Should Personal Flight Rationing Be Showing Up on the Green Radar? (UPDATED)

heathrow airplanes photo

photo: Mike Powell

Recently in the UK, Lord Turner, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said that in the future people would be given personal flight limits in order to cut emissions from aviation. Speaking in the context of short-haul flights, he said "We will have to constrain demand in an absolute sense, with people not allowed to make as many journeys as they could in an unconstrained manner". (The Telegraph)

Here's more of Lord Turner's reasoning, and some powerful (if not direct) rebuttal from climatologist James Hansen:Aviation Emissions Growth Could Force Cap
Lord Turner:

Given the danger that unconstrained aviation emissions growth would make required reductions in other sectors impossibly large, it makes sense to establish an absolute cap on aviation emissions.

Reaction to Lord Turner's statements was not exactly favorable, with the call for 40s-style rationing justifiably causing alarm.

But, for the moment at least, let me play devil's advocate: Perhaps the point trying to be made (if unsaid, at least in reports I've seen) is that there are better ways of moving people around short or medium distances than air travel. TreeHugger has always been a big advocate of train travel, and though not well developed (anymore) in the United States, in Europe the rail network is a robust and viable means of getting to anyplace served by airlines.

Setting a Price on Carbon Would Be Better Way
That said, while recognizing that air travel is a growing sector of carbon emissions, if you want to reduce demand for air travel, rationing it in a quota system is absolutely not the way to do it.

Setting a price on carbon which would drive up the price of air travel, and encourage people to take less carbon-intense forms of transit, as well as encourage their upkeep and development, would be better.

It would also act across the entire economic arena, making in financially more attractive to use more renewable forms of energy and financially unattractive to keep burning coal. Which, as climatologist James Hansen points out is far more of a problem that aviation.

Coal is 80% of the Planet's Climate Change Problem
In an article in The Observer on the protests about the expansion of Heathrow airport, Hansen said that he did not support the protests, adding that, "I don't think it is helpful to prevent air flight."

(Hat tip to for this connection...I hadn't seen the Hansen statement.)

Hansen went on to say,

Coal is 80% of the planet's problem. You have to keep your eye on the ball and not waste your efforts. The number one enemy is coal and we should never forget that.

UPDATE: Hansen Clarifies Statement re: Coal & Aviation Emissions
Apparently James Hansen's statement were taken out of context by The Observer, and he's issued a clarification:
I have relearned a basic lesson re interviews — which will have to be fewer and more guarded. I recall giving only one interview to UK media this year, but perhaps it was two. One resulting story was that I said the climate problem must be solved in four years — of course, what I meant to say was that we needed to start moving in a fundamentally different direction during President Obama's first term. CO2 in the air will continue to increase in those four years — we are not going to take the vehicles off the roads or shut down commerce.

I must have said something dumber in response to a question about air travel. Special apologies to people working in opposition to expansion of Heathrow Airport — I had no intention of damaging their case. All I intended to say was that aviation fuel is not a killer for the climate problem — at worst case we can use carbon-neutral biofuels (not current biofuels — there are ways to do biofuels right, for the fuel volume needed for global air traffic — ground transport will need a different energy source). When asked about the proposed added runway at Heathrow, I apparently said, in effect, that coal is the (climate) problem, not an added runway — in any case, what was reported angered a huge number of people, as indicated by my full e-mail inbox. I should have deferred questions on Heathrow to local experts — I am sure there are many good environmental reasons to oppose airport expansion. I am very sorry that I was not more guarded. You can be sure that in the future I will be more careful to avoid making comments that can be used against good causes.

Readers, Thoughts on Focusing on Aviation Emissions Rather Than Coal?
So, TreeHugger readers weigh in: What do you think are the best ways to reduce air travel? Or do you think it's even necessary, in light of James Hansen's comments regarding focusing on the bigger carbon emission problem areas?

via:, The Observer, The Telegraph
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