Tuesday, November 08, 2016

There Are Better Prescriptions

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced last week that the government was changing the rules regarding foreign ownership of Canadian airlines. The goal is to lower air fares so Canadians can fly more. But there's a problem. Tom Walkom writes:

Aviation fuel gives off carbon when burned. It also gives off other particulates that, because they are deposited in the upper atmosphere, contribute to global warming.

True, air travel is a relatively minor contributor to climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation estimates it is responsible for between four and nine per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In Canada, according to the 2012 transport department report, domestic air travel on its own accounts for just one per cent of carbon emissions.

But these figures are on the rise. The Suzuki Foundation reckons the carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation have grown by 83 per cent since 1990. The transport department report says Canadian emissions rose between 2001 and 2010 in spite of successful efforts by airlines to increase fuel efficiency.

The goal of lower airfares makes it more difficult to meet Canada's commitments under the Paris climate change agreement. When a doctor writes a prescription he or she has a duty to make sure that the prescription doesn't clash with or undercut another prescription. In effect, the government is practising bad medicine:

Long-distance air travel can never be eliminated, particularly in a big country like Canada. But a government serious about climate change could focus on other, more energy-efficient forms of transportation, such as buses and trains for short-haul trips.

I expect Trudeau’s government, like those before it, will balk when it comes to doing something on this or anything else that might significantly improve passenger rail service in Canada.

Something's got to give. There are better prescriptions.

 Image: ForoAviones.com


Marie Snyder said...

In Heat, Monbiot said that a 2-hour flight creates as much GHGs as what a first-world citizen creates over the course of a typical year. Overall, it's low on list of causes, but looked at as a measure of an individual's production, it's outrageous. That said, I'm guilty of planning one more family trip. It's the first flight in a decade, and it will be the last. Flying should be relegated to emergencies where possible. It'll kill the travel industry, but that might be a loss we have to accept.

Now if they could lower VIA fares, that might help.

Lorne said...

I have to admit, Owen, I struggle with this one, since we usually fly once a year to Cuba, and, of course, when we visit our son in Edmonton. Do I offset that by the fact that I am retired and walk instead of drive whenever I can? Perhaps, but that is also an effect of circumstances and living in an eminently walkable community.

Owen Gray said...

There are always trade-offs, Marie -- which means, one way or another, we'll have to pay. The question is whether we pay now or later. And later will cost more.

I hope your recovery is going well.

Owen Gray said...

As Walkom says, Lorne, we're not going to ban air travel. But it is a question of degree -- and of alternatives.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Will the Libs be doing this before or after they privatize Pearson Airport. Sorry Owen, I was just being sarcastic.

Owen Gray said...

I understand your reaction, Pam. Public assets are for sale these days.

Kirby Evans said...

I have only flown once in the past ten years, and I avoided it the rest of the tim specifically because it was a very easy way to lower my carbon footprint. Unfortunately, I know that for many this choice is not so easy because they have to fly for work. My parter flies at least twice a month over the course of a year so I guess the best I can hope for is that my lack of travel off sets hers.

Owen Gray said...

I understand that some people have to fly frequently, Kirby. My father used to fly regularly between Montreal and New York. The last time my wife and I flew was sixteen years ago. I hope we've made up the difference.

Toby said...

One of the by products of the industrial age is that extended families spread out. Going home for Christmas can be a long flight.

All countries have transportation policies, frequently by default. In Canada, the dominant policy for the last fifty years has been highways and air. Frequently, these are stupid.

Owen Gray said...

We have consistently ignored public transportation, Toby. It's cheaper and it's much better for the environment.

Toby said...

As an example, Owen, for several years we had to make regular trips to Portland. Depending on traffic it ran 12 to 13 hours to drive it however, due to our age, we would overnight along the way getting into Portland in the early afternoon. Sixty years ago, anyone making the same trip would take the overnight train west, sleeping most of the way, breakfasting on board, change trains in Vancouver and arrive in Portland in the early afternoon. Have we progressed? I don't think so. We could probably beat the time by flying to Vancouver and changing planes but neither of us wants to get on the silly puddle jumper to fly over the mountains and I hate airports and being shoehorned into over stuffed planes.

