“We Don’t Need Supersonic Travel”

My sentiments exactly:

“We Don’t Need Supersonic Travel—in the ‘New Normal,’ We Should Slow Down.

“An interesting question: Did the pandemic break something in the heedless momentum of human acceleration, or are we really going straight back to normal?

“An interesting test case: United Airlines’ announcement that it will buy fifteen supersonic jets, which would allow business travellers to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo in six hours, and take ‘day trips’ across the Atlantic.

“Surely, we don’t want this. In part, of course, because it’s climate-insane. Supersonic planes, as Kate Aronoff points out, emit five to seven times as much carbon per passenger as conventional jetliners. … But let’s talk about something more than emissions. If we’re going to take climate change seriously, it also needs to come with a new aesthetic. We have to start seeing wind turbines on the horizon as kinetic art, not blight, for instance. And we might want to rethink what travel means, something that our pandemic year should have helped us with. At this point, it’s clear that you can conduct a lot of business remotely. What that means is not that we need to stay at home forever but that we could learn to travel slowly, precisely because we can e-mail the whole way, and because, as Zoom insists, people are learning to use it at thirty thousand feet. (Turn off your mic and use the chat, people.) Also, there’s Slack.”

Along similar lines, I am strongly of the opinion that we don’t need high-speed rail either. It’s already possible, by regular train, to get from DC to New York in four hours; and (to use an example from my own experience) from Orlando to Providence in 19. And a train trip across country is a multi-day adventure. All in all, when rest stops, refueling stops, and other necessities that add time to long-distance car trips are factored in, conventional train is really no slower than driving — but with the advantage of not having to keep your “eye on the road and hands upon the wheel”!

These words are from Bill McKibben, writing in “The Climate Crisis” email newsletter (June 9, 2021, edition). This is a free email newsletter of The New Yorker magazine, and I highly recommend it; go here to subscribe.

High-speed rail infrastructure doesn’t use existing tracks; it requires a whole nother set of tracks, stations, and associated infrastructure, and chews up land and resources accordingly. And for what? To get there a few hours or a couple days faster? And what would we do with that extra time — but try to cram in more travel, more consumption, and thus end up every bit as tired and stretched?

This ties in with Jevons paradox, the topic of my post yesterday. I believe that Jevons paradox holds true for time as well as energy. (Time is money is energy, after all.) J

Just as energy-efficiency increases in automobiles merely end up enabling people to drive farther, and energy-efficiency increases in refrigerators end up “empowering” people to buy bigger fridges (and even entire extra fridges), so time-efficiency increases just end up enabling us to cram more agenda items into our already-hectic lives. Aren’t we already on a fast enough treadmill? I sure think so.

Paradoxically, we can value our time more, and get more out of each moment, by choosing to put the brakes on our Anglo-industrialist-colonialist’s culture’s compulsion to “speed up more.”