boats and carrier pigeons were once absolutely fine for running empires

Now we’ve got virtual solutions – digital platforms and AI and robotics and all manner of whizzbang tech and tools to bring people together nationally and globally.

Do we really need so many people jetting about here there and everywhere? Can we do business in a way that doesn’t involve massive clouds of airplane emissions?

In this flight-shaming era, there are many companies re-examining the need for corporate travel. The Fifth Estate contacted a number of leading corporate travel specialists – only one of whom actually promoted rail travel – to get a feel for the trends – but no-one wanted to talk.

Are they bunkering down to duck the fallout from flight-shaming, we wonder?

Of course, there’s nothing like a big hairy problem to stimulate innovation and working behind the scenes in the travel industry is a new and rather nifty software as a service (SaaS) provider, Tramada.

It’s partnered with South Pole to provide credible and certified carbon offset calculations for corporate travel.

If the aviation industry was a country its emissions would rank seventh in the world, next to Germany

South Pole is vocal in the space.

“In 2017, aviation alone released 859 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere globally, and if the industry was a country its emissions would rank 7th in the world, next to Germany, according to Australia’s Choice magazine,” it wrote in a recent blog post.

The takeout from all the recent horror news about the galloping Horses of the Apocalypse which are the climate emergency is we need to be faster in uptake of innovations and solution s that are part of saving and protecting the planet.

There seems to be a deadly inertia that sees rapid uptake of innovation that helps trash the earth so that within a handful of years it becomes business as usual, but here we are more than 30 years post-Bruntland Report and governments still debate sustainability like it’s politics not science.

And they light up the Twitterverse with opinions while still failing to make meaningful planet-saving policy.

It’s kind of ironic the role Twitter is playing in the collective shamble towards climate collapse.

The mobile phones, laptops, internet and digital video technology driving dissent were merely a twinkle in the eye of some boffins back when the Our Common Future Report was launched in 1987. These gadgets and platforms are now a fundamental part of human society and how we do business – and it’s yet another suite of innovations where environmental impacts remain the elephant in the loungeroom, or the cursed spectre at the mutual back-slapping festival – take your pick.

Yes, we do a lot of stuff faster than we used to, but whether we genuinely do it smarter is open to debate.

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  1. The overnight train between Melbourne and Sydney is my preferred travel option. It leaves Melbourne at 8pm, I’m asleep by 11 and arrive at Central in Sydney at 7am. I’ve only been awake for 3 hours of travel and I don’t need a taxi to get to or from the airports. It’s also a similar total cost.

    1. Mine too though last time I didn’t sleep well. Inquired and found out you need to be not over the bogies (wheels) they are particularly rattly… trying to start up a campaign to bring back the elegance of the Southern Aurora. NSW/Vic trains – How about it? In the era of Flight Shaming you will clean up!!!

  2. The problem is that time is money, and money is all about greed. We used to recycle/ refill glass milk bottles, soft drink bottles, have paper straws and a whole lot more. But it was all way too expensive and we had to use this wonderful new cheap product called plastic. Now everything is throw away and we are drowning in the stuff. I believe that there are many more examples of how we had it right and now have it so wrong!