Life in the greenhouse gas emitting society and climate change mitigation solutions

Geerts, Robert-Jan (2011) Life in the greenhouse gas emitting society and climate change mitigation solutions.

Abstract:When I recently booked a flight to Dallas, Texas, I noticed the web page for KLM's CO2zero programme (“CO2 Calculator”, n.d.), aimed at offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions of air travel. Because it is currently impossible to use carbon neutral fuels in jet engines, the programme guarantees to save an equivalent amount of emissions elsewhere: for example by building wind turbines, planting forests, or capturing methane from landfills. I was required to fill in my departure and destination cities, and the page returned some data on my emissions: a return flight of 16.504 km consumes 596 litres of fuel per person. The 1.490 kg of carbon dioxide emissions can be offset for €12,66. I found these figures fascinating. By simply sitting in a noisy, moving environment for a day, I am able to burn 596 litres of fuel, enough to heat my apartment for almost a year. This feels like a huge amount, and it is amazing how easily I can consume this amount of energy. However, taking the distance into consideration, a different perspective develops: at 27 km per litre, air travel appears to be as efficient as the best performing cars. Add the advantages in speed and the ability to travel in a straight line (and indeed, the ability to cross the Atlantic), and it appears we should choose the aeroplane over the car any time. These are two different ways of looking at the consumption of resources. The latter is the traditional way of approaching the problem in a technical way. By focussing on efficiency and comparing different solutions with each other in a given context, the best solution, or lowest consumption for a given task, emerges. In this thesis, I argue that something important is ignored by this way of reasoning, and the former approach of looking into the ease at which energy is consumed is essential if we are to reduce our consumption. With my flight to Dallas, I am burning 596 litres of jet fuel at a ticket price of €809. Were I to use the same amount of gasoline for my car in the Netherlands right now, I would pay around €1000 for the fuel alone . That would be without the purchase and maintenance of the vehicle, a qualified driver, and friendly in-flight attendants. The reason for this discrepancy is that car fuel is heavily taxed in the Netherlands in order to reduce its use, whereas jet fuel is not. It would make sense to tax air travel in a way similar to road travel if we are to reduce energy consumption. But so far, taxing of jet fuel has proven to be very difficult to achieve, due to the international character of the business. If the Netherlands would impose taxes, but other countries do not, airlines simply fill up their tanks elsewhere. Not every country supports fuel taxes, for example because they want to keep air travel accessible to the less wealthy. Furthermore, it is argued that heavy taxes would hurt the economy, and therefore the quality of life for all of us. Another interesting bit of information is the cost of compensation: €12,66. That is less than the price of a good meal on an airport, and about 1,5% of the ticket price of €809. How can this be so little, and why is it not simply included in the ticket price (or at least made easier to pay) if it is such a good thing to do? There are a few ways to approach these questions. First, it is cheap partly because it is not yet widespread. Currently, there are many easy ways to prevent emissions, for example by burning available biomass to heat buildings, rather than composting it. When this 'low hanging fruit' has been taken care of, further reductions become more difficult and therefore more expensive. Second, it is debatable how effective carbon compensation is: I am still burning 596 litres of fossil fuel that are not returning to their original sediment layer any time soon, and scientists do not know the exact effects of emitting carbon dioxide this high in the atmosphere, and how to account for the vapour trails that are formed in the wake of a jet aircraft. Making me feel like I am saving the planet for a few euro's might have the effect that I will choose to travel more often,
Item Type:Essay (Master)
University of North Texas
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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