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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Nation on Climate Change

posted by on May 1 at 11:25 AM

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.

George Monbiot’s article is on page 33 of the May 7 issue of The Nation. Check out what’s on page 37. More info here.

RSS icon Comments


Thanks for this, Dan. I can't stand articles like this. Basically, what they are saying is we should go back to a time when people were born and died in the same place and never travelled. Instead of being so bad-news-bears about everything, what about solutions?

Bizarrely enough, the Great American Road Trip is sounding the most environmental option here, (especially if you did it in a Prius!)

Posted by argh | May 1, 2007 11:31 AM

And yet plane travel is exploding, increasing by leaps and bounds. Europe has been completely taken over by budget airlines -- RyanAir, EasyJet -- whose business is doubling, tripling, every year. And of course the China market has barely gotten started. We'll be flying ten times as many jet miles in a decade, and there will be five times as many cars.

Posted by Fnarf | May 1, 2007 11:35 AM

We're going to be wiped out by a meteor in five years anyway so I cease to care.

Posted by elswinger | May 1, 2007 11:36 AM

Oh, and wi-fi and cell phones are killing all the bees, so we'll all starve to death in four years.

Posted by elswinger | May 1, 2007 11:37 AM

The whole argument reminds me of that Dorothy Parker poem:

Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live.
Posted by dw | May 1, 2007 11:43 AM

one word: depressing.

But for some reason, the idea of Dan flying around in a Zeppelin made me lol...

Posted by Mike in MO | May 1, 2007 11:44 AM

Funny, that's what some are saying about us that want something other than the ethereal surface/transit with no through route replacement of the viaduct here in Seattle. Don't go anywhere. Unfortunate thing is that's not reality based. The best tool we have at our house to keep us at home is a new Wii.

Next I'll be banned from eating tacos because my farts are dangerous. Oh, wait a minute my boyfriend would agree with that one...

Posted by Dave Coffman | May 1, 2007 11:47 AM

If you really want to do something for the environment, it's quite simple:

Limit yourself to one or two biological children. Adopt if you'd like to have more.

It's runaway human overpopulation that's causing most of our environmental problems but no one outside China is seriously addressing it.

See, isn't that easy?

Posted by Original Andrew | May 1, 2007 11:48 AM

Erica Alterman? Is he transgender like the LA Times sports columnist?

Posted by DOUG. | May 1, 2007 11:50 AM

how about trains that travel at 124 mph. that would be hella fast than they go now, and would make a 3000 mile trip take, what, a little over 24 hours. that's not bad.

Posted by konstantConsumer | May 1, 2007 11:51 AM

Time for high-speed electric trains and nuclear power plants.

Posted by gfish | May 1, 2007 11:56 AM




Someone elses turn....

Posted by michael strangeways | May 1, 2007 11:57 AM

@10 - assuming no stops between point A and point B.

That said, rail travel still uses 1/10th as much total energy as air travel, the new Boeing jet engines use 1/2 as much jet fuel as the old ones, and water travel uses something like 1/4 to 1/8 as much energy as surface travel.

Assuming proper configuration.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 1, 2007 11:58 AM

@8 - well, actually, it's not that simple. If we have fewer people consuming many more times the resources, we're still fucked. The US is smaller in population than China, but does more environmental damage (for now, anyway).

Posted by tsm | May 1, 2007 12:04 PM

Andrew @ 8 has got the answer correct. Not much left in the petri dish for the human to eat.

And gfish @11, yes: I'm surprises we're not already hearing more about 'clean nucular'.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | May 1, 2007 12:07 PM

Judging from these snippets, this is the kind of article that might as well be written by a right-wing publication instead of a left-wing publication because the point seems to be, "Just throw up your hands. There's nothing we can do about climate change without going back to pre-Industrial Revolution times."

I don't have any stats handy, but I can't help but believe that a plane carrying 300 people consumes far less fuel than 150 private motor vehicles carrying the same 300 people. Likewise, I can't help but believe that all trains are not created equal. I'm sure maglev trains are incredibly fuel-efficient, and aren't some conventional train technologies more fuel-efficient than others?

