Flights Of Fancy

Easyjet has made the remarkable observation that if you raise the price of something, with the intent of deterring people from purchasing it, then this deters people with a little money more than it deters people with a lot of money. Who would have thought it?

Like it or not, unless we can find some way of powering planes without emitting carbon dioxide, over the next few years air travel must go back from being a cheap commodity to being an expensive luxury. And whichever way you cut it, poor people can’t afford luxuries. :-( There’s only so much improvement you can get out of more efficient planes. Eventually, you have to do things which mean that there are fewer flights, and so fewer seats, and so (given constant or rising demand) higher prices.

Incidentally, planes are not “public transport” in the normal sense. Public transport is transport you take as an alternative to private transport – i.e. cars. Its existence and use is encouraged because it is better than a car in one or more ways – e.g. lower fuel use per passenger, less congestion, more accessible to the poor, higher capacity. But only for very short flights are plane journeys alternatives to car journeys. For long-distance trips, they are the only game in town.

So when someone suggests removing the tax exemption on aviation fuel, complaints of “but other types of public transport get more subsidy than we do anyway” don’t wash.

17 thoughts on “Flights Of Fancy

  1. Like it or not, unless we can find some way of powering planes without emitting carbon dioxide, over the next few years air travel must go back from being a cheap commodity to being an expensive luxury

    Well, there’s another alternative, which is some form of centralised control – essentially rationing.

  2. You are quite right. This is the carbon credits thing, isn’t it?

    Free market economists must really get their knickers in a twist about global warming. Because the downside of your actions takes place years from when you make them, and probably happens to someone much poorer and a long way away from you, market forces alone can’t sort out the carbon dioxide problem. (See the current growth in the budget airline industry for examples.) So you need some sort of government intervention – either taxation or rationing.

  3. I think a mixture might be called for – give people a smallish non-transferrable allowance at approximately current rates and then tax any excess on that punitively. The thing is, the air quota would probably have to be less than one flight per year, which might make accounting difficult.

  4. Incidentally, planes are not “public transport” in the normal sense.

    Yes—I always object to taxis being called public transport and being given privileges such as being able to use bus lanes. They use more resources that I do in my private car because I only use that when I want to go somewhere whereas a taxi is using fuel even when there is no passenger.

  5. Rick: yes and no. Your car is sitting idle for 90% of the day, and this is a big waste of ressource (think how much energy is needed to build a car – consumption is only a small part of the car issues). Taxis carry passengers all the time – actually in Asia many cab operates with 2 drivers during night and during days.

  6. Taxis are a different beast again. Imagine my 96-year-old grandpa arriving at Euston station in London by train, and having to go to South Kensington. The only way that is realistically going to happen is by him taking a taxi. It’s the only form of transport available to him, a member of the public.

    I sort of agree that bus lanes are for buses; I’d like to see stats on how inconvenient it is for buses to have taxis (and bikes) sharing them.

    I’d also like to see figures on how much the manufacturing cost of the car (in terms of energy) relates to the cost of using it. I suspect the latter dwarfs the former, but proof would be nice.

  7. All of this is based on the assumption that global warming is caused by humans. Imagine that the assumption is false, which is likely. In this case you end up with crippled economy and same global warming.

  8. Mike Kleshov said: Imagine that the assumption is false, which is likely.

    <sigh> You aren’t American, are you?

    Sir John Houghton CBE FRS wrote recently:

    However, let me explain that the strong, virtually unanimous position of the world scientific community is that the main cause of global warming over the last 40 years is the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels by humans. I write as one who chaired or co-chaired the Scientific Assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from its formation in 1998 to 2002. This Panel involved many hundreds of scientists from all over the world, including those leading the field.

    We debated long before we agreed about what we could say with reasonable certainty and our conclusions were subject to the most thorough review. Last June, just before the G8 summit, the Academies of Science of the 11 largest countries in the world (the G8 countries plus India, China and Brazil [including, of course, the US – Gerv]) issued a joint statement endorsing the work of the IPCC, pointing out that the threat of human-induced climate change is real and that urgent action is required. This unprecedented message from the world’s top scientists could not be more clear.

