SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 211 September 2017

How much long-distance air travel is necessary?

In issue No.205 of Socialism Today, Pete Dickenson had an article in which he discussed long-distance flight travel. Of course a socialist society would encourage international exchange. However, the emphasis on high-speed travel whether by surface transit or alternative energy fuels for aircraft, misses two points.

One of the key features of socialist society will be that people could slow down. People will spend a much reduced part of their weeks, years and life at work. There will be much longer holidays, with time to enjoy life and travel. Part of the joy of travel would be the journey: meeting people, seeing places, and observing the landscape and the world along the way. Why the drive for super-fast speeds? In a fast train or airplane, the world is a rushing blur. There may be occasions when people (and materials) need to be somewhere in a hurry but, for most of the time, going slower and enjoying the journey would be preferable.

Use of airplanes for long-distance travel is incredibly energy inefficient as most of the energy is used to keep the airplane in the air rather than moving it forward. Over land trains would take the place of airplanes. To cross large bodies of open water, train travel is not possible. However both ships and lighter-than-air airships, where the energy is used for propulsion rather than lift, are far more energy efficient.

At present both are not competitive with airplanes. However, this is due to very cheap energy and a lack of research. Boats can be powered by wind or solar power. Modern wind-powered ships no longer require a large crew to manage the sails. Lighter-than-air airships got a bad name after the Hindenburg fire of 1937, after which research almost totally ceased. However, they can be made safely, carry large loads and could cross the Atlantic in a few days.

With research both ships propelled by renewable energy and lighter-than-air airships could provide energy efficient and effective alternatives to airplanes.

I, for one, would prefer a slightly longer journey if I had eight to ten weeks holiday a year. The journey would be part of the joy of the experience, rather than the present necessary pain to get somewhere. In addition, there would be no jet lag and plenty of time to see things on the way.

Bill Hopwood, Canada

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