Owen Gray said...

Exactly, Toby. For four years I took a train from the suburbs of Montreal into the city to attend university. It was quick. It was painless. And there was no such thing as a traffic jam.

Steve said...

Toronto to Montreal Train powered by hydro would offset a thousand years of flights from Canada

Owen Gray said...

There are all kinds of options, Steve. But we'll have to think outside the box.

Lulymay said...

In response to Marie Snyder, I must agree with your comment. Unfortunately, I have a mindset that I want to see everything I can during my lifetime, and I don't limit myself to a few short plane rides. (I drive my husband crazy.) This summer it was a Russian cruise on the Volga, which is two long plane rides from Vancouver. I'm not told not to expect a travelling companion any more if I insist on flying. Airports are more akin to a cattle call and literally everything is price of ticket "plus" $$.

We have also travelled from the West Coast to the East Coast across Canada, once on a very fast trip as both were working, but the year I retired we did it properly and took 4 months, and spent much time in each province so we could get a sense of how everyone lived in this immense country of ours. It was an experience of a lifetime and gave us such a better understanding of our fellow Canadians, rather than an "us and them" attitude.

I agree wholeheartedly, and we have nattered to each other for years regarding the inability to take a leisurely train ride across our country. Especially, if we could get a ticket that allowed a "get off and get on" type of ticket that allowed us to re-visit some of the areas we found to be so interesting.

Here, some of us travel all over the world and know more about other countries but have never had an opportunity to know our own country and the wonderful, friendly people that inhabit it. What a shame!

Owen Gray said...

When I taught school, Lulymay, I used to say that, to get a high school diploma, every high school student should have to travel by train across the country. Seeing the country is a course in itself.

Anonymous said...

Well, running a picture of a 1960 Boeing 707 with pure jet engines on takeoff before Rolls Royce showed the Yanks how to do turbofans, is a bit of a stretch! It's literally Mark One gas turbine technology you're highlighting here. Within a couple of years, P&W had retrofit fan kits for those JT3Cs. Mind you, not because of pollution but to cut down noise. The HC reduction was a bonus.

In 1960, on a trip through the Northern US by car (Ford Anglia, 39 screaming hp) we stopped by a USAF airfield and watched B47 after B47 take off emitting smoke galore. Oh, they had even more primitive J47 GE engines than the JT3C in the 707. But cigar-chomping Gen Curtis LeMay had SAC bombers in the air at all times. Cain't trust them Russkies, son!

Modern turbofan aircraft versus some smoky old CN or CP diesel? Hmmm. There are standards for pollution for new production for both gas turbines in aircraft and locomotive diesels. Which is worse per passenger mile is not clear to me as a mechanical engineer since so few rail passengers exist. Both aircraft and locos remain in service for decades unlike cars and are not updated or even looked after all that well from what I've seen, particularly old locos like the one branch lines use - remember the Lac Megantic one? Diesels are particularly bad when it comes to NOx emissions, even new ones. Whether they're cleaner than coal power plants is a matter for debate I'd say.

It's hardly something the average eco hand-wringer can have more than some opinion on, since they hardly know the truth. What we do know is that modern gasoline powered road vehicles are very clean indeed. Leeds University in the UK who have a roadside pollution testing program have shown that the average diesel powered car is a dreadful NOx emitter - more than bigger buses and trucks with proper urea NOx reduction. Gas engines meet standards, diesels do not and by a wide margin.

So, judging by the fully crammed cabins on the flights I've taken over the last decade, here is my opinion, no more valid than anyone else's guess of course but with an underlying knowledge at least of how things actually work, I'd keep flying if you can stand the logistics. I can't.


Owen Gray said...

Those old CP and CN diesels will have to be retooled, too, Anon -- if we're serious about meeting those climate commitments. That's the issue. How serious is Trudeau about meeting the commitments he's signed on to?