Europe Rocks When It Rolls

Europe holds many pleasures. Getting around by public transport is definitely one of them. Maybe, it’s because I’m a municipal guy. You know: “You can take the boy out of the City (of Calgary), but you can’t take the City (of Calgary) out of the boy.”

You may not share my interest quite as strongly. But, public transportation has an interest, even a fascination perhaps, for me. Europe, as I have discovered, has a way of feeding that interest at every turn. 

For anyone who wonders how the rest of the world gets from point A to B to C to…..without a car, Europe has lots of interesting technology and solutions on offer.

For Bob’s Excellent Adventure, I’ve wanted to get anywhere and everywhere, as much as I can without the hassle or cost of renting a car. From that stand point, European rail and public transportation have proven to be just the ticket; the cat’s meow; what the doctor ordered.

 From City to City

Eurostar train
The Eurostar in London St. Pancras Station.


The rail option between places can be fast. The Eurostar took me from London to Paris in about two and a half hours. Our top speed was 300 km/hour.

Then there are the unexpected surprises and delights of rail travel in Europe. While waiting at the Gare de Lyon in Paris for my connecting train to Zurich, I could hear beautiful piano music. It pulled me from my seat to investigate.

A man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
Impromptu Concert in Gare de Lyon, Paris.


The station had thoughtfully placed a piano in a central spot for travelers to enjoy. There, was a guy in a tee shirt (a fellow traveler, perhaps?) In a beautiful operatic voice, he filled the space with aria after aria. The crowd gathered and was enthralled.

A crowd listens while a man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
A crowd gathers to enjoy a free concert while waiting for their trains.


You have to love a place, a country, a transportation system where a delight like that is possible!

Concert over, it was on to Zurich.


The TVG Lyria is ready to whisk us from Gare de Lyon Paris to Zurich in 4 hours.

TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train. Like the Eurostar, it is faster than flying from one city to the next.

By comparison to flying, a trip on the TGV Lyria has a tiny  impact on climate warming. My ticket stated that the C0₂ generated by travelling across France to Switzerland was only 2.1 kg! ( I wonder if the reason is because so much of the French electricity comes from nuclear power?)

Some trains in Europe also provide overnight accommodations.  In Zurich, I caught the night train to Prague. This was my bedroom that night.

Sleeper car on a train
Sleeper car for three. The only thing to do is roll into bed. When booking these cars, men and women are in separate compartments. On fellow traveler was from Vietnam, the other from Czech Republic. None of us really knew the languages of the others. So, after a few short “hellos”, it was lights out and a quiet night.


Shifts happen!  That Plan B* just keeps showing up. The night train to Prague from Zurich had engine trouble and had to be replaced.

Man attaching an engine to a train
Plan B* replacement engine being attached to Zurich/Prague train.


Our arrival into Prague was delayed by two hours. Engine trouble on a plane can easily delay a flight longer than that.

Prague Railway Station
Prague Railway Station


City Travels

Trains are great for whisking travelers quickly from city centre to city. centre. The rail stations have all been built in city cores. Once you arrive in a place, public transit takes over.  It’s a simple matter to walk from the train platform, down a corridor or out a door to reach bus terminals, metro underground stations, and tram lines. City accommodations and attractions are then in easy reach.

Oxford city double decker bus
Oxford City bus. It has similar technology to my Prius! The battery is recharged when the gas (diesel) motor is running. Much of the time, the battery can run the bus with just the electric motor, thus greatly improving the mileage and reducing fuel consumption. This is one of many examples where Europeans are making a shift to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Transit fares and day passes are affordable. For example, a three day transit pass in Budapest for all trams, buses, subway cost me approximately $20 (Canadian).

European cities treat transit as one of the family. Transit shares the road with all the other street users.

Horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following along behind
A tourist horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following behind.
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars and pedestrians

It’s been fun to figure out the transit system and connections in all the cities I’ve visited.  By day two in a city, using the bus, tram or subway is generally a breeze.

Budapest underground station on the M1/yellow line
This Budapest underground metro line was the first on the European continent. It still has the 1896 vibe from when it opened.

