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Presbyterians for Earth Care offers up a webinar on sustainable transportation


Scott Minos, a veteran of the US Department of Energy, has travel tips for people concerned about the planet

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Natali Quijano via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Scott Minos, who heads up the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Saver initiative and works in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, made the case during a Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar last week that sustainable transportation is an important way to care for the planet.

Minos, a 38-year DOE employee, called his talk “Planes, Trains and Automobiles — An Examination of Sustainable Transportation.” Watch Minos’ presentation and a brief question-and-answer session that followed here.

Before Minos’ talk, the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, explained the Presbyterian Tree Fund, a carbon offset program approved by commissioners to the 225th General Assembly (2022). Brought to the General Assembly by the Presbytery of Scioto Valley, the Presbyterian Tree Fund will grow as a result of work-related air travel by employees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “It’s PMA’s encouragement to limit and think carefully about travel,” Barnes explained during the webinar, “and, when possible, to find other creative ways to offer leadership and resourcing and use other forms of transportation when possible.” Presbyterians are encouraged to contribute. More information is available here.

“Sustainable transportation is an interesting topic, one that’s close to my heart,” Minos said, thanking Barnes for her presentation.

Minos recounted once traveling to Loccum, a little town near Hanover in northwestern Germany, to deliver a talk. His plane landed in Frankfurt, where his ticket directed him to the train station, which is built into the airport and looks like just another gate, Minos said. The high-speed train took him to Hanover, where, following instructions on his ticket, he got on a subway train and, finally, a bus to Loccum, which is small enough to get around on foot.

“What happened here? It’s intermodality, the networking of various transportation modes, and it’s one of the most important reasons for the success of the Frankfurt airport,” Minos said. “You choose the mode of transportation based on how far you’re traveling. It’s not how to get from Point A to Point B. It’s how to get from Point A to Point Z, the first point to all the way to the place you need to be.”

Germany “really knows how to do this,” Minos said. Each day at Frankfurt’s airport train station, 174 long-distance high-speed trains depart and arrive as well as 223 regional and S-Bahn trains. Similar multimodal options can be found in Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain, Minos said, and China has constructed a number of high-speed lines over the past decade. Japan has been a pioneer in high-speed rail.

There’s good and bad news for U.S. travelers, Minos said. “In the Northeast, things are pretty good. AMTRAK can take you to subways” and into more distant destinations. “But the rest of the U.S. has sparse rail, and none of it is high-speed,” Minos noted, although some rail transportation infrastructure projects are in the works.

Scott Minos

“Why in the U.S. do we rely on only two modes of transportation, cars and airplanes, to solve the vast majority of our transportation needs?” Minos asked. “One size does not fit all our transportation needs. They can’t, and they shouldn’t. We have to start thinking differently about how we move and how mobility serves us.”

The largest emitters per passenger per kilometer traveled are, in order, domestic flights, long-haul flights, a car with one passenger, a bus, a car with four passengers, domestic rail, coach and high-speed rail, according to Minos. Over nearly the last century, “we became a car nation,” Minos said. “We look at roads as investment and mass transit as a cost.”

The climate impact of air travel involves more than just carbon dioxide, Minos said. It also includes water vapor, nitrous gases, soot, sulphate and particulates. It’s good to know the size of the airplane you’re thinking of boarding before booking a flight, Minos said. A smaller regional jet emits 8,250 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour. A larger jet emits 19,193 pounds each hour. Nearly every airline has routes devoted to the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

Some carbon offsets — Minos lauded the creation of the Presbyterian Tree Fund — go beyond planting trees to aiding oceans, which Minos labeled “the largest carbon sinks in the world.” The website Atmosfair “has some helpful rankings,” Minos said.

While “it’s been argued that offsetting is just a way for people to feel less guilty without having to change their behavior,” at present, “flying is a part of life,” Minos said. “If you have to or want to fly, offsetting is better than doing nothing.”

Those who rent automobiles can choose flexible fuel vehicles or consider upgrading their rental to a hybrid or even an electric vehicle. But keep in mind the driving range for an EV might be around 200 miles, Minos said. “If this is your first experience driving an EV, you might want to consider a plug-in hybrid, which has a fuel backup and takes some of the stress out of looking for charging stations,” Minos said.

Presbyterians for Earth Care will offer a hybrid conference “The Climate Crisis and Empowering Hope” from Sept. 20-23. Learn more here.

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