Boeing’s 787 Dreambender

Hello my name is Rick. I am a recovering flightaholic.

Hello my name is Rick. I am a recovering flightaholic.

Hello my name is Rick. I am a recovering flightaholic.

Let’s face it, cheap air travel is a modern obsession. For most of us it is not essential; it is a luxury. The trouble is air travel is too cheap. If the cost of indulging in this luxury were to reflect the damage it does to the environment, it would definitely not be a boom industry: It would be the privilege of a super-wealthy elite – just as it was 50 or 60 years ago. In recent years, commercial aircraft manufacturers have been competing with each other to present themselves as environmentally responsible. European collaboration has produced the world’s biggest commercial passenger airliner, whereas Boeing have produced the world’s lightest: Both trying to compete for the headline of the most environmentally-friendly aeroplane. However, let’s face it, aircraft manufacturers are not interested in environmental protection, they are interested in only one thing – selling more aircraft than their rivals.
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner versus the A380 Airbus - there can be no winner!

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner versus the A380 Airbus – there can be no winner!

It doesn’t matter whether you consider the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A380, they may be more fuel-efficient and less noisy than any other plane on the planet but, they are both on a flight from the reality of Jevons Paradox. Whether it be bigger and better aeroplanes or airports, building more capacity, just encourages more demand; whereas what we need is demand (and expectation) management. Unlike heroin, it is unlikely that air travel will ever be made illegal. However, just like fossil fuels in general, air travel needs to be made prohibitively expensive. It would, of course, also help if airlines paid tax on the fuel they use. But, none of this is likely to happen any time soon for the simple reason that our governments are fixated on growth; and pandering to the interests of business. Preserving a habitable planet for future generations of humans is very low on their list of priorities. As for me? Well, in my 47 years I have flown comparatively little; and for most of that time I have flown in ignorance of the damage that this technological marvel of our age is doing. For example, I was extremely fortunate to fly to Australia at the tender age of 10 – back in the 1970s. For someone who had grown up going to places like Bognor Regis – and considered a ferry trip to France to be an adventure – flying half way around the world was almost incredible. However, today, I do not demand that people stop flying; and I have not stopped flying myself (although it is extremely rare – no more than 8 flights in 10 years). All I ask is that it cease to be cheap. We cannot get rid of traffic congestion by building more roads; and we will not meet the demand for more air travel by building more airports. As I said before, we must discourage people from driving cars and flying in planes by pursuing the same strategy we have done to discourage smoking: We must confront people with the reality of the damage it does; and make it a very expensive habit. This is what psychologists might call behaviour modification therapy. Based on what I said yesterday, you might want to call it “when in a hole stop digging” therapy. Talking of holes, of course, that brings me back to the other issue that recently prompted people to label me a hypocrite; namely the mere suggestion that I might consider applying to work for someone who might have coal miners amongst their clients… Well, I have not had an interview for such a job; let alone an offer of employment. Therefore, my position remains a pragmatic one; I will try extremely hard to avoid being put in that position but, whether I do or not, the coal will undoubtedly still be mined… Therefore, whether it be fossil fuel mining or fossil fuel burning – on the ground or in the air – what we should be doing is focussing on finding alternatives and, if there are no alternatives, we should accept that environmental protection comes at a price; one we should acknowledge, accept and expect to start paying in full. One thing is sure, we cannot avoid the cost… We either pay now or we will pay later; and all the evidence suggests the cost is going only one way – exponentially upwards towards oblivion.

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Consumerism, Environment, Fossil Fuels, Growthmania, Modernity, Sustainable development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Boeing’s 787 Dreambender

  1. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez says:

    Of course, flying is already getting more and more expensive, so things are going in the direction you seek. I am sad that I have not been more places when it was more affordable to get to them…but I agree with you, the true cost of burning fossil fuels must be reflected in order to drive the change we need to survive. It’s that simple and that stark. So I may never get to see Chile or the Galapagos, but if it means the world as we know it will survive and the ecosystem as a whole begin to prosper, so be it! Maybe I will take up sailing in my old age….