What about when shifts happen and you take the wrong direction? Yup. It’s happened. But so far, it hasn’t been a problem. My Plan B* is pretty simple. Get off, then catch a ride back in the direction from which I’ve come. Transit service is so frequent, it’s only a matter of minutes before the needed ride shows up.

Taking public transit gives a visitor a fascinating opportunity to watch and listen to people. What are they carrying? How are they dressed? You can’t help but overhear snippets of chatter; or the one side of a cell phone conversation. I may not always know the language being used, but the tone and cadence of a voice can carry meaning.

Transit riders are also offered an unvarnished view of a city as it unfolds before their eyes. Derelict or prosperous; neo-classical  or modern apartment blocks; newly renovated, or boarded up office buildings. Every city has stories to tell, for those who want to glimpse them through the windows of a tram or bus.

Also seen from the window of a bus. A cyclist on the motorway from Oxford to London. Obviously not everyone is convinced of the merits of transit as a mode of travel!

Man riding a bicycle on a motor way in the United Kingdom
Road warrior.


That’s how I roll. And so far, it has rocked!

A Marshall Plan for Climate Action

George Marshall, Bob Hawkesworth
Bob Hawkesworth with George Marshall

George Marshall wrote the book, “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. With a title like that, you might think George is resigned, cynical or blasé about our prospects for taking meaningful action on climate change. Quite the contrary. George Marshall is very upbeat and optimistic. He gives the distinct impression that our prospects of tackling climate have never been better. In large part, it’s because he believes he now knows what will work to spur action.

George is a key leader and sparkplug at Climate Outreach – an Oxford think tank and research centre. Climate Outreach’s work on climate communications has been recognized internationally as pioneering and groundbreaking.

George Marshall’s 2014 book has also received positive reviews:

The Shift

A big problem is that climate action has become polarized along political lines. This split is preventing meaningful progress. George contends climate advocates have used language and framing that has only alienated the political right. He believes this schism must be repaired and has made it a personal quest to figure out how.

George is adamant that everyone needs to be involved in finding solutions. No one should be left behind, especially the right:

Plan B

The Marshall Plan could not be simpler: just listen. The most radical thing we can do is just listen to those who think differently from us.

This George Marshall TED talk explains his contention in more detail:

How do we listen, especially to those with whom we disagree? A tool developed by Climate Outreach to enable industrial strength listening, is a “narrative workshop”. Narrative workshops have:

  • Rigorous research design;
  • A script and framework of tested questions that will be appropriate across linguistic, cultural and demographically diverse groups;
  • The look and feel of a focus group without the expense.

The Climate Outreach vision is that any organization, with little expense, will be able to convene narrative workshops with just about anyone, anywhere. Narrative workshops will be used in countries throughout the world. Indeed, Climate Outreach has just completed a test of these workshops in India.

Narrative workshop participants will identify, among other things, what makes them proud; what they believe makes a good person; the qualities, concerns, insights, values and frames that matter to them. As George put it, climate action groups will have what they need, “…to listen to the people they usually don’t speak to.”

He tells me to check regularly with the Climate Outreach website. The narrative workshop tool will soon be available on line.

Why is George Marshall so optimistic? He tells me that even the World Bank is now taking climate communications seriously. They have convened a task group (Alberta/BC/Ontario/Quebec are all members) to develop ways to better communicate carbon pricing policies. When the World Bank deems to listen, it feels a change of consequence has occurred.

Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, UK

George invites me to join him at Evensong in Magdalen College. We listen to the heavenly voices soar in that space as they have soared there since the 16th Century. It was easy to be transported to a place of contentment, gratitude and optimism.

If only listening to those with whom we disagree could also be so delightful!

That’s the hard road for Plan B* – being able to receive the gifts of understanding and insight from those who think differently from us.

We part with the hope that George Marshall might soon be able to visit Alberta. Our polarized debate could sure use his professional help. Alberta has a large right of centre political constituency that wants to play a constructive role developing climate solutions. They are not being engaged or well served by any political party at the moment. No one is truly listening to them.

Listen to those with whom we disagree. How hard is that? An Alberta Marshall Plan B* doesn’t seem all that radical after all. Or is it?


