Politics The Nation on Climate Change
posted by May 1 at 11:25 AMon
Righteous lefty mag The Nation once dismissed me as a “mainstream homosexual.” (It had something to do with my refusal to wear assless chaps at PTA meetings or something). But I subscribe anyway—mostly for “deadline poet” Calvin Trillin, and columnists Eric Alterman and Katha Pollitt. But the May 7 issue, which only just arrived at my sprawling mansion, was dedicated to climate change, an issue that I find compelling. So I dug into the feature package: “Surviving the Climate Crisis: What Must be Done.” One article in particular caught my eye: “Flying Into Trouble: Why Most Airplanes Must Be Grounded.”
I fly a lot—way too much—and I have the good sense to feel guilty about it. And I damn well should, says George Monbiot:
Jets produce staggering amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases that accelerate global warming…. Carbon dioxide emissions per passenger mile from a standard airliner are very similar to those from cars. But you can cover nearly 15,000 miles in one day by plane. The C02 produced by planes is augmented by the other greenhouse gases they release, magnifying its effect by 270 percent. This means flying is one of the most destructive things we can do.
Monbiot goes to dispel any fantasies frequent flyers have about alternative fuels coming to the rescue of our consciences—like those biolfuels Virgin CEO/loopy billionaire Richard Branson has publicly backed…
Forests in South America and Southeast Asia are being cleared to plant palm oil, sugarcane, and soya for transport fuel… [But] the production of every ton of palm oil results in up to 33 tons of C02 emissions, as trees are burned and peat is drained. This means that palm oil causes up to ten times as much global warming as petroleum.
Hey, I read somewhere they we could use hydrogen fuel in planes—hydrogen burns clean, right?
Jet engines can run on hydrogen; however, because it is a far less dense fuel than kerosene, the planes would have to be much wider to carry it. This means that they must fly in the stratosphere—otherwise they’d encounter too much drag. Unfortunately, the water vapor produced by burning hydrogen in the stratosphere would cause a climate-changing effect thirteen times greater than that of an ordinary plane.
Okay, I give up. I guess I’ll have to start taking the train everywhere—which would great, actually. I prefer the train. When I have the time I take the train home to Chicago to see my family, even though it takes two days. But if trains were faster I would be able to take them more often—and lots of other folks that would otherwise fly would take trains if they were faster. So clearly we should be investing in high-speeed trains, right?
Though trains traveling at normal speeds have much lower carbon emissions than airplanes…. energy consumption rises dramatically at speeds above 125 miles per hour…. If the trains are powered by electricity, and if that electricity is produced by plants burning fossil fuels, they cause more C02 emissions than planes.
So cars are out, planes are out, and trains are out. So how the hell should we travel?
There is one form of… transport that might help us to reduce emissions, but this will not be a popular proposal. The total climate impact of a zeppelin, blimp, or airship is 80 to 90 percent lower than the impact of a jet airplane.
Okay… zeppelins. But the devil, as always, is in the details:
Their top speed is around 80 mph…. A flight from New York to London by airship would take forty-three hours. They also have trouble landing and taking off in high winds and making headway if the wind is against them.
Christ. So zeppelins are out too—at least if you have to get somewhere in a hurry or on a specific day. So the next time I want to go see my friends in the United Kingdom I guess I’ll take a passenger ship, the only travel option left to me. What’s that you say, Monbiot?
Passenger ships appear to be even worse for the environment than jets…. [The] Queen Elizabeth II, the luxury liner run by Cunard, produces 9.1 tons of emissions per passanger on a return trip from Britain to New York. This is 7.6 times as much carbon as you produce when traveling by plane.
What a depressing article. Cars, planes, trains, and passenger ships are all bad—but of them all, passenger ships are the absolute worst. They do the most damage to the environment. And The Nation is calling on us to do “what must be done” to combat the climate crisis, so that means no QE II for me. Because, again, traveling by passenger ship is the most environmentally irresponsible thing a person can possibly do.