The Brunels changed the way we travelled forever. Marc Brunel designed the worlds first tunelling shield laying the foundation for future tunnelling projects like HS2, Crossrail and the Channel tunnel. His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel who learnt his craft on the Thames Tunnel project designed train lines that continue to cross cross the country today, and imagined a train that would take you from London to New York.
Today we need to fundamentally change the way we travel once more to tackle the worst effects of climate disaster. Last month, the Museum hosted a workshop with Stay Grounded to find out about how we might reimagine a future for travel. Find out more about their work below:
Who is Stay Grounded and what do you do?
Stay Grounded is a global network of more than 200 member groups campaigning for rapid reduction of air traffic and a just transition towards mobility that works for all. Our members are based around the world and include local airport opposition groups, climate justice groups, NGOs, trade unions, initiatives fostering sustainable travel alternatives, and organisations fighting the harmful impacts of offsetting and agrofuel projects. As a network we foster mutual support, exchange knowledge and experiences and take action together.
Why is the link between aviation and climate so important?
Aviation is a privileged industry with a massive climate impact. Only a small, wealthy minority flies at all: around 1% of the world’s population is responsible for half of all commercial aviation emissions whilst around 80% has never set foot on a plane! And yet, just taking one flight from London to New York, for example, emits far more greenhouse gases than many people do in an entire year. What’s more, the industry greenwashes flying by using ineffective strategies like offsetting and agrofuels that bring about their own social and ecological harms. Climate justice means system change – and within that, the creation of a more just, grounded mobility system is key.
The Brunels transformed transportation during their lifetimes and beyond. What transformation do you think is required today?
We advocate for a mobility system shaped by and for local communities with affordable and enjoyable alternatives to flying. We need a just transition of the aviation industry which rapidly reduces the number of flights whilst protecting its workers’ livelihoods. Those who currently fly the most should be the first to change and leave room for others to take essential flights. Such a transition doesn’t stand alone: it comes with a transformation of society’s ways of traveling, working, producing and trading! To get there, some concrete steps we can take are putting the brakes on airport expansion, creating a frequent flyer levy and improving our rail networks and night travel options.
The Brunels were great scientists. Are they any scientists today you particularly admire?
Yes! Scientist Rebellion is a network of scientists and academics who have united to take action for climate justice, including together with us recently to disrupt Europe’s biggest private jets sales conference in Geneva. We admire their courage and understanding that the climate crisis requires everyone, including scientists, to come together and stand up.
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