Magdalen College
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

European Energy Systems – Plan B* Trainspotting

Wind turbine in a field
Wind turbines from the train window. Trainspotting of a different kind.
Solar arrays in a UK field
Solar arrays can be spotted in numerous rural UK locations.
Smokestacks in the UK countryside
At first, these appeared to be smokestacks. The UK is committed to phasing out coal generated electricity. I thought this might be a coal powered plant. But closer inspection suggests the “smoke” could be water vapour from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant.

Plan B* – Nothing Moves Without Confronting Loss

What animal has the attributes most needed for responding to a shift? For Pamela Candea, it is the wolf. Even in darkness, a wolf finds its way. It is sure of its footing. Hence, when it came to picking a name for the consultancy she leads, it became “The Surefoot Effect”:

Pamela Candea
Pamela Candea is the Managing Director for The Surefoot Effect


The Shift

Pamela was enjoying a successful IT career that took her to work in far flung places such as Hawaii and London (where she met her husband). She was between IT jobs and pregnant. So she decided to enroll in a course on environmental sustainability. It changed her life’s work.

Pamela had grown up in Michigan, a state that is still half covered in forests. As a small girl, she had often camped with her parents. These experiences gave her a strong affinity, love even, for the natural world. It is a world Pamela has always felt a strong need to protect.

She realized conservation and sustainability work was far better aligned with her values and with what she wanted for her new son than the IT work she had been doing.

Plan B

Pamela took a job promoting energy efficiency in a major public institution. She quickly learned she had no patience for interminable discussions without meaningful action. She recalls being so dispirited in a meeting one day, she ended up counting the people with blue eyes and the people with brown eyes. At that point, she knew something had to give.

Pamela’s experience was that climate change generated rhetorical heat but little light. People had opinions, but few of them were committed to actually doing anything. Even people who said they supported climate action were stuck. Something was missing that kept people from changing course. Something else was needed. That “something”, turned out to be “Carbon Conversations”.

“Carbon Conversations” is a series of facilitated conversations amongst small groups of 6 to 10 people:

Every week for a couple of hours, the group tackles a topic: energy in the home; getting around; buying stuff; and waste. The conversations give people an opportunity to share what these topics mean for them and to identify any emotions these topics generate. At the series end, people share their plans for making changes in their households.

The impact on participants is often dramatic. In Carbon Conversations, people are given time, space and support to understand what lies underneath their worries and concerns. That’s enough for folks to find motivation and commitment. They can then go on to create their own Plan B*.

Pamela Candea had found that for which she had been searching. She was soon facilitating and organizing Carbon Conversations throughout Scotland and beyond. In the past half dozen or so years, Pamela and The Surefoot Effect have engaged thousands of people in homes and community halls. Increasingly, employers have been using Carbon Conversations to engage employees in the workplace.

“Carbon Conversations” was created by Rosemary Randall, a British psychotherapist:

From her clinical practice, Ro knew it was often difficult for people to deal with grief and loss. Her insight was to note that people also responded to the issue of climate change as though they were coping with loss or grief. So, she developed Carbon Conversations with that as a key design principle.

Who knew? Acknowledge grief. Understand loss. Until then, we can’t respond to the shifts we feel and we can’t create our Plan B*.


Carbon Conversations – What Can We Learn?

I ask Pamela Candea what Alberta can learn from Carbon Conversations. She tells me:

  1. Material rewards do not sustain behaviour change. If government offers a rebate, people will act to receive the rebate. Once the rebate disappears, so does the behaviour. Material rewards are transactional in nature. They don’t connect with people’s’ values.
  2. If people have time and space to create reasons for themselves, they will change their behaviour and they will sustain that behaviour change over time.
  3. People need to have a safe space to discuss with others what climate change means. They also need time to think and reflect. Lecturing people is no help, especially on the climate issue. People need time and space to explore this issue at their own pace.
  4. Climate Conversations work with people to help them connect to their values. Governments tend to advertise a lot. But advertising by itself rarely connects enough with values to impact behaviour.
  5. Social marketing has shown that group norms are important for sustaining behaviour change. Government programs to promote behaviour change generally leave people to act alone.

In other words, we definitely need to be more “surefooted”!

