Thursday, June 14, 2007

I have avoided making this post for quite sometime now, because I don't want to face the basic questions that I need to ask myself.

Jet engines run on kerosene, which is basically the stuff that powers your old Coleman camping lantern. It provides a high energy output for a relatively small mass, and there are currently no approved substitutes for jet fuel.

Airlines in the US burned 19.6 Billion (with a B) gallons of the stuff in 2006. A good estimate for the amount of carbon dioxide emitted is 19.6 lbs of CO2 for every gallon of gas burned.

In our little baby jet, we average a burn of around 160 gallons per hour, so we add around 3,100 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere for each and every hour we have the engines turning.

Our exhaust is generally exhausted at high altitudes, so it goes into the upper atmosphere a lot more easily than auto emissions. Each hour I fly, my jet basically injects CO2 directly into the neck of mother nature.

How can I justify the ecological toll that my job is taking? It's not so bad for me, but when Lisa and I have kids, I want to leave them a world that is at least remotely functional, with fresh air and drinkable water, not a volcanic planet with green clouds that rain sulphuric acid upon the few fragments of life that remain.

It scares me, and it's one of the reasons I drive a hybrid car. I know it sounds like ordering a double Big Mac with an extra-large diet Coke, and that's what I'm struggling with.

I love my job, but it directly contributes to the poor health of the planet. When I was flying medevacs I guess it would have been easier for me; we were doing trips to save a life. But I don't do any of those trips and more, I mostly fly people to meetings and to vacation spots. How important are those trips?

Factoring into this is that I enjoy a good standard of living right now, and this is the first time I have taken home more than a thousand bucks every two weeks. I am not trained to do anything else, but I am working on that part - my parent company deals with alternative energy sources and I am putting together a plan that will net me a second qualification besides aviation, a plan that will train me for a decent job if my aviation career ever stops. But that's going to be a while. So what about the interim?

How can I justify being part of an industry that adds massive amounts of greenhouse gasses directly to the upper atmosphere and contributes to global warming?

Is my personal comfort and level of economic privilege more important than that of my future-born? How do I do the math on it? Like if I quit my job and go on welfare but avoid putting another million pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere will my kids have a better life? How about someone else's kids in another country?

Will I be able to look my kids in the eye and honestly say that I did everything I could to make their world a better place, one that they will be happy to inherit?

Did I do anything I could? At all?

What makes it so hard is that I love flying. I love love love it, and I intrinsically feel like I was meant to do it. But I wonder if Hannibal Lecter thought the same thing when he first looked at a person as a food source.

What do you think? Am I out to lunch here, along with Hannibal?


Frank said...

As long as Al Gore keeps jetting around, the
threat is probably not as definite nor imminent
as people are led to believe.

Anonymous said...

Sulako you have raised the question very clearly. And you will recall when I asked it of you, you said as long as rich folks want to fly you will have a job. BUT the Buddhists say that we must do something caled "right livelihood" My question is, what would that look like for you? For sure there is a place between CO2 emitting work and welfare.It's all our jobs to find it.xoxox

Anonymous said...

it's not you who's causing the C02 output, it's your passengers. if you quit your job, exactly the same amount of C02 would be emitted. so you've nothing to feel guilty about. to actually make a difference, try to fly your plane as efficiently as possible (i'm sure you do that already anyway). beyond that, it's out of your hands.

Adam said...

Sometimes I get the feeling that we are being fooled in today's world, the reason is that governments worldwide are doing all they can to control the oil sources on our planet, hence they are not planing to provide us with an alternate source (Which IMHO is possible).

I am sure the Japanese/Chinese/Germans etc. can/did come up with engines that perform efficiently on solar power or something similar.

Sulako don't feel guilty for what might happen to our lovely earth, because the people who can really change things are not interested (Maybe they have bought a property on another planet lol).

david said...

People are worrying a lot about two things right now:

1. We're creating too much CO2 by burning fossil fuels.

2. Our fossil fuel supply is running out.

Fortunately for the environment, #2 is going to solve #1. As the oil supply gets smaller and smaller, the price will skyrocket and people will burn less and less of it.

If I recall correctly, most bizjet trips are under 500 miles, so you don't even get much advantage from the speed. When Jet-A hits $30-50/gallon, Maybe three Toronto business people with a meeting in NYC will be content to fly in a Diamond Twinstar air taxi instead of a bizjet, taking half an hour longer but burning only 12 gallons/hour instead of 160.

Luke said...