But here's where they're really stretching it when it comes to trains:

Though trains traveling at normal speeds have much lower carbon emissions than airplanes…. energy consumption rises dramatically at speeds above 125 miles per hour…. Heck, I'd be happy with 125 MPH trains service over the train service we have now. Conventional high-speed train service -- say 100-125 MPH -- would fill a huge niche for trips like Seattle-Portland, LA-SF.

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. No kidding that electricity powered by plants using fossils fuels is no help with climate change. Dirty-fossil-fuel electricity is something we need to be shifting away from anyway regardless of whether trains get their power from electricity. If you want to tar trains with that brush, you might as well tell people they need to drastically cut down on their electricity use altogether. The Nation says: "People who watch TV and use computers are destroying the environment."

And this is where climate change has to be fought not only by individual consumer choices but by the choices of entire societies and nations and multinational alliances. Only governments and businesses encouraged by government policies can:

  • Build electrical plants that don't use fossil fuels. Whether it's hydro or nuclear or whatever.
  • Tax fossil fuels and carbon emissions enough to moderate consumption.
  • Build the infrastructure for fast train service that could fill the niche for trips in the 100-500-mile range, where the train can be noticeably faster and more convenient than a plane.

Posted by cressona | May 1, 2007 12:08 PM

Here's the fundamental issue that irks me about the snippets from this Nation piece.

Climate change, like Islamic fundamentalism, like nuclear proliferation, is a problem with no simple solutions. Being a cowboy doesn't work. Being a utopian doesn't work. There's no 100% solution, and there's no easy answer. So is the answer a nihilistic resignation of the sort we come to expect from the likes of Fnarf?

This is where I'm reminded of a recent column by The New York Times' David Brooks where he interviews Barack Obama and asks him about the philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr. Here's a great quote from Obama when asked by Brooks what he learned from Niebuhr:

“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”

Posted by cressona | May 1, 2007 12:10 PM

I just figured out the point of the last line of this post. Hilarious!

Posted by Mike in MO | May 1, 2007 12:14 PM

cressona: that is beautiful. (no sarcasm)

Posted by Mike in MO | May 1, 2007 12:17 PM

Best article ever. If you're rush limpballs. Talk about handing you enemies ammo to use against you. Not that the wingnuts need ammo they just make stuff up but still. Zepplins for pity's sake.

Posted by klyde | May 1, 2007 12:36 PM

The key is not how much a plane produces vs. a car, but how much all planes produce vs. all cars. If handle the things we can, like cars, then the impact of things we have no alternative for will be reduced. That being said there is no real reason to have planes handle routes under a few hundred miles. High speed trains probably would work better.

Posted by giffy | May 1, 2007 1:00 PM

What has been omitted from this is that one of the huge contributions to local pollution -- never mind global warming -- are the diesel powered container ships that bring cheap-labor goods from asia, and the diesel locomotives and trucks that distribute them once they're onshore. Water travel is one of the most fuel efficient means of travel available, but the sheer volume of conspicuous consumption has caused intermodal ports like Long Beach to have a long look at *any* alternative to improve air quality.

Aircraft, by their very nature, strive to be efficient -- more efficiency gives better performance and higher profitability, so there is a deep incentive for these modes of transportation that are always on the edge of performance.

Finally, there are some staggering statistics showing that while the fuel economy of the U.S. light vehicle fleet has remained about the same (roughly 21mpg), the average horsepower in vehicles has doubled (from ~125 hp to ~250 hp per vehicle) in the last 20 years. We're using the remarkable efficiency increases developed by the auto industry to drive faster rather than save fuel and reduce emissions.

Mankind's epitaph may be that we got there firstest with the mostest.

Posted by Scotty | May 1, 2007 1:02 PM

Cressona: "I can't help but believe that a plane carrying 300 people consumes far less fuel than 150 private motor vehicles carrying the same 300 people. "

Are you sure about that? I think you're wrong. Maybe I'm the one who's wrong, but let's have some evidence.

There's also the question of WHERE you burn that fuel. It's much, much worse for the greenhouse effect to burn it in the upper atmosphere than down here at road level.

