Cars and planes, young and old

I must be getting old, I’m starting to seriously think of switching our paper order from the Grauniad to the Times. Which forms a lead in to: this piece which provides two interesting points: In the National Statistics omnibus survey, conducted in August 2006, 39 per cent of people thought that cars were the most environmentally damaging mode of transport, while 35 per cent selected planes. When the same question was asked in August 2007 cars had slipped to 34 per cent and planes had risen to 40 per cent. and also Young people were much less likely to be concerned about climate change than middle-aged people. Among 16 to 24-year-olds 69 per cent said that they were very or fairly concerned compared with 86 per cent of people aged 45 to 54. People living in London were more worried about climate change than those in any other region.

On the latter point… my main thought was that us old folk are supposed to be worrying because of what we’ll hand on, since I at least don’t expect to see 2100 (though I hope to be here for 2050). If this young folk don’t care, then why bother? This is of course unfair, since 69% of them do care anyway.

More interesting, though is the cars vs planes bit. Lets find some numbers, for the UK. DEFRA sez that UK energy emissions for 2005 were 147910.142274798 (though they round off the decimals 🙂 in units of… something; I’m not really sure. It doesn’t matter for these purposes (though its actually “escaped lions”, not “the staid lion” [context]).

Where was I?

Oh yes, and aviation is 9548, somewhat behind bunker fuel at 11k and transport at 35k and energy industries at 58k.

So by all means protest against Heathrow expansion (even if you use it a lot yourself; after all I use the M11 since its there but would vote for it to be shut down). But don’t confuse people about what the main sources of CO2 are.

I guess I shouold also mention that the impact of aviation CO2 is some factor bigger than its CO2 emissions, due to dumping water in the stratosphere. Its a factor of something like 2, I think. But probably with only a 10-y lifespan.

12 thoughts on “Cars and planes, young and old”

  1. “I guess I shouold also mention that the impact of CO2 is some factor bigger than its CO2 emissions,”

    That first CO2 should be aviation?

    [Oops yes, fixed, thanks -W]

    Aviation is an odd one. When totaled up it’s relatively small. But, IIRC, the fact that I don’t use a car for commuting would be totally reversed by one return flight to the US compared to someone who commuted average distance every day but never flew? I guess I should look it up again.

    (I can’t open the DEFRA link. I’m sure it’s temporary).

    [Works fine for me -W]


  2. I fall in the gap between young and old at the ripe old age of 43. I think it’s more a concern to us because we learned about the environment in school during the 70’s.

    Personally I’d like to see lots of cars off the roads. Replace it with good (tracked!) public transit. Then use high speed rail to interconnect major cities like they do in Europe and Japan.

    That would put a dent in both auto and air travel.


  3. “(I can’t open the DEFRA link. I’m sure it’s temporary).
    [Works fine for me -W]”

    Yes, finally did for me. Seems very slow.


  4. Stick with the Grauniad, William, that article stinks. As the first commenter mentions:

    “Nowhere in this article is there any indication that car travel is less of a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions per person kilometre travelled.”

    Normal humans don’t necessarily parse a question’s syntax the way a lawyer does. I bet in terms of what’s more environmentally damaging, the average person thought, “What’s worse, if I fly to somewhere or drive there?” and not the stupid-but-correct-parsing, “If I could wave a magic wand and eliminate emissions from either cars or planes, which should I choose?”

    The article is especially deceptive in implying that the attempt to stop increases in air travel has any relation to which transportation sector is more damaging overall.

    As I said, terrible article, despite the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of air travel…


  5. Heathrow:
    In the light of Peak Oil [which I notice Shell says is indeed coming fairly soon], *any* major infrastructure investment with long timeframes ought to be evaluated in the light of likely fuel price increases, which:

    a) Show up at the gas pump.
    b) Are embedded in end-user prices of anything that requires transport.

    and then:

    c) The last I looked, fuel was about 25% of air travel costs.

    How much will fuel costs rise before Heathrow runway 6 gets done?


  6. “I must be getting old, I’m starting to seriously think of switching our paper order from the Grauniad to the Times”



  7. The argument about aviation and CO2 has always been about whether it is possible to reconcile the government’s plans for expansion with it’s climate change targets, not just whether planes are better or worse than cars.
    The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research don’t believe it can, even if the Climate Change Bill sticks to 60%, especially as it excludes international aviation figures which are currently not part of Kyoto or the figures you’ve got from Defra, most likely.
    The growth doesn’t look like being controlled even if they manage to get aviation into the EU trading scheme which the government always claims will solve everything. Basically they’ve decided everyone else will have to make much deeper cuts so aviation can be allowed to grow. As if it wasn’t going to be difficult enough.

