Thursday, September 21, 2006

Air travel: Monbiot spells it out

I guess a fair few of my regular visitors already read the Guardian, but in case you missed it, I recommend that EVERYONE who has ever stepped on an aeroplane reads this piece by George Monbiot today.

The exponential growth in commercial aviation and the increasing availability of "cheap" flights with complete disregard for their true cost to the environment has been a long-standing concern of mine. Some politicians are now starting to talk about it, but as Monbiot argues, few would be prepared to contemplate the draconian measures that will almost certainly be needed if climate change targets are to be met.

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Joe Otten said...

I am fairly skeptical regarding the contrails problem for a couple of reasons.

1. Contrails are short-lived, much much shorter than the half-life of additional carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere. The moisture cycle has a huge turnover, so any added moisture here or there will be insignificant very quickly.

2. Contrails have a cooling effect during the day and a warming effect at night. It would therefore be possible to achieve a net cooling effect, if necessary, by timing flights more often in the morning.

Monbiot argues against the possibility of technical solutions. I think there are big problems facing hydrogen powered aviation or road ransport that he doesn't mention. Nonetheless I suspect that the contrail problem is Monbiot grasping for a reason to reject technical solutions which he wants to do for ideological reasons.

unethical man said...

Being pretty wealthy, I am all in favour of "grounding most of the aeroplanes flying today", thereby making air travel the sort of elitist pleasure it was in the 1950s before the hoi-polloi discovered package holidays in Benidorm. Great! No more jostling with the great unwashed at over-crowded airports, and if all these ethical chaps are also staying at home eating their tofu, so much the better.

Back to reality. So what if air travel damages the environment. Given an exponentially expanding global population (currently at 6.5 billion) and the natural and unstoppable desire for 3rd World to be come 2nd world and the 2nd World to become 1st World, the environment is pretty much doomed. Grounding those aeroplanes is only delaying the inevitable by a couple of days.

There is only one sensible approach. Put all our efforts into working out how to cope with environment change/damage rather than trying to prevent it. But thats not very appealing the the Guardian reading classes, is it.

It would mean that the liberal/left would have to stop manufacturing horse-hair shirts and acting as Cromwellian fun-stoppers for SUV drivers and frivolous air-travellers. Which is the whole point of all this, isn't it? Let's screw up the lives of the ruling class (and everyone else at the same time) in punishment for Thatcher's suppression of the miners strike, Communism losing the Cold War etc etc. Good old class warfare, disguised as "ethics".

Joe Otten said...


You seem to contradict your own argument. Making reckless fun more expensive doesn't affect the ruling classes, who can afford it anyway.

Working out how to cope with change is a nice soundbite, and if you come up with any specific suggestions, I would probably support them. Until then, it is not an alternative. And, as always, we want belt and braces.

The fact is that if we don't levy green taxes reflecting the externalised costs that emissions impose, then we are in fact offering hidden subsidies to polluters. Well that's just daft, and your "I don't want to know" tantrum doesn't make it any less daft.

Obviously freeloaders like yourself don't respond to 'ethical' arguments, but in fact green taxes takes the ethics out of the equation. The externalities will be corrected, go do what you want, if you can afford it. The libertarian ideal, made possibly only by green taxes.