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Jennifer. My ex-Wife used to tell me that I had been born in the wrong century – because she felt I would have been better suited to the 19th Century landed gentry in the UK going on a Grand Tour of the world (because they had lots of money and no job). Unfortunately, this was one thing about which I think she was correct (in terms of my aspirations at least). However, we are where we are and, as you say, “if it means the world as we know it will survive” then, we should all be willing to curtail our inquisitiveness (and our acquisitiveness) in order to achieve that goal. Let’s just hope we are not already too late…

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    • While I wouldn’t argue with the thrust of your Post, Rick, the implications of pricing (taxing) the use of carbon-based fuels to reflect both the direct and indirect costs of the supply chain and the future costs to society are a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong I agree with your Post and with Jennifer’s comment above. But finding an equitable way of allocating the true costs, applying it fairly across many nations and within democratic processes, seems many steps too far just now. Maybe the alternative approach is to educate and promote the significant benefits of societies turning away from global trade, questionable practices in the mass production of food, overuse of chemicals, etc., etc., and let the powerful benefits of local communities becoming self-supporting substantially reduce demand. The worldwide Transition movement now has nearly 1,000 ‘official’ transition communities registered. All started with Totnes in Devon, England and their website http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/ is a wonderful example of the future. And loved your Blog Jennifer. Paul

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      • Rick Altman says:

        As ever, Paul, thanks for your very thoughtful comments. Last weekend there was an item about peat extraction on the BBC’s Countryfile programme, within which the owner of such a business said he felt the government should tax carbon and/or ban peat extraction because, unless they do so, demand will not diminish and peat extractors will have little incentive to move to manufacturing peat-free compost from green waste instead. This was very refreshing to hear and is the reasoning behind this post: I believe consumption-based taxes must be used to moderate consumption and/or modify behaviour. In developed countries – where people have access to alternatives or could easily be given such access by appropriate investment – carbon must be seen as a luxury that we can no longer afford; and therefore taxed accordingly. Apart from that, I agree with you when you say that globalism lies at the root of many of our most intractible problems: Bioregionalism and/or localism would eliminate much of the damage done to the environment – as well as a lot of corruption and the mis-selling of inappropriate technology (and solutions to problems people don’t have) – that is done by multi-national companies seeking ever greater markets for their products (many of which people really don’t need).

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      • We managed to see a recorded version of that Countryfile programme and I well remember the comments from the business owner. Amending demand of peat in the UK via UK legislation is fine. But take air travel! There’s no way that one country can impose a significant tax because the a/c operators will simply refuel in another country. Ergo, the IATA website shows the global average price paid at the refinery for aviation jet fuel on Friday of each week. http://www.iata.org/whatwedo/economics/fuel_monitor/Pages/index.aspx Which is why I think that until the world is truly past the tipping point of runaway climate change, there will not be concerted international action. By which time it will be pretty scary! One is reminded that the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and in force in 2005 had “legally binding commitments” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions! 😦 Oh, and to underline the global myopia, the dollar equivalent of UK petrol prices is around $8.80 a gallon and here in Payson we are paying $3.80 a gallon!

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Now I see your point. Thanks for taking the trouble to clarify it for my simple brain. Clearly, with regard to aviation fuel, it will indeed require international agreement to implement the tax changes. I think you are therefore right to expect that this will not happen for a long time. Anthropogenic climate disruption is, as Clive Hamilton has said, “a failure of modern politics”. This is something to which I alluded in my very first substantive post on this blog: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/sceptical-economists-are-intellectually-bankrupt/ Therefore, you are absolutely right to draw attention to the ludicrously-low price of hydrocarbon fuels in the USA, which Patrice Ayme and many others have highlighted as the main reason Americans see so little benefit in reducing their consumption. Thanks for providing the actual price in USD today. I had previously tried to do this but may have been a bit wide of the mark? See: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/a-brief-history-of-earth-part-2/#comment-2908

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      • jpgreenword says:

        Regarding the taxing of carbon-based fuels, I think that the EU is attempting to do the right thing with their applying a carbon tax on flights. It adds little to the cost of a ticket (a passenger wouldn’t even notice), but it is a start. Unfortunately, many countries are crying foul. I hope the EU sticks to their guns.

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  2. Clive Hamilton has said, “a failure of modern politics”. That’s a very good line! Enjoy the long week-end, P.

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  3. Travel broadens the mind, and essential to build the bonds between people, because if you have been a welcome guest then you tend to appreciate any habitat loss and even pressure your government not to bomb them. Non essential travel should be taxed, like business trips, signing deals and all the dull work-a-day stuff that could be done electronically, and non interactive holidays like lying on a beach would be heavily taxed. Perhaps we could have a system of guilt-trip points [like nectar], which allows me a guilt free trip to the rainforest in return for cycling to work for 2 years. I think it is such a great idea I may launch it, “buy these solar panels and earn 1000 points” the possibilities are extensive.

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  4. jpgreenword says:

    We will end up paying the price, one way or another. And if not us today, our children tomorrow. I find it rather discouraging to see how society as a whole seems unable to make the sacrifices needed to address climate change. Having said that, wonderful post Rick. And I’m glad to see you are recovering from your addiction : ) Personally, I haven’t flown since 1999. And what I really miss are the G-forces on take-off! My 6-foot-2-inch frame does not miss the seating arrangement.

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