    This is the paper that gives the growth scenarios –

    Click to access wp84.pdf

    No doubt William will tell us how terrible they are.

    I’m not saying the environmental groups are not responsible for any misunderstanding, but as you know the media isn’t interested in reporting complex arguments.

    I wouldn’t desert the Guardian just yet. This a very odd article to have come from Ben Webster who is usually regarded as being quite good on this subject. After all the article actually implies the anti-aviation lobby are already affecting government policy because the government raised Airport Passenger Duty. And this from a man who’s supposed to know what he’s talking about.
    However, The Times leader writer just happens to be a die-hard supporter of Heathrow expansion and they’ve just refused to carry an advert by enoughsenough on the grounds Gordon looks like he’s giving the Hitler salute, even though they printed their Christmas advert which used the same photo.

    Given the current consultation on Heathrow expansion and the growing level of opposition to it, maybe they’ve decided it’s time to get everyone on message.


  8. There are several potential questions about the relative impacts of car v plane.
    (1) How much total damage is done nation (or worldwide)?
    (2) How much for a single trip?
    (3) How much for a man-day of travell?
    As one ascends this list the relative aviation damage increases. I would be surprised if the ratio represented by (3) is not greater than one.

    I also suspect that black carbon emmisions from aviation are being neglected. At least at low altitudes jets seem to produce at lot of these. And with substantial transarctic plane travel a good deal of these emmisions are over the more sensitive lattitudes.


  9. I have a friend I discuss the car versus plane enigma with. It would seem we have to get the cars in order first and then transfer the technology to aviation. ( Electric planes with batteries might not get off the ground!). But I think it is also possible strides will be made in aviation that could then be transferred to cars!
    Dave Briggs :~)


  10. Dear William,

    Thanks for permitting me to

    protest against Heathrow expansion … [as long as I] don’t confuse people about what the main sources of CO2 are.

    Did I confuse people about what the main sources of CO2 are? I could not find that misinformation in my post. I was encouraging students to help spread the word about stopping Heathrow expansion by joining relevant groups on Facebook. At my age, I am fed up at being one of the youngest in the audience at public events!

    Heathrow expansion–just like the new coal-fired power plant without CCS at Kingsnorth–provides a real-world case to be studied. It highlights why combatting climate change is difficult. Some less-enlightened business lobbies and government ministers are dedicated to growth at all costs. They need to be challenged.

    Moira gets it (and the ECI’s Predict and Decide is in line with Tyndall’s findings). So does John Mashey. This is not a simple planes vs. cars comparison. Nor is it a business-as-usual, predict and provide situation where oil trends go marching on.

    The issue with climate communication, is that Heathrow expansion signals support for future development–sanctioning massive capital expenditure on construction projects as well as business-as-usual handouts for the aviation industry, which enjoys unique subsidies even within the transport sector–regardless of greenhouse gas emissions. In general, businesses can work quite well within policy frameworks, whatever they are, as long as they are clear. The green light for expansion at Heathrow simply provides the wrong signal to business.

    The concerns I have with ‘Adding capacity at Heathrow airport‘ are many, not least the fact that the consultation process was prejudiced by Government announcing its support ahead of the start of the Open Public Consultation.

    I am not against Heathrow airport at all, and have never found it a difficult place to navigate alone or with three kids! It is just this massive (and it is enormous) expansion that is not in the public interest.

    This is not purely a local concern. This is seen as a test case for wider application. Whether it is climate change or local environmental damage that is the problem, at some point we have to draw a line in the sand and say “Enough’s enough!

    The public consultation on Adding capacity at Heathrow airport ends on Wednesday 27 February 2008.

    The timing of Branson’s biofuel blast today (Sunday 24/2) is not accidental. He is pushing for expansion, and using press coverage from today’s biofuel test flight to eliminate arguments calling for reduced aviation emissions.

    [I think aviation biofuel is probably twaddle, and a green smokescreen. But it will buy them time. Consultations: the govt always prejudges them. FWIW, I too am opposed to H/row expanding, though not very vocally, as you’ve noticed -W]


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