The Airport Shuffle

38 thoughts on “The Airport Shuffle”

  1. I wish we would bring on a carbon tax. I’m tired of having to calculate whether this or that is better for the environment. Just let the price tell me. I don’t know if gas will end up costing $7 per gallon or $47 per gallon to stabilize the CO2 in the atmosphere, but I’m 98% sure it’s between those two numbers. And whatever it is, I can figure out how to survive. If gas costs $35 per gallon, I bet a lot more people can and will work from home. In the meantime, I’ll fly when I want. Oh, and I’m tired of hearing how we need more infrastructure when the only infrastructure in mind seems to make more CO2.

  2. You kick ass once again.

    Somebody from NYPIRG once came to the door. They wanted money to fight fracking and help climate change.

    I’ve got solar panels on the roof that generate more than 100 percent of our electricity. I take a bicycle or subway to work. We drive seldom, mostly on the highway out of town. We only have a room air conditioner in one room, and use it only on the hottest nights, when we all bed down there. We use fans. LED and CFLs. Recycling. Etc. A middle-sized row house with double pane windows on just two sides, and a thermostat that turns down the heat when we are at work and at night.

    You know what that leaves? A still large use of natural gas for heat. I explained all this to her, and asked wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I opposed natural gas production? What about nuclear, I asked? NYPIRG is against it, and in fact the largest nuclear plant in the state at Indian Point will be shutting down. Wind? Not if they can see it from the beach. What then?

    She finally said coal, she we should just use coal.

    1. Like you I’ve worked hard to radically reduce my household energy consumption. My motivation has nothing to do with “saving the Earth” and everything to do with creating personal resilience. My father-in-law spent most of his long career at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado and he doesn’t have any solar panels on his home. Instead he went whole hog on insulation and hyper efficiency.

  3. I think people overestimate the value of flying. I fly several times a year, but if I had to stop flying it really would not impact my quality of life. The trips I take by plane are very expendable. I would be very happy to stay at home.

  4. Johnny – looks like you’ve hit a nerve- people of priviledge- which includes way more than the 1%, do not want to have their lifestyles threatened. It’s the elephant in the room. People scream about environmental degradation as they drive their SUVs to the airport for their next flight to an ecotour in Patagonia. Solar panels, electric cars and the like aren’t going to stop the downward slide. As John Michael Greer says”Collapse Now. Avoid the Rush.”

  5. I agree with the general argument, though there are some caveats. Electric planes are now a reality, albeit a slower and shorter distance one. These will improve over time, though I can’t see them ever being as fast as a jet.

    EVs are powered by whatever the grid/your home is. For some people, that’s already fully renewable energy. On a dirty grid, an EV is comparable to a gasoline car, with the big advantage that as the grid cleans up, so does the EV (unlike the gasoline car). If you live in an area with a cleaner grid, it’s already a vast improvement.

    I agree people need to recognise that flying is currently very ‘dirty’, and cut back on flying as the only logical response. I think it’s wise though, to avoid the perfect being the enemy of the good (i.e. people tend to shut off completely if they feel hopeless, which is counterproductive).

    1. Electric planes are basically a decent replacement for turboprops. I see them as a more viable replacement for end-of-life bridges (like those going to the Florida Keys) and insolvent rural highways that will necessarily degrade to gravel.

      Furthermore, I think the high costs of maintaining runways and the property values in coastal communities will likely lead to a relative resurgence of seaplanes- we’re already seeing them between Seattle and Vancouver, as well as the Hamptons and Manhattan.

  6. I quit flying about ten years ago. These days, if I find a pressing need to travel some long distance, say from Portland, OR to New Orleans – which I did a few years back – I take the train. Slower? Definitely. More expensive? Pretty much, but I did say ‘pressing need’ up there. I do not travel much for recreation anymore – not even locally.
    My car (yes, I still have one – just in case) is a seventeen-year-old-well-maintained Subaru, the fuel tank of which gets a refill (at 3/4 empty) about once every six weeks or so. But I’m fortunate to live at the edge of a small town and within walking distance of a grocery, the post office, a coffee shop, a couple of pretty good restaurants, a nice park and my barber, who gives a pretty good inexpensive haircut.
    I think back to my Father’s lifestyle when he was a boy growing up in Ukraine; no one in the family had been more than about ten miles from home until they left for Canada when he was about twelve years old. I’m not advocating that we all live like this, mind you – it seems pretty limiting – just noting how ‘necessity’ has been modified in just a few generations.

  7. It’s 440 GWh (gigawatt-hours) of electricity, not 440 GW (gigawatts). GWh is a unit of energy. GW is a unit of capacity.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. Any estimate on how much fuel a typical airport like SFO burns each day or year? And what the equivalent might be compared to electrical usage?

      1. As an aside to your question I recall reading that each time an airliner takes off or lands it leaves 80 lbs of (combined) CO2, hydrocarbons, soot, and CO (carbon monoxide). With some Oxides of nitrogen, nitric acid and other stuff, in the air.

