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Jul. 25 2010 - 12:36 pm | 100 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Transportation Keeps Getting ‘Greener.’ So Why Do The Environmentalists Keep Getting Angrier?

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft does a flyby ...

Image by AFP via @daylife

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    The 787 is a replacement for the 767, not the 777; there are plans for a possible 787 variant that’ll come close to the 777’s capacity.

    Your premise is rather ridiculous. Machines the world over have become more efficient as technology has been improved (in this case, the 787 benefits from advances in composite bodies) and energy has become more expensive. This means that environmentalists should shut up? I live in an urban area that votes 90% Democrat. I sense zero hostility to cars. As far as congestion pricing goes, it’s generally implemented to reduce congestion, as the name implies, and not to reduce carbon emissions or whatever. There’s also the major issue of air quality as it affects people on a day-to-day basis, aside from long-term environmental impact.

    You’re pasting together a bunch of unrelated anecdotes to invent some conflict that really doesn’t exist. As far as Icarus goes, one might consider attempts to accelerate the inevitable transition away from oil-driven transportation by pricing carbon, investing in public transport, and spurring the adoption of solar, nuclear, etc power as a bold plan to embrace modernity. If your definition of modernity is the 1950s fantasy of individuals piloting cars on highways crisscrossing the country, a vision that has proved impossible to scale up to modern population density and ubiquitous car ownership, then yes, some of us are spurning modernity.

    Lastly, you write that “The Obama Administration has been breathtakingly hostile to the airline industry, slapping needless fees and surcharges on the industry.” You support this by linking to a story noting a single fine proposed against airlines for each instance of stranding passengers on the tarmac for 3+ hours. Breathtaking!

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    I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. My work has appeared in the Weekly Standard, the American Spectator, the New York Press, The Big Money, sp!Ked online, the Epoch Times, the Daily NK, and others. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote a column on culture and politics for the (alas, now defunct) Seattle-based Internationalist Magazine. In so doing, I filed dispatches from Berlin, Seoul, Paris, New York, and, yes, Reno - among other places. In 2009, I reported on business from Shanghai. I attended Reed College, in Portland, Oregon.

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