I think there are some significant things to argue with in George Monbiot's _Heat_ (excerpts here: http://www.turnuptheheat.org/?page_id=7) but one of them is not his assessment of the airline industry. He does what I think is a thorough and careful analysis of the possibilities of cleaning up the airline industry, and concludes that there is no way to do it. Air flight causes so many negative effects, from contrails to the carbon emission, that, as Monbiot observes,
"...the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone. .. (and)...aviation has been growing faster than any other source of greenhouse gasses...Unless something is done to stop this growth (in flying habits) aviation will overwhelm all the cuts we manage to make elsewhere."
A just carbon allotment, that allowed everyone on earth a fair share of the carbon we can emit, would mean that one flight across the US or one transatlantic flight would cost one's entire carbon allotment for a year - and by one flight, I mean *one way* - you can't come back. After taking that flight you would be entitled to no electric lights, heat, food or shelter. We might conceivably plan for an every decade or so trip if we were very careful. But the carbon allotment is not generous, and it would be stretch.
Monbiot considers alternative fuels for airplanes, and concludes that it is impossible to tranform the world's air fleets to anything more sustainable. None of the alternative fuels are possible, and some have worse global warming impacts than the current ones. For example, hydrogen fueled planes, Monbiot documents, would likely have a climate impact 13 times greater than current airplanes.
Monbiot's basic conclusion is that we have to give up flying - period. 96% of present flights would have to be grounded, unless we could recreate a fleet of small prop planes, but even then we'd talking about cutting about 90% of all flights.
Now this means two things. First of all, it means that we have to give up business travel - period. Video or internet conferences only. There is no excuse for flying around the world to do things that could be done over the internet - and yes, it will be harder to do them by internet, but if the choice is having all the people of Bangladesh drown, or creating an annual Hurricane Katrina, tough patooties. Or you can travel by train (occasionally, if your train is powered by electricity with sequestered carbon - and most of them aren't) and expect your trips to take longer. I'll be doing this - I'm presently turning down all opportunities to speak that involve a plane.
Recreational travel is also off the table - no more trips to lie in the sun, no more backpacking around the world unless you are prepared to get there by sailing ship or train or on foot, or perhaps to live more or less nomadically, allotting all of your carbon share to travel and owning and using only what you can carry on your back. Most of us have seen all of the world we are going to see. This is an enormous pity and source of grief for me, and it comes with some real consequences - knowing about the rest of the world makes it more real to us. It is easier to care about people in other countries when you have met some of them, seen their lives, been in their homes. But we're going to have care *more* about them, not less, and still not know them. This is a source of great grief - many of the people I care about most come from or reside now in other countries. The idea of not knowing them, of not seeing them is a real agony to me. But I do not know any better solution.
What will be even harder is what Monbiot calls "love miles" - the issue of how do we deal with far flung people we care about. How do we deal with the fact that our families are seperated, and if we live like this, we may never see each other again? How do we live with the idea that grandchildren might not know grandparents, and parents might lose adult children not just for months, but for decades? How do we deal with aging families, or ill members, weddings, funerals, and other seeming necessities.
The answer to that is that we do a lot of hard thinking and talking to one another. We won't enjoy it - but we have no choice. This is not a case where we can inflict the problem on other people - flying is a privelege of the rich, and the burden sits squarely on our shoulders. And unfortunately, the solution is practically unAmerican - we're going to have to voluntarily restrict our comfort and happiness and change our lives in ways that are usually off the table in conversation. That is, we're going to have to decide flat out if we'd rather see each other or if we'd rather live apart.
My own family and friends probably have an average degree of flying associated wtih them. Most of our family and social circle live in the Boston/NY/WA corridor, but there are some significant outlyers in California and Washington, and a few scattered midwesterners. Every other year or so we're invited to a major family event involving flight. One to two times per year, my father comes from Bellingham, WA to visit his grandchildren on the east coast. Two months from now, Eric's side of the family will convene for the unveiling of his grandparent's graves, and a number of family members will fly in from across the country. My step-mother is headed shortly to CA with her sister to visit their aging father and step-mother who are starting to have serious health problems. What do we do about this?
