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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 19:09 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 19:09 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Air travel and carbon footprints



10 June 2008 18:28

Andrew responds to my post about the surprising inefficiency of air transport. My response follows:

Reading the report and your comments again, the question that came to me was, 'are we able to improve fuel usage efficiencies by moving back to piston power systems and aiming to develop technological innovation to piston engines and thus lower the overall impact on CO2 burn even further, or could we re-develop the hybrid turbo-prop technology and further reduce emissions?'

I am one of those great 'sinners' who travel across Australasia for my living; India, China, Korea, ANZ plus the regular travel to HQ in the US. If I was provided with the financial incentive to travel at high cost by jet or at low cost by piston engine aircraft, It might do several things:

  1. Travel less, but plan for longer travel times away from my base.
  2. Do less point-to-point single trips from my base.

Tourism might change from a short one week lying in the sun to a more extensive period of local residency, as I remember for holidays in the 1950s. There would also be a shift of spend as a percentage basis from travel to residency, which could offset reductions in the number of people being employed in the aviation industry.

The report I cited says we've recently passed the point at which jet travel is less efficient than piston-engined aircraft, so it wouldn't make sense to return to pistons. And anyway, piston-engined aircraft are much slower than jets. As for travelling less, communications technology was meant to solve that problem for us, but instead of reducing the necessity for travel, it has probably just made it easier. The fact that you will soon fly overseas without a paper ticket but with a code stored on your mobile phone illustrates the point nicely.

Beyond the technology, there's a broader point about human progress. I tend towards the view that we will cope with climate change largely through technological innovation rather than by convincing people to make do with less. As this book review argues, selling your car, cancelling your holiday and switching off the dishwasher in order to reduce your carbon footprint is likely to reduce the sum of human happiness and perhaps even increase the risks to the planet: innovation flourishes when we have the time and leisure to devote to cerebral rather than physical tasks.

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