  8. There was, of course, a time we didn’t use fracking to get oil and gas but one can never go back. One of the lies of the modern world is the lie of “progress”; we MUST continue to (“move forward”) progress or everything will collapse. It’s the wrong way to view change, which is what actually happens. The idea of “progress” is slowly strangling our options as it is constrained by both our lifestyle (consumerism) and our politics (which, more and more, insist that everyone buy in to the current paradigm–or be forced to do so at legal “gunpoint”). Just my thoughts.

    1. As I’m fond of saying… Failure fixes itself. Let things fail. The pain of failure will do all the heavy lifting when it comes to reorienting our various activities.

      1. I have been thinking about this for a while.

        We can build electric cars now. Sort of. Supposedly. As long as they are heavily subsidized. But what about electric airplanes? Electric semi-trucks? Construction equipment? Military hardware? School buses for rural and suburban areas? Container ships? Warships?

        I looked at some sites promoting electric airplanes. They look really cool, and also, small. Most of them seem to offer room for 10-20 people to fly a few hundred miles. How would this work as a business model? Forget about light-weight carbon fibers and advancements in battery life. Success of technology always depends on that technology being economically viable. However well the technology works, it has to scale–a lot. We have been able to build hydrogen powered fuel cells for decades. But (safely, economically) producing enough (liquid) hydrogen for 100 million cars and light trucks staggers the imagination. It can’t be done. Would an airline of the 21st century need to buy 10 electric “jets” to replace the capacity of just one of the standard variety? Or maybe buy 20 or 30 so that most of the fleet can sit in the hangar and recharge 8 hours or more after every flight? What about a dozen other costs we haven’t predicted yet or the advertisers haven’t mentioned? How much would they have to charge per seat to break even? The Concorde failed because moving passengers at twice the speed of sound was fun but made a ticket fantastically expensive. Likewise, it is hard to be optimistic about an electric plane as an alternative to the air travel we have grown used to. I like being spoiled, but I don’t think it will last much longer.

        Thanks again for yet another excellent, engaging post!

        Someday I wouldn’t mind showing you around my Chicago neighborhood, on foot.

        1. I’ve traveled on the Eurostar and TGV between London and Paris, the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hiroshima and Kyoto, the high speed train from Beijin to Shanghai, and the AVE across Spain. That’s what an electric airplane looks like.

          So far I’ve been underwelmed by the various half assed attempts to create puny mediocre baby bullet trains connecting suburban parking lots to other suburban parking lots in the U.S. We aren’t going to build a respectable rail system for the simple reason that we just don’t want to. Shrug.

  9. Liz, LuLu, and I went to the brand new intermodal transportation center in Springfield today to get 3 “smart cards” for the PVTA (our BART more or less) and for Liz to get a train ticket to get to a Broadway show tomorrow. Train ticket wasn’t an issue but at the $85 million Union Station HQ…they can’t do the smart cards and have no idea when they might be able. to sell. the thingies. we could use to make catching the bus easier since we have a stop 30’ from our front door. Geez.

    1. It’s funny. Austin is really low on capital investment (no decent light rail, no electrification, freeways are about where they were in the 1960’s, there’s like two bus lanes in the whole city), but great on UX.

      You can do everything (buy tickets, real-time arrivals) in the app. Every vehicle has wifi that actually works.

  10. I really resonate with this post – and Paul Bettany’s diatribe. When North Americans say they want to go green, certain things are taken for granted – chief among them being that they can continue to live the way they are now. “Let’s come up with technology that will allow me to have the same big house and nice cars and the convenience of consumer land. We as a people should hurry up and invent the fixes but that doesn’t really include my personal life.”

    Personally I suspect the current plethora of distopian movies is partly due to a backlash to our modern standard of living. It’s a way of saying, this is one likely outcome if we keep it up.

    On the world stage I can’t do anything, but I’m trying to live closer to the land in my own life. However I find the hardest piece of all this is the mindset change. Not only do I have to consider radical alterations to my way of life but I have to do it while being extremely at odds with most people around me. In this respect not only is common sense not common, but the right answer usually ends up being the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

    A bizarre upside-down world we live in at the moment…

  11. Actually airplanes could be powered by hydrogen. Solar energy could be used to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water. Some changes to the turbine engines would be required and of course a tremendously expensive new infrastructure would be required for the new fuel.
    The environmental consequences would probably be better than the current system of using fossil fuels, but it would need some serious evaluation by people with more expertise than I have to fully determine this.
    Unfortunately this change would step on many economic toes and would entail a much bigger struggle to get it to happen than $15 per hour minimum wage or changing what we do to slow down climate change.
    I grew up in the Bay area and was around when the BART was proposed and then built. If all that went wrong was some people not being able to pay for train rides we would be “totally stylin'”. BART ended up way over budget and ten years late getting a stub of the original plan built. When the trains started to operate they would stop in between stations or open their doors at speed. Or just fail to run at all. During all of this the BART administration kept begging local governments for more money. It’s a good thing that it is an alternative to cars and busses, but why was it such a Dilbert boondoggle? In Los Angeles the subway/train system construction followed a similar path. Constant “change orders” requiring more money, street collapses, and natural gas fires and explosions.
    Around 1960 the company that built the monorail at Disney Land made a proposal to Los Angeles county. They offered to build a system to replace the recently dismantled Red Car train for no charge. All they wanted was they money from ticket sales. The offer was rejected. So it took thirty years to get anything, rail wise, at all, and with a huge cost.
    And in Dilbert fashion the rail line that runs down the middle of the 105 freeway and was supposed to go to LAX stops a few miles away. At the other end it could have been extended a few miles and terminate at a major bus transportation hub for the L A/Orange county area.
    Oh well.