I dug up some numbers, to put this in perspective -- even accounting for the high-altitude disbursement, global aviation accounts for 3.5% of all man-made climate change. It's quite a way down the optimization list, and I would argue that the benefits aviation brings to the world far outweigh its cost in climate change.

I applaud you for doing your part and exercising personal responsibility, but I think that a variety of pressures are conspiring to make your profession climate change-friendly, and that will only increase in the future.

Yannick said...

G'day Sulako,
I am not flying bizjets only Piper Warrior recreationally around Sydney Australia. I have been struggling with the same question for weeks. After some soul searching and some good old googling, I have an answer, and it's called carbon offset.
The carbon offset money is spent on carbon reducing project, you can buy as much CO2 as you burn or want - so you are flying "carbon neutral". Compared to the wet cost of hiring a GA aircraft, it's peanuts (less than $2 an hour), it'd be about $20 to $30 an hour for a bizjet but it's nothing compared to the operational costs - and then your boss can afford it anyway. I just suggested to our flying club to do the same, hope that will happens. A good article on the subject :
Keep flying that jet mate
Cheers from down under

zb said...

As anonymoous of 7:55 pm said, it is a good idea to fly your jet efficiently. It's the most obvious and the best thing you can do. I am thinking about this issue a lot because as much as consuming resources like they never ran out is harmful, it is harmful to go into unabomber-mode. Consuming and polluting poses obvious dangers and it is easy to see why. Reading Kaczynski's Manifesto, on the other hand, will soon give you the idea that his basic idea of abandoning all technology will not get us anywhere, either. Not to even speak of the way he tried to enforce his ideas.

You, as a pilot, can do as much as trying to save fuel while you are in your plane.

It is the small things that we can do in everyday life that will help. Not driving your car in an agressive way will save an occasional gallon. Billions of cars saving the occasional gallon will save billions of gallons. Unplugging your wall adapters for cell phones and notebooks when not charging or powering the respective devices will save the occasional milliwatt-hour. Gazillions of saved milliwatt-hours are, for a densely populated country like Germany or France (for which I happen to know the example), what might save one or two big nuclear power plants.

Even without giving up our livestyles and becoming unabombers, there is a lot to be saved.

Evan said...

all I can say, is, me too. Other than being lazy and somewhat poor, the environmental concerns are the biggest thing between me and an aviation carear. Let me know if you figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, I was having the same thoughts regarding my recreational flying.

Flying around for 2-3 hours every weekend (for no real purpose) did seem a bit inconsiderate, considering the waste of resources and the associated environmental impact.

Since the last few months I have taken up soaring. I still get to fly for 2-3 hours every week but the environmental impact is much less.

Unfortunately, I don't think you have this option.

Anonymous said...

Don't sweat it.

Who's to say that the atmospheric condition of the planet at this moment is the IDEAL condition for planet Earth? Earth has been warming and cooling since Day 1.

We've only been keeping accurate records of the climate for about 150 years. That's nothing in terms of the history of the planet.

Did man cause the glaciers to melt, form again, melt again? If so, it's news to me since man has only been around for about 20K (?) years and the earth is how many millions, billions? of years in age.

30 years ago we were worried about global cooling.

If a major volcano erupts, it puts more crap in the air than man can imagine.

Explain to me why no one has ever mentioned that the Martian ice caps are melting. Explain to me why no "AlGore" evangilist has ever mentioned that the sun's temperature may be increasing.

While global warming may in fact exist, there is nothing we have done to cause it nor is there anything we can do to "uncause" it.

I'm all for being greener which may be cleaner and reducing dependence on Arabian oil but to feel guilt for any contribution to global warming is silly. of luck to you and Lisa.

Linn (Swedish Aviatrix) said...

Hey Sulako,

you really did write exactly the post I've been thinking about for some time now.

It goes back and forth. I usually think - like you - that "it's easier to change the industry from the inside", eg. flying more efficiently, and being where at least some of the decisions are made. I might have more influence as a pilot than somebody waving a banner around on the street. Also, as somebody said, if I didn't fly someone else would take my place (although that's not entirely true - it's the same logic that prevents people from not driving a hybrid car; "well it won't matter if only I drive a hybrid car if everyone else drives a regular one, I might as well buy a Hummer...").

