business conservation development energy environment globalisation sustainability technology transport

Airline Biofuels: A double edged sword?

When looking at biofuels, its often hard to see through the fog of controversy that surrounds it. As Jeremy has mentioned before, there are many people still sitting on the fence with this one. Until recently Richard Branson was one of them.

A recent article by Steve Dowling (BBC) highlighted Branson’s work with Boeing on the use of biofuels in his aircraft. Branson, the owner of Virgin Airlines, has hopped off the fence, taking biofuels as an alternative to the currently used refined kerosene. Is this really a step in the right direction?

Biofuels are a clean alternative to fossil fuels, however at what expense to the environment? The Air Transport Association stated in the Monthy Jet Fuel Cost and Consumption Report that the U.S alone used over 19 and a half billion gallons of jet fuel in 2006. For the United States at least, switching consumption of this scale to biofuels might not only be extremely expensive but may end up being more destructive than sticking with the original fossil fuels. In order to produce enough biofuels to sustain the world’s obsession with cheap air travel (guilty as charged) how much forest needs to be turned into cash crops? The sheer amount of biofuel needed to keep up with the current consumption rate would accompany the complete destruction of the rainforest in a not so distant future. With increased biofuels comes an increased demand on arable land. Therefore deforestation. In an attempt to prevent global warming by switching to biofuels, we could just speed up the whole process.

The use of biofuels is merely a way of replacing fossil fuels in order to continue our lives as normal. The way i see it. Its not a matter of “should we use biofuels or fossil fuels?”, its a matter of “Should we travel so much?”.

If cutting fossil fuel emissions is causing global warming – lets stop it.

If cutting down rain forests to grow fossil fuels is causing climate change (which lets face it. A replacement for oil, when it happens is likely to take place in less economically developed countries. Ones that will be bullied by the super powers) – lets stop it

We should stop wondering what side of the fence we are on and simply stay where we are. The answer is not black and white, one or the other. Its simply NO! Lets reduce travel. If we can’t continue traveling in a sustainable way, with bio or fossil fuels then lets reduce the amount we travel. If governments and airline companies can’t work out a sustainable alternative, then its up to the consumer.

The question is not “Do we use fossil fuels or biofuels?” its “Do we clear forests or departure lounges?”. Its up to us!

11 comments

  1. I agree very much with your analysis, and the conclusions you draw. But how do you break with an addiction to travel? You can’t get all that far on a bicycle. Please could someone help me with this one.
    The fact is, most of the people I love live at a distance from me, and if I am to see them at all I have to travel. We seem to find ourselves locked into a closed system that is destroying us, How do we escape?

  2. There are levels at which we can cut down. Transport isn’t even the largest pollutant when it comes to greenhouse gasses, its cows. The problem is, we are looking for a replacement for oil, rather than a new way of living our lives. One of the reasons people live so far away from each other is because transport has made that possible. If the way in which transport is done changed, people wouldn’t travel as far, and therefore live as far from “home”. Unfortunately this problem isn’t something that can happen overnight so its something we have to try and set up for the future. Your friends and relatives live great distances away because we (and oil) made transport easy. If that changes, that problem might no longer exist.(before the oil boom, people didn’t live/travel abroad nearly as much)

    Biofuels are a good thing, they just can’t be used at the same level that oil is. They can be an alternative to some aspects of the fossil fuel industry, but not all (that would be unsustainable).

    As for the present, the simplest mode of transport has to be public. Too often 100 people in individual cars drive to the same location 1 train is going to. In this case the train is a more sustainable option (however probably more expensive). Unfortunately we live in a society that demands everything as fast as possible, and we tend to treat traveling the same way. On an international scale, we’d rather have a 2 hour flight than a 9 hour ferry or car ride (despite the flight being the more pollutant than both put together). Even at the local scale, most people would rather queue half an hour in their car to work than cycle taking a little longer. We need to plan our traveling more carefully, being willing to take the more sustainable option, rather than the faster one. We should be willing to make the 9 hour car/ferry rather than the 2 hour flight.

    (i realise that most means of transport are pollutant and unsustainable, however its more a case of choosing the ones that aren’t so bad)

  3. This is one of the reasons the company MIS Green was started!

    Green is great for the environment to a limit [and our health ultimately], businesses will make some money based on their involvement in the BTB and BTC chain, but why should the consumer have to sacrifice when it’s our money driving these upstream processes?

    The truth is green & sustainable solutions must be consumer-centric to have longevity. But we must be realistic and pragmatic and realize those solutions will not meet every green/sustainable principle. At the doorstep of each solution proposition, the question has to be asked “Which green and sustainable principle is most valuable for us to meet for the environment, business, and consumer?” If more principles can be met along the way, then great!

    Check out the MIS Green website to learn more, and if you have more time, please, participate in our Alternative Fuels Consumer Survey. http://www.misgreen.com

  4. Thank you for taking time to check out the MIS Green website and survey! Please tell others about the survey and hopefully the combination of efforts will make a change… I’ll keep track of your website now that I know about it!

  5. I like the light aircraft diesel engines.

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  6. I agree, we need to learn to travel less. Unfortunately we live such fragmented lives, and people live in different parts of the world from their families and friends, that I don’t think it will stop any time soon. I think it’ll have to be a generational thing – that we’ll have to learn to appreciated being rooted again, staying in our communities. It might happen, but for decades we’ve aspired to being footloose, and we need to start undoing that.

  7. If we learn to cut travel a half mile at a time, or search for items closer to home before we hit the road, we might not pass up a mom and pop store on the way to a big box store across town. That’s how adbirds is supposed to work, once the site is propagated with ads. Your free ad today will make that happen. Backward links through eBay or Craig’s or other sites will help too.

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