I live in a city almost 300 miles away from the city I was born. When I visit my parents, I generally have two options: I can go by train or by plane. Which to pick?
I know that flying is less energy efficient, and it results in more CO2 emissions than catching the train, but importantly: it can be cheaper. I don’t have a lot of money, and small savings can sometimes make a big difference, meaning I am easily swayed by the economic argument. But how strong is the environmental agreement?
Flying by plane uses more fuel than a train would need to make the same journey. By opting for train, you aren’t directly transferring that fuel, but rather, through altering demand, you decrease the amount of train fuel manufactured in future and increase that for planes.
Market forces are powerful. The reason we use hydrocarbons in the first place is because they are a cheap easy way of storing energy. If there was a cheaper way, we’d use that. There is a finite amount of oil in the world, and unless something miraculous comes along, we’ll use it until it runs out. The jet fuel you are opting not to have burnt in your name will still be burnt eventually. People forget that all of the oil in the world will be burnt eventually for some reason or other. You may feel better that you “did your bit”, but the environment doesn’t care. Fuel is burnt and carbon released, and it doesn’t matter why.
Because it is practically guaranteed that we will use oil until it runs out, the focus should efficiency. Exactly what will we get for depleting global oil reserves? Say we have 100 gallons of oil, and that can buy 5 plane journeys. If that same volume of oil can buy 8 train journeys, should we opt for the latter?
Of course, before that happens, market forces will influence how much we use and for what. We are currently at a point where demand is outstripping supply, and prices are rising. Trends show that this is likely to continue, until it becomes prohibitively expensive to burn oil for travel.
I don’t need to travel, but otherwise wouldn’t see my family, which would be a shame. I have enough money, so I can travel if I want to. Humans are simple creatures that are driven by desire. Environmental concerns, sadly, just don’t feature highly amongst these.