Maglev: fuel efficient? How much electricity do those things use? Where does electricity come from? In France, as like as not, it's from nukes. Here, it's probably a big stinky coal plant. Hydro isn't as bad for the atmosphere as coal, but there are other costs (disappearance of salmon, for one).

The point about biofuel being worse than petroleum is extremely apt. The problem is petroleum's going to run out. So where do we get our juice?

The answer is nukes, but nukes are politically impossible.

Posted by Fnarf | May 1, 2007 1:04 PM

Uh, hasn't anyone else seen the Futurama episode on Global Warming? (I believe it was a documentary of some kind)

All we need is to drop a giant ice cube in the ocean every few years.

That or find a way to move the planet a bit farther from the sun.


Posted by Monique | May 1, 2007 1:06 PM
25 much is that cruise with the environmentally conscious lefties and the Nation editors? I totally want in on that!

Posted by Jaymes | May 1, 2007 1:12 PM

In regard to the ship comparison, using the QEII is ridiculous. If trans-oceanic flight goes away, you can bet that passenger ships will be built with accommodations like an Amtrak sleeper car, and so the carbon emissions per passenger will plummet. This is like judging the carbon/passenger-mile of a 757 by Paul Allen's private jet.

On the wider point, however, maybe we really can't get around the point that when the environmental costs of transportation are taken into account, frequent long-distance travel really is unaffordable for the average person. That's an adjustment, but it doesn't mean "never go anywhere". It just means that the costs change relative to the other things you could do with your time and your money closer to home.

Posted by five toed sloth | May 1, 2007 1:30 PM

I agree with what everyone has said about the problems with this article. And the great punch line at the end shows why I stopped subscribing to the nation. They are so divorced from reality, and really do not listen to themselves talk. Most of their writers are amongst the most unjustifiably self-righteous people on the left. And that is saying something.

Posted by Mike | May 1, 2007 1:31 PM

Fnarf: Maglev: fuel efficient? How much electricity do those things use? Where does electricity come from? In France, as like as not, it's from nukes. Here, it's probably a big stinky coal plant. Hydro isn't as bad for the atmosphere as coal, but there are other costs (disappearance of salmon, for one).

This is why I made the point: "Dirty-fossil-fuel electricity is something we need to be shifting away from anyway regardless of whether trains get their power from electricity." If our society is serious about climate change, it's incongruous to think we would be selectively focusing on transportation while ignoring electricity, especially when the most promising transportation options (both for energy independence and fighting climate change) tend to rely on electricity: rail mass transit, long-distance transit, plug-in hybrid cars.

Fnarf: The answer is nukes, but nukes are politically impossible.

I agree the answer (or part of the answer) is nukes, but I'm not so discouraged about the politics of it. This reminds me, 60 Minutes did a great piece a few weeks ago on how the French have embraced nuclear power.

Posted by cressona | May 1, 2007 1:31 PM

@25 I'm sure some of the few thousand dollars that the cruise costs is being donated to offset the carbon emissions... Right? Right?

Posted by Julie | May 1, 2007 1:41 PM

Why no assless chaps?

Posted by Jonathan | May 1, 2007 1:47 PM

Metal folding chairs.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 1, 2007 2:07 PM
Basically, what they are saying is we should go back to a time when people were born and died in the same place and never travelled.

On the contrary. There's a relatively simple solution to some of the problems suggested by the Nation's article: more vacation time. I'd gladly spend a week getting to Virginia to visit my wife's family if I had more than 2 weeks of vacation a year-- like they do in every other industrialized nation on the planet.

Advances in telecom should make business travel a lot less necessary than it's been in the past.

Once those two points are dealt with, commercial air travel can continue--with the price of mitigation included in the ticket price.

Jobs eliminated by such a shift in the economy could be replaced by the rebuilding (and then some) and operation of a new interstate passenger rail system.

Some people would lose money, some people would make money, and the country and the world would be a whole lot better off.

Posted by Judah | May 1, 2007 2:25 PM

number 26 beat me to the punch, and it's exactly misleading "facts" like that that caused us to cancel our "the nation" subscription. Cunard runs the least crowded ships in the industry, and the QE2 is their oldest ship, so likely among the least efficient as well.