We talk about it. I recognize that not everyone will immediately accept this necessity, but there is no question that whether through carbon taxes or emissions caps, eventually, air travel will become much less frequent. The challenge to us is to make our changes *before* it is mandatory, because otherwise we risk even more serious consequences. But this is hard. It is one thing to say, "I'm sorry, no, I can't attend my sister's wedding because the government has put caps on flights" and another to say, "No, Sis, I'm sorry I'm not coming to your wedding, but I care more about global warming than you." Or to say to an elderly, failing parent, "I can't be here for you in the last years of your life because doing so is warming the planet." But despite the fact that all of this is crazy-hard, it is necessary. Emissions caps will come, but the odds are we're already at the point where the seas may becomes sterile, famine widespread and hurricanes of the Katrina sort an annual event - the planet will keep getting warmer even if we stopped all emissions today. So delaying makes the long term consequences greater.
So what we need to do is begin by sitting down with loved ones who live far away, and asking "what do we do about this that enables us to leave a planet for our children and still enables us to care for one another." The answers will be different for every family. In some cases, phone calls, email and internet video conferencing might be enough, particularly when everyone is a grownup, or when the benefits of staying apart outweigh the risks. But in other cases, we're probably going to decide that our current distance may not be the way to go.
That's a really hard conversation to have. Because someone, maybe everyone, is going to have to make sacrifices. Either your kids will grow up without their grandparents or you may have to give up your chosen career, your beloved home, the things and place you love. We're going to have to ask "do you come here, do I go there, do we meet in the middle." That's a lot of people relocating. People are going to have to adapt to new places, new economies, new climates and cultures. But there's no avoiding it. Either we do as the pioneers did and accept that distance communication is what is left for us, that we will travel to see our distant families once a decade or less (that is, you can see the new baby, the 10 year old and the college graduate), or we will have to live closer together.
I need to have this conversation with my father. He likes Bellingham, and frankly, we often get along better when he lives 3000 miles from me. But I can't in good conscience keep sending him plane tickets. For older people, we may have to press them to make unpleasant changes at hard times in their lives. For our children, we will have to explain why the school trip to Israel and the yearly visit to Grandma in Arizona is no longer ok. Young adults may have to decide whether to pursue their dream career or one that could enable them to live close to home. Families may have to give up some of their dreams and make up new ones. It will not be easy. It is, unfortunately, necessary. Many people who come from families dispersed across national borders may have to struggle to gain entrance into the nations where the people they love reside. This will not be easy.
What is possible is that a society in which we have fewer love miles might be a more coherent and less divided society. Living across the country from one another seems like no big deal when you are young and your parents are healthy - the move to California or New York or Singapore to pursue that career opportunity, that graduate education often seems like a good idea to young adults. Afterall, how much do you need to hang out with your parents and siblings anyway? You can always fly back.
But even in a world of unlimited air travel, I notice consequences for people I know and love. Living far from your family is no big deal when you are young, but when you start having children, that isolation is often very difficult. A friend of mine, whose siblings and parents are in CA, and whose husband's parents and sibs are in WI mentioned how lonely she often was - and all the grandparents visit regularly now. No matter how free you are to fly, it is sad when grandchildren long for grandparents they cannot see, or when you need someone to help you with the baby.
And illness, disability and aging place enormous stresses on families even if you can fly - what do you do when your aging parents begin to have a series of health crises? No one can fly weekly across the country. What happens when a family member develops cancer, or is struck by a car? I've seen so many people frustrated because they cannot *help* one another, and they desperately want to. I've felt that myself when my mother had surgery or my sister was ill after having a baby, and both live within driving distance for real emergencies.
It may be that once we get used to our new reality, there will be some powerful benefits - but there is no doubt there will be major losses as well. Again, the only reason we could possibly imagine doing this is that it is worth the price - that ensuring that our children and grandchildren have food and water and are safe from rising seas is worth it.