International air travel has never been such good value as now and aircraft are more comfortable, quieter and better in almost every way.
All good news for travellers.
Hmmm!! Maybe. But the next time you are celebrating those cheap flights you’ve secured by clever timing, take the time to consider this: is there a hidden cost to all of this global flight frenzy?
Like drugs and medicines that help to fix a health problem, there can be side effects, and therefore there can be a price to be pay in the longer term.
So are we gradually totting up a large bill for our fragile planet and that alarmingly thin film of breathable air that cocoons and supports all life on Earth?
In 1903, the first successful flights were brief and carried out by one person – Wilbur Wright –at first around 50 metres at Kitty Hawk. Subsequent attempts got the first powered aircraft to travel just over 200 metres from its starting point. Significant and encouraging. That history-making initiative was less than 120 years ago, a mere blip in our history.
Today, things are so very different: at any given time, 24 hours a day there are upwards of 12,000 civilian jet aircraft zipping around the world, supporting several million uplifted people, and that is without counting military, private aircraft, helicopters and business jets.
Is all of this significant? The sun still came up this morning, the birds are in the trees and the world seems OK.
But . . . consider this: a large Airbus 380, loaded with people, freight, baggage, water and all of the gear necessary to feed and care for up to 500 people, will carry up to 320,000 litres of fuel and burn at least two thirds of that fuel load in one long haul sector – say Sydney to Dallas – which, with variables, could be as much as 250,00 litres. One sector. One day. One aircraft.
Amazing, but there’s more. Unlike motor cars, jet airliners emit exhaust gases ranging in temperature from 300 to 500 degrees Celsius, to as high as 900 degrees and more for some military aircraft; higher again if an afterburner is in use.
Then there is the matter of carbon particles – hundreds of trillions of them being blasted daily into our precious and limited air supply.
Can our lonely planet deal with all of this? We just don’t know. But with 12000 and more large heaters in the atmosphere, around 30,000 if we count individual engines, it would not be difficult to assume that our planet is gradually warming. And that is in addition to other human influences and possibly natural cyclical trends, all combined.
That’s now. New airliners are coming on stream at a net rate of hundreds a year and passenger growth to fund all of these expensive pieces of equipment may well double by 2040 or slightly beyond.
Is it any wonder that some thinkers and senior scientists are cautiously warning of a planet that will be as much as 2-degrees Celsius warmer by the end of this century. Possibly more, dangerously more, than 2 degrees.
No one, including those scientists, can predict all of the implications of such a trend and no one can possibly know or guess where the tipping point is, or how quickly it might arrive, when the Earth says enough is enough – when life in our world is irrepairably damaged.
The earth is certainly arming – with or without our assistance and probably both – despite unintelligent and unaware naysayers who exist in very high positions within our society. The clear evidence of change is everywhere, from the reduction of Arctic tundra, to
changing weather patterns, to more ferocious and damaging storm activity, to reductions in the snow seasons in popular ski resorts. There are quiet murmurings that even at current trends some popular ski resorts may cease to function by 2050.
Also creature migration patterns are changing; from birds to fish and we don’t yet fully understanding these dire implications.
So is it wise to sheet home all of these measurable changes to the environment to civilian airliners?
No such suggestion. But if we combine the massive output of passenger airliners (only flying since the 1950’s ) with the burning of coal, the burgeoning number of motor cars in the world, the ever-increasing industrial output, plus the myriad of other human activities that have multiplied in the last hundred years or so, and then include a probably overpopulated planet both in humans and domestic animals, it is just possible that we have failed to account for the side effects of our frenzied activities that may be on the way to bite us hard, or massively change our way of life over the next century – or much sooner.
There are so many unknowns, but this is what we do know: the precious and fragile resources of air and water are finite if we don’t protect them. And that means each one of us, and our governments, corporations, and councils need to maybe rethink just how we treat our precious planet and resources.
Well we can dream can’t we?