Posted by jkjk | May 1, 2007 2:49 PM

HARHAR!! the ad for the cruise was the perfect punchline.....too bad progs are such dreary nitwits. It would be fun to have a sane, sensible oppo to the lunatics....
Hey, Dan- you used to crash on my floor in Madison Wi, back before you were Big-90,91....I was the big moose who gave you my radio time @ WORT......Sad to say my tres gay roomie, Kenny- you chaps got along swell- well, hard livin caught up w/ my bro. RIP, Kenny.....

Posted by mutt | May 1, 2007 2:55 PM

HARHAR!! the ad for the cruise was the perfect punchline.....too bad progs are such dreary nitwits. It would be fun to have a sane, sensible oppo to the lunatics....
Hey, Dan- you used to crash on my floor in Madison Wi, back before you were Big-90,91....I was the big moose who gave you my radio time @ WORT......Sad to say my tres gay roomie, Kenny- you chaps got along swell- well, hard livin caught up w/ my bro. RIP, Kenny.....

Posted by mutt | May 1, 2007 2:56 PM

bravo, posts 30 and 31, bravo.

ps: was that planned in advance? it was just too perfect.

Posted by Cook | May 1, 2007 3:11 PM

Pretty much the only thing I got out of this article is thank gawd I don't have kids! And that assless chaps are about to make a big comeback.

Posted by Boomer in NYC | May 1, 2007 3:28 PM

hmmm...maybe they called you a "mainstream homosexual" because during the runup to this catastrophic war you fell into lockstep with the rest of the pro-war pundits in america.

Posted by bing | May 1, 2007 3:47 PM

What about the bullet train? Isn’t its primary source of locomotion super-powered magnets? It probably has some sort of fuel back-up in case the magnets fail, but how much CO2 can it use up on a daily basis?

When I feel bad about our rapidly whatevering planet and have 25 bucks to spare or am coming up on a birthday / major holiday, I adopt/ask for an animal from the World Wildlife Fund. I also get them as gifts for friends. If you buy one for more money, you have the option of getting a stuffed animal (I got one from my grandmother –yes, grandma, I am in college now- and it seems to be pretty high quality).
Although, I’ll never understand why it costs $25 to buy a freaking butterfly.

Posted by Elysse | May 1, 2007 4:30 PM

Without reading the other comments, if electricity's going to be cited as a polluter, then in theory you're facilitating global warming no matter what, since just about everything we do requires some degree of electricity.

Let's just modernize and adapt our methods of electricity production.

Oh, and plant some fucking trees.

Also, I'm in laughable shock at the assertion that water vapor causes climate change. Shit, climate change is the new cancer. EVERYTHING CAUSES CLIMATE CHANGE. STOP BREATHING! YOUR BODIES CO2 EMISSIONS ARE CAUSING CLIMATE CHANGE AND SO IS THE METHANE IN YOUR FARTS. STOP FARTING! STOP SHITTING! JUST DIE ALREADY.

Posted by Gomez | May 1, 2007 5:39 PM

Oh wait! We can't even do that! The methane emissions from our decomposing corpses causes climate change as well! WE CAN'T WIN!

Posted by Gomez | May 1, 2007 5:40 PM


Why don't you start using Terrapass? That would help with the guilt factor. It's pretty affordable, all things considered.

Posted by Jamey | May 1, 2007 6:40 PM

Julie @29: I'm sure some of the few thousand dollars that the cruise costs is being donated to offset the carbon emissions... Right? Right?

Jamey @42: Dan,
Why don't you start using Terrapass? That would help with the guilt factor. It's pretty affordable, all things considered.

Ah, "carbon neutral" -- the surest sign of how affluent Americans really don't take this whole climate change thing seriously. Allow me to quote Denis Hayes:

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”

“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.

Carbon-offset programs are the perfect example of trying to have your cake and eat it too, with a little first-world "let them eat cake" thrown in for good measure. But hey, it's America, so everybody's got to make a buck.

Posted by cressona | May 1, 2007 6:58 PM

cressona @ 43
so, I don't get it... a dude like Dan Savage is an affluent American who flies a lot, and he just made a long post complaining about how all modes of transportation are horribly polluting. Buying carbon credits are at least a decent way of neutralizing your impact when you have to travel somewhere. "have your cake and eat it too?" I don't understand that logic. This is not a situation of make-a-mess and then make-it-messier, it's about neutralizing the mess. Do you really think that carbon-offsetting is worthless? If you have another alternative, I'm all ears.