On the other hand it rhymes badly with my other choices. I try to live environmentally-friendly. I drive an old car - this might seem strange - but it's a small Mazda with low fuel consumption and the simple act of lovingly keeping an old car alive instead of discarding it and buying a new one will save a LOT of atmospheric emissions (think of all the processes involved in MAKING the new car). I also chose, some time ago, to not eat meat. For ethical reasons, yes, but also environmental. The meat industry, and definitely the farming industry (you read all these different numbers on who emits what but I guess it's one big tangled web. Some grow soy beans for people, some grow soy beans for cattle to eat, and then it's all transported here and there by cars and airplanes and what have you, so what's the meat industry, what's the transport industry?) IS the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions. Eating locally produced food and veggies might very well cancel out my flying.

Which brings me to my other point - I'm not sure there IS a such thing as cancelling out. Spending carbon offset money sounds great, but there's a lot of issues. Where does the money go? How much is spent on administration, how much "disappears" along the way? Does planting a tree, putting money into research funds really cancel out the emissions? I don't think so. The only thing that REALLY lowers emissions is, well, lowering emissions.

Besides, I think I'm less worried by the rise in global temperature than the toxins we're spewing out and the direct damage we're doing on nature. Our inland Baltic Sea is covered with toxic green algae each summer now instead of being blue. We've definitely ruined the delicate eco-system balance of the seas by overfishing, by oil waste and tanker emissions spewed out as unpurified as jet exhaust directly into the water. I fly over East and Central Europe and see the black clouds of the coal plants. Everyone in China is getting a car. In Moscow and St. Petersburg I can barely breathe the air, it's so full with sticky black particles. I know the fruit and veg in my supermarket is covered in chemicals and preserves. It is said just under half of EVERYONE that exists now will get cancer sooner or later. I'm afraid the talk about global warming is blinding people to the slow poisoning of nature and thus ourselves.

Sometimes I just give up. I'm half-convinced that it's too late no matter what we can practically do. When I fly over Europe there's not an inch of land untouched by man. The land is ploughed into neat little squares of corn fields, wheat fields. The "forests" are carefully planted or wound through with roads. The enormous sprawling concrete cities hide every trace of what once was there. The rivers are re-routed, sluggish and interrupted by dams and waterworks. If we think we aren't making an impact on nature a fly-over really is the best way to see that, in fact, there is nothing we aren't making an impact on. And if the earth is a scorched black ball in a thousand years I guess that's a pretty small thing compared to the universe. And I torment myself with documentaries about the dying whales, the rainforests dwindling away to make place for palm oil plantations, Hiroshima, the ever-growing mountain of our non-recyclable trash, starvation, the next global virus.

This became a loooong and depressing post and I was planning on ending it on a hopeful note, something about walking through the glen next to my house, but I guess I've gotten myself into one of those moods. I can only hope I will hold my own promise to one day actually trying to change my industry. From the inside or outside.

Aluwings said...

Did you know that the discovery of cheap oil in the ground saved many species of whales from extinction?

But it led to a rather sudden collapse of the whaling industry.

I say save the petroleum and go back and mop up all those 'left over whales' ... (just joking of course).

At the heart of all these disasters is the concept that the earth is merely a resource we are allowed to 'exploit' -- that's such a strange word that often bothered me way back in high school social studies courses. (as in "such and such a land was colonized to exploit the vast resources available,.... etc. etc..)

Who knows what's around the next corner... no previews available in my crystal ball either. Sometimes we just have to fasten our seatbelts and ride it out.

Luke said...

Reading linn's post got me thinking -- do you think your company would support buying carbon credits (and I'm talking about actual, industrial credits here, not that BS "we'll plant a tree, maybe" crap -- to offset your flights? If the margins are sufficiently high, it could be a nice PR boost, and maybe a tax writeoff to boot. If not, you could at least give customers the option to pay however much more for it.

X-av8r said...

When someone wants to clean out your billfold, the first step is to make you feel guilty about something; enter AlGore and his con game. Don't buy into this crap! In "McHales Navy" there was a saying, "Out of confusion sometimes comes...profit!" Wake up, guys. Facts can be very misleading if one is only hearing one side of the story. I said to my engineer son,"Isn't it a coincidence that the Mars ice cap is shrinking right now?" and he said, tonge-in-cheek, "Those darn Mars Rovers are really polluting things up there."

Anonymous said...

Well done, Sully - nicely crystallizes many of the thoughts that I sometimes have while flying around, chasing forest fires. My defence is that the value of the trees that I 'save' negates the co2 that I create in saving them. When I look at my son, though, I wonder if that excuse is really valid? Bring on the alternatively-fuelled aeroplane, please!

- North Shore

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