  9. Mike Kleshov:

    “All of this is based on the assumption that global warming is caused by humans. Imagine that the assumption is false, which is likely.”

    Mike, I would like to know upon what scientifically-determined evidence you base your implication that the global warming (or more accurately, “climate change”) is unlikely to be caused by humans. I am not disagreeing or agreeing with your assertion, but I have recently been seeking out the evidence that supports both side of the debate.

  10. “All of this is based on the assumption that global warming is caused by humans. Imagine that the assumption is false, which is likely. In this case you end up with crippled economy and same global warming.”

    I’m still surprised that this seems to be a prevalent view among many people. It’s not even that you are necessarily wrong, it’s just that the consequences if you are wrong are absolutely dire. Conversely, I would argue that the consequences of the environmentalists being wrong are not a “crippled economy”: crises like this are a way to stimulate the economy, as people devise and purchase new ways of manufacturing, using and saving energy and other resources. This crisis should, in particular, be a boon to techies as we are increasingly called upon to build alternatives to physical transport — telecommuting, online conferencing, virtual worlds, etc.

    Even if global warming is not a fact (it is, but just suppose …) the other effects of our laissez-faire approach to energy use are equally bad: deforestation, species loss, poor air and water quality, the asthma epidemic in many western nations. The evidence that something is wrong is all around, even if you emphatically refuse to accept the reality of global warming.

    Finding new solutions to these problems is the path of least risk. You have more chance of ending up in a wrecked economy (not to mention wrecked environment) if we stick to the present course than if we look for new solutions in non-polluting alternative technologies. Can anyone seriously believe that everything is just fine at the moment, and we can carry on like this indefinitely?

  11. The solution is simple: mandate emission standards for all new aircraft engines. Then, a few years later, tighten the standard. Ban old engines not meeting the previous standard. Lather, rinse, repeat. Just like we have done with Euro I/II/III/IV standards for car engines — at first, all the car manufacturers were complaining that there is no way for them to satisfy Euro I. But somehow they did. Then they complained about Euro II, but eventually satisfied it anyway, etc.

    I mean, the goal is to try to cut emissions, right? So make the aircraft manufacturers develop some cleaner engines. A flat tax on flights or passengers does not give anyone any incentive to work on actually solving the problem; it’s just a money-grab.

  12. Hi Gerv,

    I’m not American, but I am a global-warming skeptic.

    These things fuel my skepticism:

    1) Global-warming enthusiasts (e.g. the Independent newspaper) regularly trumpet a local heatwave (e.g. the recent one in the UK) or a local storm as evidence of global warming. This is obviously fallacious. It makes me suspicious – if the evidence is really that good, then there would be no need to keep trumpeting fallacies.

    2) When I was at school, the textbooks trumpeted it as a known scientific certainty that by the beginning of the 1990s, we would be out of most fossil fuels, and that global warming would already have caused severe sea-level rising. It makes me skeptical that doomsday keeps being postponed so that it is perpetually 15 years away.
    Again, when I was at school, we were all taught that it was a known scientific fact that doom was certain because the ozone layer had a hole which could only get bigger – our CFCs had caused this, and it was irreversible. However we now know that the largest hole, over the Antarctic, has since got significantly smaller. This at least ought to teach us to take the latest “scientific certainty” with a pinch of salt. Science is ever changing.

    3) I keep reading of global-warming skepticism coming from scientist who are neither evangelicals nor Americans (the groups reputed to be the most likely to be skeptics). On the other hand, I notice that those who are most enthusiastic about global-warming normally tend to have an obvious left-wing bias (e.g. the Independent, Guardian, BBC). This makes me think that it’s not only anti-GW skepticism but also pro-GW enthusiasm that is being driven by world-views.