Posted by Jamey | May 1, 2007 7:33 PM

U.S. passenger trains, with the exception of the Amtrak owned and operated Northeast corridor, are pretty much limited to 79 MPH. This has something to do with signaling or something (I'm a train queen, but not as obsessive one. I'm much more concerned with where the car car is than how we are getting where we are going.)

If they could up the speed, they could shorten the time it takes, but they still have to slow down for station stops and in the mountains.

It may take two days to get to Chicago, but it's a lot more fun that driving to Chicago (which would take at least that long, and that's without very much rest)

Posted by catalina vel-duray | May 1, 2007 8:04 PM

Jamey @44, little mental exercise for ya. Suppose every affluent American didn't change their behavior, continued consuming fossil fuels at the same rate they always have, and just compensated with carbon offsets. Kinda hard to imagine the United States making any dent against global warming with that approach.

Climate change is the kind of problem that cannot be addressed without some kind of pain and change. Carbon offsets are a panacea, a way to make a painful problem appear pain-free. And the longer we're in that kind of denial, the more painful the problem eventually will become.

Posted by cressona | May 1, 2007 8:15 PM

Some slog observations:

What people don't seem to realize is that just because someone is a hypocrite or acts in a contradictory way, doesn't automatically invalidate what they're saying. The validity of an argument is not founded on the lifestyle of the person making the argument. Just because the Nation has a cruiseship and Savage is loaded doesn't mean everything that comes out of their mouths is wrong. People can actually contradict themselves and still be correct. People look at bad news in this country like it's an opinion or an idea that can be received and rejected based purely on how it affects their lifestyle.

That said:

The fact is, there is no solution to the global warming problem, because no one is going to take the initiative to change when their lifestyles are called into question. Commuters are going to insist on cars and freeways, frequent flyers are going to continue flying, and people are going to more or less insist on doing everthing they were raised to do: commute from the suburbs and fly on airplanes.

In fact, the only way Americans are going to change their lives significantly in order to stave off disaster is if an authoritarian government forcibly compels them to. Because "practical solution" really means "no responsibility." If people can say "hey, let the capitalists and technicians figure out a practical solution (i.e. "I'm not going to do a fucking thing"), all responsibility is removed and they can lazily go about their lives. The fact is that scientists already have ideas, already more or less know what is immediatley required. They're not practical (i.e. they require individuals to take responsibility), but they're on the table.

I delight in the idea of humans in the centuries to come, inhabiting their wasted planet, debating who was responsible for the mass extinctions, lost cities, and rampant disease. I imagine it will be a lot like the slavery debate, with everyone avoiding any responsibility, because they weren't born when all this shit was going down. And ultimately they'll decide that no one was responsible, because the problem was so vast and systemic that no one actor could possibly be blamed. In short, they'll be as lazy and avoidant as they are now.

Fun times.

Posted by JMS | May 1, 2007 8:16 PM

If the human race lasts that long. I think they may be too dumb, too enslaved to their passions. It is certainly true that almost no one is willing to inconvenience themselves very greatly to save the planet. Here in New York City the City Council severely limited pedicabs at the behest of the taxi lobby even though -- I should say, _because_, they were a popular alternative to taxis.

Posted by Anarcissie | May 1, 2007 8:33 PM

What, pray tell is this hangup with speed? The internet and the phone are good for 99.9% of everything... that remaining 0.1%? Well, take the time and enjoy the trip. Read a book. Think. Fornicate.

As far a passenger ships go, they use diesel turbines... which are engines which are cheap to run but produce vast (insane) amounts of particulate pollution. There are many other options, all better.

Posted by Alex | May 1, 2007 9:33 PM

A few things that haven't come up:

Nuclear power isn't a panacea either - it involves digging fissionable material out of the ground, and like petroleum, there's a limited amount of it down there. National Geographic did a similar article to this one awhile back, analyzing energy alternatives, not travel alternatives, and they stated that if we switched entirely to nuclear we'd run out of fuel in 50 years.

