Transportation Keeps Getting ‘Greener.’ So Why Do The Environmentalists Keep Getting Angrier?
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner made its overseas debut last week, and, by all accounts, was a smashing success. At the Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom, the Dreamliner was the Grand Dame of the show. (It easily outshone the hideous “airplane by committee” monstrosity that is the Airbus A380.) There are now over 800 787s on order.
It’s easy to see why the Dreamliner has proved so commercially successful. No airplane is more environmentally-friendly: those worried about greenhouse gas emissions will be pleased to learn that the 787 is 20 to 30 percent more fuel efficient than the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 767, its closest cousins. The airlines, always looking for ways to cut costs, are obviously over the moon – or, at least, over 33,000 feet – at these potential cost savings. The airplane itself, by the way, is an aesthetic marvel. I recently toured the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, and saw the graceful bird firsthand. It’s nothing short of astounding.
Cars are similarly undergoing a revolution in fuel efficiency and “greening.” The Nissan Leaf, a zero emissions car, will be available by the end of this year. Chevrolet’s Volt, another electric car, will be on the market by November, and Honda has recently announced its intention to get into the electric car market.
And so those two “scourges” of the earth, those toxic belchers of greenhouse gas emissions, cars and airplanes, are becoming more and more environmentally friendly. Progress, right? Something to celebrate, yes? But why is it, then, that even as this revolution is happening, the environmental elites become ever more committed to limiting our mobility? Why, as transportation becomes greener, do they become redder and redder with rage?
Consider, first, civil aviation. Even as the 787 looks set to radically reduce the environmental impact of flying, environmental and governmental elites are attempting ever more aggressively to prevent us from taking to the skies. The Obama Administration has been breathtakingly hostile to the airline industry, slapping needless fees and surcharges on the industry. The United Kingdom has recently declared war on aviation, and likened frequent flying to drug abuse. The German government is also now looking to ground its flying public. And flyers are increasingly subjected to moral hectoring from the greener-than-thou among us.
Hostility to cars, especially in urban areas, has also reached a fever pitch. The very trendy Slate magazine has recently been running a series on how to “improve” urban transport. All of the suggestions center on ways to reduce car use. Congestion pricing, the highly regressive measure that penalizes people for driving in their own cities, is an idea we often hear bandied about. And cities like my own continue to pour dollars into public transportation projects, while neglecting to fund the construction of roads, highways, and bridges.
It would appear, then, that environmentalists’ concerns over flying and driving don’t actually have much to do with the Earth. Perhaps its an aesthetic dislike of cars and planes, a hatred of man’s supposed “hubris” for daring, Icaraus-like, to fly, or maybe it’s simply a deep-seated distrust of modernity that explains the continued war on freedom of movement. In a way, it’s temping to feel sympathy for the environmental movement. After all, in a world where transportation is becoming increasingly environmentally friendly, it’s not easy being green.
UPDATE: I edited this post to correct a typo in the initial version. Many thanks to commenter ‘Zach Hensel’ for pointing this out.