Scotland The Brave

Scots have a reputation for thrift and shrewdness. Like any stereotype though, real people defy categorization. Exceptions are usually the rule.

 One aspect is evident, though. For centuries, Scots have managed to maintain a distinct identity that distinguishes them from the much larger English population to the south. I can’t help but think in this regard, Scots and Canadians have a great deal in common. I wonder if Canada’s enduring desire to remain distinct from the much larger America to our south has been in part, gifted us from the Scots who played such a formative role in our early history.

 At the heart of that Scottish identity lays Stirling. It is home of Stirling Castle, the aerie of Scotland’s kings and of Mary Queen of Scots. The castle stands high above a once marshy plain on a hill of lava left by some long extinct volcano. It has a commanding view of all directions and stands sentinel over the widened channel of the Forth River where it was at one time a port at tide water.

 It was at Stirling where horses (armies) could most easily cross south and north. They who held Stirling held the strategic entry way between the highlands and the lowlands and hence could command all of Scotland. Of fond memory in Stirling still, is the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297), Battle of Bannockburn (1314), William Wallace (think Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”. Then again, please don’t.) and Robert Bruce.

Stirling Castle, Stirling Scotland
Stirling Castle has a commanding view of the Scottish countryside

 My intention in going to Stirling was not to discover any Calgary/Scotland connection or relive ancient battles. My purpose was to meet with “The Surefoot Effect”, a not-for-profit social enterprise. They earn their income consulting on a broad range of all things “sustainability” related.

 Scotland has bravely adopted one of the most ambitious carbon dioxide (C0₂) reduction targets of any jurisdiction in the world. The Surefoot Effect has been one of their civil society partners, working with citizens, organizations and businesses to bring those targets to life. I came to Stirling to learn what they are doing.

The Shift

The amount of carbon dioxide (C0₂) in our atmosphere now exceeds 400 parts/million (ppm). At one time, before the industrial revolution began – not so long ago – it was under 300 ppm.

The miracle and gift of C0₂ is that it makes life on earth possible. C0₂ embraces our planet like a warm blanket, trapping heat. We’ve all been in a greenhouse and know how warm it can be, even on a cloudy day. Light from the sun comes through the glass and warms the space. The same glass that lets the light in, keeps the heat from escaping. It captures the heat and warms the greenhouse.

Carbon dioxide works the same way. Sunlight hits earth. Instead of radiating back into space, some of that energy is taken ransom by the C0₂ and used to warm up our planet. (Just don’t ask me to explain the physics of it.) Too little C0₂, and earth turns into a frozen wasteland (think ice ages and Game of Thrones). Too much C0₂, and….well, we can’t be entirely sure what earth turns into.

What’s the worse that can happen?

James Lovelock is the granddaddy of the environmental movement. He has written elegantly about how the global atmosphere regulates the distribution of heat around our planet:

The amount of C0₂ in the atmosphere has been “just right” for many millennia – it has kept earth not too hot and not too cold. The world we humans inhabit is a product of just the right amount of C0₂ that has kept temperatures fluctuating within a narrow range over long periods of time.

What does all this extra C0₂ in the atmosphere mean?

You would think more of a good thing would make it really good. But too much of a good thing is not always better. If a sweater is all you need, you won’t put on a down parka. And you’d never put on a parka if you could never take it off.

How does all that C0₂ get into the air in the first place?

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been extracting coal and harnessing all that energy on a massive scale. Burning coal releases C0₂ as a by-product. Burning oil and natural gas has the same effect.

It seems humans are contributing to this shift since there are so many of us consuming the products made harnessing fossil fuels.

Here’s the crux of the issue: How can harnessing fossil fuels be a bad thing?

Exploiting fossil fuels has raised the standard of living for countless numbers of us. The benefits have been enormous. Many find it very difficult to accept that the impact on our climate brings high risk. Even if the consequences are serious, what can one person do anyway?

Who wants to make a Plan B if they don’t have to?

The Surefoot Effect has engaged thousands of people in a crucial conversation that tackles these questions. They help people explore what climate change means, how to make sense of it and what can they as individuals do about it.

They are helping people create their Plan B.

I’ll tell you more about The Surefoot Effect in my next post.