The argument against biofuels claims that clearing the land for growing them generates huge CO2 emissions - but doesn't that only have to be done once? And couldn't we use existing farmland, with reduced consumption?

And about reducing consumption - I would wholeheartedly support a cap-and-trade system that resulted in skyrocketing prices for everything that involves releasing greenhouse gases, and a solid limit on emissions to whatever they need to be limited to. Under this scenario, long distance travel would look like: airship ([if there aren't other problems with this option, which I bet there are]cheapest, still likely an infrequent thing), train (more expensive, but not out of the question for special trips), car (pretty luxurious), jet (only for the most ridiculously wealthy, or the most important uses). This would be the authoritarian scenario that JMS describes, and it'll never happen. At least not before the planet is already doomed.

Maybe we should pray to the physicists of the world for controllable (non-H-bomb) hydrogen fusion.

Posted by Noink | May 1, 2007 9:39 PM

I'd like it if you would answer the question: Do you really think that carbon-offsetting is worthless?

We can all agree that people need to change their behavior. Need to be conscious consumers. Believe me, I'm working on it. But that's not what I'm getting at. In your bleak outlook you say that fossil fuel consumption would be "just compensated with carbon offsets." But... isn't that a good thing? I guess that is where my hangup is. Carbon offset= the carbon is neutralized. Isn't that WAY more than a "panacea"? It's neutralized! There is a real-world, practical exchange going on. The credits aren't just imaginary. I'd appreciate it if you put aside the everyone-must-struggle argument, and just addressed the offsetting itself. Do you really think it's worthless? Especially right now, in the USA in 2007, given our lack of widespread alternatives? (Think outside the PNW.) I for one am very glad that there are groups out there that give us this offsetting option. What say you?

Posted by Jamey | May 1, 2007 10:57 PM

additionally... please don't just call up the same argument that everyone must change their lifestyle because I already agree with that. I'm just genuinely interested in the offsetting, because I think it is a good, practical option for a guy like Dan Savage right now.

Posted by Jamey | May 1, 2007 11:08 PM

Lefty Alexander Cockburn over at Counterpunch says that the theory of human caused global warming is a lot of B.S. The earth is warming a bit, but it's very likely humans are an insignificant factor.

Historical data shows that more carbon in the atmosphere tends to follow global warming, not precede it. And very interestingly, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has been gradually increasing every year in the past hundred years regardless of how much humans have dumped into it.

So enjoy your goddamned flights. 50 years from now we will be laughing at this environmentalist doomsday crap. Humans can adjust to some naturally occuring climate change.

Now we are told Mars is experiencing global warming. What the fuck is causing that? Martian Airlines?

Posted by Mark | May 2, 2007 12:54 AM

The US used to have the most extensive and fastest rail network in the world. At roughly the time the 707 and DC-8 entered service, the rail system began to deteriorate (or accelerated its deterioration) until we ended up with the system we have today where it takes 5 or 6 hours to travel between Newport News, VA and Washington, D.C., a distance of about 180 miles. Amtrak bought Bombadier manufactured trains from Canada (the trainsets are manufactured in the US) that incorporate some French TGV technology from Bombadier's association with Alstom, the French designer and builder of the TGV. The TGV and similar trains in France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy travel routinely at 300 kph or about 180 mph. MagLev trains can travel even faster. NIMBY as well as high speed trains out of the BOS WASH corridor and also out of the San Diego-LA-San Francisco corridor. Post #45 talks about curves and mountains. In Italy they build lots of tunnels. This tends to straighten out many of the curves and level, figuratively speaking, the mountains. Surely American ingenuity could match and exceed Old Europe's systems if we had the capability and commitment.

Posted by Wheezie | May 2, 2007 5:23 AM

Wheezie, the trouble is that Amtrak does not own the tracks that they operate on (outside of the BOS-WAS corridor, which they inherited because no one wanted to pay for the defered maintenance they needed) and the freight railroads are not interested in making improvements to increase speed, since their equipment is not designed for speed anyway.

While some freights (the BNSF in particular) are great partners with Amtrak, and strive to run Amtrak trains on time, others (namely the Union Pacific) could care less.

