Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Future of Flight

Flying is often seen by environmental activists as a major cause for Global Warming. Many environmentalists get anxious about flying because of the visibility of the greenhouse gases coming out of the plane, and also because it is not something most people do very often. This is why I believe we need to invest in renewable energy for flying to alleviate these fears.

First, some statistics:
The average distance of flights in the United States is currently about 1100 km (700 miles) or about the distance from New York to Chicago.

Out of the most traveled routes in the world, most of them are under 1000 km. The United States is the country with the most passenger miles with 798 million passenger miles flown in 2015. The majority of the passenger miles of these flights were located east of the Mississippi river, like most of the population. A flight with a range of 1000 km would cover most of these routes. A flight with a range of 2000 km would cover every east coast flight.

China has the second largest amount of passenger miles in the world. The Beijing-Shanghai route is the longest and would require a plane with a range of 1500 km to safely make it.  Beijing - Hong Kong is 2000 km which would be sufficient to cover almost every flight in China.

The United Kingdom and Germany are next on the list. 2000 km would be more than sufficient for the vast majority of flights flying from these countries to other European countries and themselves.

Japan’s flights are dominated between its major cities. 1060 km between Sapporo and Osaka is the longest distance between two major cities, so a 1200 km renewable energy airplane would cover almost every domestic flight in Japan.

Brazil’s flights are dominated in the southeast where most of its major cities are. A 2000 km distance would cover most Brazilian domestic routes.

In the United States, transportation was the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions (second to electricity generation) composing 26% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation emissions are dominated by light duty passenger vehicles, generating 60% of transportation emissions for around 15% of total emissions. Aircraft generated 8% of transportation emissions, for a total of 2% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. While airplanes are incredibly visible, the biggest causes of emissions in the US are from our cars and electricity generation.

I believe we need to invest in renewable energy for flying, and this would make a proportionally small dent in our total carbon emissions. But stopping flying alone will not do enough. We need to divest from coal now, and invest in clean renewable energy for electricity generation to knock out over a third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is the most effective use of our time, which is increasingly limited. We need to have the Federal government stop issuing permits for coal and gas powered power plants immediately and invest heavily into solarizing every other roof in the United States. We need to build geothermal plants and nuclear across the country to reduce our carbon footprint.

We need to invest in fuel cell and electric cars immediately to eliminate another 26% of our greenhouse gas emissions and build the infrastructure we need to develop this technology as soon as possible. We need to push and make it so that there is a date by which we will ban the sale of gasoline in the United States as soon as we feasibly can. Combined between these two tactics will eliminate over 50% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Another 21% can be eliminated by focusing on American industry and reducing the emissions from our factories. Using renewable energy to power our factories instead of the way we do it today. This three pronged approach will eliminate 78% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to 2% by not flying.

We don't have a choice if we are serious about combating Global Warming. We must divest from coal now.


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