Time Shows the Limits of Journalistic Imagination February 4, 2007Posted by Jim Satterfield in Economics, Environment, Futurist Spec, Politics, Technology.
Time Magazine writes about the inherent environmental footprint of air travel. But is it really as cut and dried as they make it sound? If you leave it to the free market system with no government intervention it probably is. If you look at the short term they’re probably right. But think about it a little differently. How many new materials that are strong enough for many uses on airplanes still aren’t being used because of a short term view of cost effectiveness? How much room for improvement is there in engine design and mightn’t there the possibility of an entirely different kind of engine that just hasn’t been invented yet?
Not according to this article, which this quote makes obvious.
“It’s not like having leaky home windows you can fix with double glazing,” says Leo Murray, a spokesman for the straightforwardly named green group Plane Stupid, which led the criticism of Prince Charles.
In addition there are other possibilities that are ignored. While the kind of adaptations that the environmentalists cited in this article aren’t going to happen (The elimination of air travel and “learning to live locally” being their only solutions.) there are other, wider ones that aren’t really the kind of sacrifice you might think. If for the sake of cutting back on the problems inherent in the modern commuting nightmare we can finally get uberconservative business management types to accept telecommuting and videoconferencing as normal and not career destroying, wouldn’t that open the door for even more imaginative ways to help the environment? Imagine a modern lighter than air craft, faster and safer than the old ones that people are used to thinking about. There is already research in this field, such as the Aeroscraft and the P-791. Imagine that even if you feel you must travel to Asia for business that you ride in a craft that is a descendant of these efforts and use telecommunication and videoconferencing to stay in touch during the necessarily longer flight time and you aren’t stuck in the current airline sardine can configuration. Should the cost per passenger be similar to current costs it would even open the door to leisure travel.
As far as the government involvement I mentioned earlier I’d like to see government sponsored equivalents to the X-Prize for various goals to help with most environmental goals that tend to produce market failures and then tax breaks for implementation of them by industry. I think this approach would help encourage the market to do what it does best…but only when it’s encouraged when it comes to some things.