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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Conscientious Consumption: The 11th Hour and Air Travel

Last weekend, Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour was released in select cities (Minneapolis: August 31). The film's promotional web site is interesting. (Well, aside from the lame Planet Green game sponsored by Starbucks; reminds me of "fun" children's PSA activities—how many forms of pollution can you find in this picture?—or of Captain Planet.)

A brief quiz lets you assess your carbon output. While that service isn't new, this is a clean and easy way to assess your lifestyle. I don't drive, so my biggest output is air travel. I admire people like John Grant who have cut their impact by reducing travel, but would find it hard to follow suit for both personal and professional reasons. Mine are typical issues: far-flung family and friends, out of town clients, and the not insignificant (and not unselfish) love of travel and exploration (if only I'd been to Climate Camp, perhaps I'd feel otherwise). Purchasing carbon offsets would be a good first step, but that ultimately doesn't solve the problem, it simply incorporates true cost of the service.

So if we can't cut out travel, what to do instead? We have low emission vehicles, why not low-emission planes? And low-emission airports (think of all the trash created while we eat our way to departure time, moving walkways, 24/7 lighting, etc.)? Yet as McDonough and Braungart note in Cradle to Cradle, "being 'less bad' is no good." Is there a completely clean solution? Unlike mass consumer technology, the design of commercial planes—and most major forms of transport—has remained relatively stagnant over the past 50 years, concentrating on improving the existing model versus revolutionizing the idea itself. The physical air travel infrastructure is relatively minimal compared to other modes of transport (beyond airports, there aren't thousands of miles of track or road that must be maintained; fueling stations are centralized); can that be leveraged in a redesign?

Easy questions to pose when you're not an engineer, but as someone whose life has been greatly shaped by air travel, I sincerely hope the eco-vs.-airplane game isn't zero-sum. And if so, perhaps by the time we've reached that conclusion the physicists will have figured out how to make Apparition a reality.


Charles Edward Frith said...

far-flung family and friends, out of town clients, and the not insignificant (and not unselfish) love of travel and exploration

blah blah blah blah..... Get a web camera. Talk to your clients and family and friends more over the internet and curb it.

Listening to fossil fuel addicts is like listening to smack addicts.

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

Yep, those fossil fuel addicted AIRLINES need to really stop yammering and get on with the job of real innovation - low impact travel. They really need to get off their arses and recycle all the trash they collect on planes, channel the wastes better, and sponsor more fuel efficient planes (perhaps take a lead in alternative fuel). Industries need as much of the cold-turkey treatment as us individuals. Travel brands embracing low(er) impact innovations would justify prices and fuel loyalties and elevate brand equity. My flying two less flights during Xmas helps...but truly innovating the industry is what will get the ball rolling. Political solutions are as important as my personal and practical sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

totally agree - those bloody fossil-fuel addicts, sitting inside with the lights and heat/ac on using their computers all day... don't they know that power stations are a bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined? (apprx 14% vs 21% in 2000)


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