    1. Asking Americans to build public transit – or bike lanes – is like asking a lion to enjoy eating vegetables. We’ll lick the carrots and radishes half heartedly and then stop.

  12. Ran into this today with windows. I fond out that I can get a new single pane wood window with gorgeous historic details, or for the same price I can get a slightly uglier aluminum clad window that meets Title 24 energy code standards.
    Here in Los Angeles most houses are heated by gas wall heaters that run a few times a year, and they either aren’t cooled or use window units.
    The heat transfer using a wood window under these conditions is almost inconsequential. The additional $4,000 required to get the upgraded windows would be better put into a heat pump that would take the wall heater from 69% thermally efficient to a 300% efficient heat pump that can run on solar power.
    But that isn’t how people think, is it?
    And for the windows? I’m sure I could go vinyl, and in 30 years those “efficient” windows would go to the landfill and be replaced rather than repaired. Count me out.

  13. I have the biggest arguments with people who insist that electric cars create no pollution. They fail to follow the energy chain back to the natural-gas or oil-fueled powerplant from which their latest recharge likely came. Sure, there’s some solar and hydro out there, but not nearly enough to power the U.S. vehicle fleet.

    Maybe someday we all can have an honest conversation about the choices we’re making in using fossil fuels.

    1. Not just at time of use. The embodied energy is incredible.

      Cars use energy twice. Once to get built and once when you use them. I suppose you could count parking as a third use, as there is nothing efficient about an underground parking garage that had to be scraped out of the earth, lined with concrete and then lit and ventilated 24/7/365.

      The best way to tackle this problem is to make car lite living more possible.

      1. Stop legally mandating parking. The free market doesn’t want to make everyone drive everywhere. Entrepreneurs are forced at gunpoint into accommodating parking as if it were an inalienable right.

      1. Your point is what? That we can switch out one fleet of vehicles and fuels with a different fleet and fuels and no one needs to alter their behavior? That’s simply not going to scale – as much as we may want it to.

        Take all the cars, long haul trucks, planes, and cargo ships and convert them to some kind of alternative clean fuel. Where’s that clean power going to come from? We “could” achieve that goal, but the society we’d end up with simply wouldn’t look like the one we have now. It might be better. It might be worse. But it wouldn’t be business as usual. That’s my point.

  14. Nuclear + electric vehicles might allow us to continue on, in some fashion. Jets though… you’re right I can’t see a way around that one.

    Then there’s the vast array of things indirectly tied to petroleum, from plastics to industrial agriculture to heavy vehicles that mine rare metals to produce the electrical components in the first place. There ARE alternatives for many things. It’s just that they are usually expensive and/or inferior.

    1. In a perfect world we’d all use the precious fossil fuels we have access to to create a durable long term future that can be sustained. But that’s not our current trajectory. Instead we’re burning it all up fast on a lot of frivolous nonsense. Meh. So be it.

    2. I think the answer is to vastly change our relationship with cars. Live in communities where you work – and where your frequent relationships are. Use cars only for long trips. This solution is practical, basic and doesn’t need new technology in order to achieve it. It would require a large social overhaul, but we’ve been needing that for a long time. People need roots. Easy airplane and automobile access have not been good to us.

      But this answer sounds so backwards that almost no one will entertain the idea until we’re hit with a nuclear blast or some other worldwide catastrophe.

    3. Airships. Well, mostly long distance trains – as the dymaxion map ( shows, a world rail network would only need to cross a few straits, and most of the world could be linked by a Bering Strait tunnel – but for trans-oceanic travel airships are going to be a better option for a long time. Slower, but more fuel efficient because of that.

      Or conventional ships, which can always be powered with nuclear energy.

      As someone with family on both sides of the Atlantic, I really want to keep affordable trans-oceanic travel going…

      1. What’s the payback period?
        A 737 can fly between Providence and belfast using less fuel per passenger-mile than a toyota prius.

        All the concrete sleepers, all the steel, all of that infrastructure, across a motherlode of less-than-friendly nations, plus regular maintenance.

        Do we have the wealth?

  15. This scene is about banking, rather than oil and gas, but encompasses the same theme. People always want “…to pretend they have no idea where it came from.”

    As Paul Bettany says – “well, that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow”.

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