    4) Global-warming enthusiasts regularly claim that the seas are going to rise and flood large parts of the world. However, the Bible states in numerous places that God is never again going to permit worldwide flooding (e.g. in Genesis 9). Whilst this doesn’t give us a scientific explanation of the mechanisms that will prevent such flooding, it does tell us that any scientific models which do predict such flooding are erroneous.

    5) This year in the UK we had a record localised temperature in the recent heatwave. The previous record was in 1930 I think? I would be pretty confident that the fact that a localised record was recorded would have something to do with the massive increase in monitoring since the 1930s, but I’m prepared to be wrong on this. Anyway, my point is – after 76 years of pumping out all those supposedly ruinous gases, we’re still only achieving the same temperatures after the beginning? Global warming is about the long-term, and 76 years looks pretty long term to me – the data says we’re still only achieving temperatures seen 76 years ago. Now a lot of warming going on there.

    6) A scientific thesis, to be accepted, needs to be falsifiable. However, I see the most enthusiastic GW-promoters (Independent, etc.) also trumpeting record cold winters recently as being yet more evidence of “man-made climate change”. This means I really have to take their thoughts on the subject with a pinch of salt, because I can’t see what it would take to convince them otherwise.

    What would it take to convince me that there is global warming and that it is man-induced? I don’t know. The fact that we’ve been pumping out greenhouse gases in huge quantities for over 100 years and doomsday *still* hasn’t arrived juts makes me really skeptical about the whole thing.

  13. P.S. Gerv, I saw your reply to Mike. These statements don’t do much for me either. I regularly see such statements being pumped out by pro-Darwinians to the effect that scientists are all united in belief that they have proved that the universe and everything in it arose by natural forces. However you know that’s bunk, and I’m sure everyone does if they think hard enough about it. (Matter came out of nothingness? Life was spontaneously generated from non-life? Order, design and beauty naturally arose from chaos? A child can see the fallacy of all those). Because of this, I have no trouble in filtering out statements from GW-enthusiasts when they say “all scientists agree…”. All scientists used to agree all kinds of things that we now know are complete bunk – science is always changing. Darwinianism has had its day, and only the hard-line atheists with a commitment to full-on materialism are really behind it now; yet they still seem to have little problem in churning out the “all real scientists agree that…” statements.

  14. @David Anderson:
    To start with the most absolute of your points, #4, no-one (AFAIK) has said that the entire landmass of the world will be submerged due to climate change. Given this, the covenant with Noach and so on don’t seem to be relevant, unless a) you claim that no-one has died in a flood in the last few thousand years, or b) you have a very specific cutoff point in mind beyond which a flood is impossible.

    Point #5: you need to consider average trends in temperatures, not local maxima, which will, as you say, happen by fluke from time to time.

    Your last paragraph: are you suggesting that the rate of CO2 output from fossil fuel combustion has been constant over the last 100 years? Really?

    All the other points seem to be based on the sort of people that you think are proponents of climate change rather than any objection to the arguments themselves.

  15. Gerv:

    “5) As Adam says, we should look at averages. The average yearly temperature in the UK is definitely rising. ”

    I’m not sure why you think this is ‘definite’, but there is no conclusive evidence either way on this one – which is why the whole issue is so open to woolly debate and resulting inaction. If only there were some conclusive proof one way or the other. Unfortunately all of this stuff relies on relatively small measurement changes which take place over very long periods of time.

    Most of the evidence suggests that if global warming is happening, the biggest effect eventually will be average cooling for the UK because of the destruction of the gulf stream. However more extremes of weather would also be expected.

    It is certainly true that environmentalists are prone to a bit of exaggeration, both past and present – but it is hard to blame them for that when their message (which I think is generally a good one) tends to be largely ignored.

    I think using either the bible or guardian as absolute sources of scientific information is a dangerous route to follow, regardless of your beliefs – I know there are some crackpots on here but the Noah story as proof against global warming is nothing short of ridiculous.