Various proposals have been made to privatize Amtrak, but the freight lines balk at this: They would rather have the one company that they can push around, than a bunch of companies to deal with. Add to that the fact that hauling passengers is a money-losing proposition (which is why we have Amtrak in the first place) and you can see why those plans never go anywhere.

I'd like to see Amtrak used as a positive influence for enviro-friendly causes, such as bio-diesel, but it will never happen in the current political climate. As it is, congressional micro-managing has forced them to become huge polluters in terms of disposable food service items (The GOP felt that paying people to wash dishes is a waste. They are happy to not go after the billions missing in Iraq, but they feel strongly that they need to tell Amtrak how to serve dinner or make beds)

Amtrak operates quite efficiently for what it is, and what it has to work with. If they could get off the year-to-year funding drama, where it is used as an ideological football by both sides of the political spectrum, it could be much better.

But enough of my half-assed wonkiness. When does the bar car open?

Posted by catalina vel-duray | May 2, 2007 7:28 AM

@49 -- good point about diesel ships. They use a particularly low grade diesel which is higher in particulates. Cargo ships are in the same boat, fuel-wise.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | May 2, 2007 7:54 AM

I Love how it says that the water vapor from a Hydrogen plane would cause Climate change 13 times greater than an ordinary plane.

Outright falsehood. Putting water into the stratosphere...hmmm, sounds a bit like the same thing that EVAPORATION know, evaporation, what happens to our oceans, lakes and rivers everyday? Why doesn't the author just admit that he would rather go back to a time when there was no technology.

Posted by cambel | May 2, 2007 8:24 AM

Trains, cars, buses, etc are only bad when they rely on fossil fuels. The solution is to pursue renewable sources of electricity and use it to run those forms of transportation. Here in Vancouver, BC they have tons of buses/trains running on electricity (80% from hydropower). Now is that so hard?

I wish people would stop making excuses for not doing anything and just start adjusting their habits. No, you're not going to be able to eliminate your carbon emissions immediately. So what? Incremental changes add up, especially once you get the hang of it. The same thing goes for government level changes.

Posted by MT | May 2, 2007 11:06 AM

DAN! You running with scissors, I mean the Republicans again in 08? The news on climate change and our larger systems as they have been built for 150 years is depressing. Duh. Anyone remember how clean and quiet the skies were on September 12, 2001? Anyone not want to fly to go get some sun in the winter? But instead of wringing our hands and pouring another glass to boohoo in (which is it's own kind of Seattle style fun on a weeknight), you miss the most imortant two emissions facets that can be addressed and dealt with fairly quickly compared to many of the others: Automobiles and Coal Plants comprise more than half of all our emissions. There are hybrid technologies for cars and sequestration technologies for coal plants. These technologies are not being applied rigorously because of the mutual pocket pool those particular industries play with legislators, and particularly with the Whitehouse Council on Environmental Quality and the EPA. That';s right, more than half of emissions with two industries - a bargain! It's only doom if people quit driving the issue with their representatives. Your bitch session here (however commiserating) does more to further the Hy Brasil attitude of disbelief or helplessness than any of the lightbulbs you changed in your house does good. Come on Dan, get it together.

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Sorry #53, but a politico on the left believing something doesn't make it scientific or correct. When it comes to the facts on global warming, I'm a little more interested in what scientists have to say than what Cockburn's on about. I don't believe ideological opinion is ever a substitute for the facts, regardless of what side of the spectrum it comes from. Ideologues automatically reject anything that doesn't suit them. On ethical, moral, and philosophical questions, opinions are welcome. On crucial things like the environment, forget it.

Posted by JMS | May 2, 2007 8:14 PM

Word up, JMS.

Build the shit, and the people will come.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | May 2, 2007 9:23 PM

too bad I got to this so late...
Although cruise ships may suck (environmentally), Holland America (which the Nation cruise is using) has been more responsive to environmental concerns than any other cruise line. They're THE LEADERS in cleaning up the industry. So, perhaps the Nation isn't as hypocritical as you would like to think they are. And, maybe next time do a little more research before throwing those stones (I mean, for the sake of your glass house and all). check this out:

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