The great aviation debate

24 02 2007

trailsThe daily transit argues that air travel offers huge benefits to society and that we should tackle automobiles before touching airlines.

The trouble is that air travel contributes disproportionately to global warming.  A trip from Amsterdam to Phuket for two people by air contributes more to atmospheric CO2 than driving a car for AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Air travel unequivocally needs to be brought within the carbon capping and trading mechanisms.  There is no reason for it to be specially privileged.  To do otherwise is to externalise the cost of flying onto the environment.

I cherish my international travel experieces like most others, but it is absurd to imagine that air travel can continue to grow EXPONENTIALLY into the foreseeable future as is currently the case.

Certainly there are social benefits to travel.  I wonder if there are social costs too.  Perhaps the more accessible a place becomes the more it becomes anywheresville.  Generica.  Easy to get to but not worth visiting.  It’s impossible to visit a place without changing it in some way.  Are we losing global cultural diversity as we all strive to be “cosmopolitan”?  Just a few thoughts.  For my two bobs worth – bring back the romance of train trips and sea-faring !!  Air travel is fun, but not if it costs the Earth.




8 responses

25 02 2007

Good to have a debate! – a couple comments:

While I realize that air travel has a significant CO2 footprint, I would be interested in seeing a source to back up your claim that one trip from Amsterdam to Phuket is worse than driving a car for an entire year (per passenger).

As far as social costs, I think you’re spot on to be concerned about places turning into ‘anywheresville’ – I’ve seen the Starbucks and TGIF’s and Ruby Tuesday’s in Seoul, and it’s disturbing and sad. But this is not the product of air travel, it’s the product of economies that embrace globalisation to a ridiculous degree. Certainly I’m not naive enough to believe that more foreigners coming to a place won’t mean more catering to them, but this is a complex problem that has more to do with national identity and greed than air travel.

As far as the romaniticism of sea-faring, I get it – I’ve wanted to ride a trans-Pacific just so I could get a sense of the distance I’ve traversed, I think there’s value in that. But for the every day person (especially if we’re talking about people who are tight on money), a trip to Europe by boast would involve weeks and months not at work. So then we’re really talking about relegating travel to those with money.

25 02 2007

*boat, not boast 🙂

25 02 2007

Some fair points “daily”. Equity should certainly be a consideration of any changes to travel availability. I agree too that the issues relating to homogenisation of cultures woldwide is of course more complex than just blaming air travel.

I thought I should give you my source. I haven’t done the maths myself. I got it from a second hand report of a European Commission statement:

If true, it’s pretty alarming. Thanks for commenting and um…oh yeah…sorry for hijacking the post back here to my blog. Happy to move it back to your place for any further discussions.

25 02 2007

I read the article – the comission reports that:

a round-trip flight for two from Amsterdam to the Thai resort of Phuket produces considerably more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than the average new car does in a whole year.

I’ll agree, that’s pretty astounding, if it’s accurate.

To test this out I hopped over toclimate care. The accuracy of the stat the above article gives obviously depends on how good your car’s gas mileage is and how much you drive – but I’ll admit, it doesn’t seem too far fetched. Compare a trip from the Netherlands to Bangkok for two (about 5.31 tonnes of CO2) with driving 15,000 miles per year with 25 mpg (6.3 tonnes). But you have to consider, two people usually have two cars, which means double that.

Again, I’m not trying to debunk the idea that air travel is detrimental – it definitely is. I just think we ought to focus on getting people to use reasonable transportation alternatives in their everyday lives – bicycles, for instance. I think that has a better chance of success and impact.

No worries about “hijacking” – just good to have an open debate.

25 02 2007

btw, “climate care” is linked above –

25 02 2007

Thanks for doing the numbers. Interesting. Climate offsets are being heavily debated on blogs at the moment. Some in the environmental movement are quite against them. Personally, I think they are an entirely reasonable way of internalising the costs of travel while we wait for governments/technology to bring about broad changes which will render offsets unnecessary. That is not to say that we can carry on business as usual though. Reduce your emissions as much as you can and then offset the rest. Seems like a fair approach to me. Although we must be careful of dubious schemes. I favour not-for-profits and those that use a broad range of offsets rather than, for instance, just planting trees alone. Then there’s the question of equity again. The rich can afford to buy offsets – but all of humanity reaps the benefit.

13 03 2007
Michael Sutcliffe

If the same number of people travelled by sea and train as by air, over the same distances, I think you’d find the environmental impact would be higher.

Air travel is relatively efficient. Very efficient if you include people’s time and the fact that they can land in the middle of major population centres.

Of course, if we replaced air travel by sea and train a lot less people would travel which would mean less damage to the environment but a lower quality of life for everyone. I would suppose this would be a goal for the green movement.

15 03 2007

Hi Michael,

I suspect you are wrong about train travel. We might need to seek further information about energy use there. Sea travel can be sail powered or sail supplemented and can be far more energy efficient than air travel.

As for lower quality of life – if you feel that it is in large part determined by the number of countries one has travelled to in a given year then you may be right – but I think this premise is suspect.

The green movement seeks the same thing as libertarian movement Michael. A better life for the majority of humanity. But we disagree on how to get there and what “better life” really means.

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