The time for half measures is over

The time for half measures is over. This week The Royal Society, the UK’s scientific academy, released a report that illustrated how unrealistic is the current technology plan for greening the aviation industry.

This is just more of the same. The energy industry, building heating community, the cooling and refrigeration world, and ground transportation have all been going through the various stages of lying to themselves to protect the status quo, wasting precious years with compromise strategies they know are based on powerful lobbies, rather than science and engineering.


“A technology strategy cannot be built on half measures and political mirages.”


The best examples are ground transportation and energy, because they are a little ahead of the others. They know now that a technology strategy cannot be built on half measures and political mirages. For some time electric vehicles have included hybrid electric vehicles, and statistics are still being compiled this way (and Toyota is still deluding itself). But the sales numbers show that hybrids are disappearing. Consumers and fleet vehicle purchasers are waking up to reality. They are learning that the mythologies perpetrated to protect petrol don’t stand up to scrutiny.

This has also happened with energy, because it is a world completly driven by numbers and investors of the most sophisticated variety. The bleating by the fossil fuel people about gas plants somehow being less polluting or cheaper worked for a while, but then the cost of renewables and batteries went down and the truth about gas pollution came out. Investors have moved on. Same with nuclear. Seven times more costly than renewables. Case closed.

We are quickly heading in the same direction with chemical companies who want us to believe that their compromise products, blended refrigerants, have advantages over natural refrigerants. Again, sadly for the status quo producers, natural refrigerants are cheaper, more abundant and work just fine in the new equipment which has been designed and installed for them. Governments are still struggling to phase them out because Trump sided with the chemical people. But Trump is gone now. Sorry chemical guys. The AIM Act is in place.

Still, the refrigeration industry is the perfect example of time wasted on disingenuous arguments. The Montreal Protocol was agreed in 1987 and soon afterwards it was discovered that it wouldn’t be enough to both protect the ozone layer and battle climate change. But it took until 2016 to finally get the Kigali Amendment in place, and until 2023 to have the US sign on.

Combustion furnaces and boilers for heat were always a fossil fuels industry scam. Heat pumps have been used in Asia, Europe and Latin America for decades. The gas industry built its cash cow on the back of mythology about the options for high BTUs and the testosterone coursing through the veins of macho, risk-averse heating technicians. Today we have heat pumps that work far better than boliers and furnaces even at -4F/-20C. It’s going to take a while to sort that out. Even with all the cities banning gas in buildings, we’re stuck with phased-in rules, so we basically have to wait for the muscle car-driving Baby Boomer heat techies in North America and Europe to retire, if they ever do.

The airline industry is arguably the most complicated challenge for greening. We can and are electrifying airplanes for short flights. France has said no emissions-spewing short flights –take electric trains instead.

But around the world government people and the monied elite take long flights the most. And ordinary people use them for one or two vacations each year and they’re in no mood to be asked about their carbon footprint when they finally get their much needed break.

So fixing long haul airplanes are a big mental leap and could create the biggest disruption of all. There are literally millions of flights. Batteries are too heavy for long haul flights and nobody likes too many stopovers, plane changes, takeoffs and landings. The airline industry knows damn well that Maglev and hyperloop trains will eventually rule the day, but it could take 40-50 years to build all the infrastructure needed for that.

One might think the airlines should get into the Maglev and hyperloop trainline building business, making them ‘transportation’ companies, instead of just ‘airlines,’ and using their establishment mojo to speed up the transition.

But don’t bet on that. That’s like asking fossil fuels companies to actually become the ‘energy’ companies they claim to be. They’ve known since the 1970s that we would end up with renewables and batteries, and they’re still barely dabbling in these areas.

So we have airlines telling governments that long haul aviation will work just fine with biofuels if we, for example, devote half of the UK’s land mass to growing the right crops for them. It reminds us of the ethanol story in the USA, a tens of billions of dollars industry created entirely by taxpayer-funded subsidies, using a technology that requires 2-3 inputs of energy in, for every 1 unit of energy out. It’s nothing but a pointless entrenched opportunity cost. A political mirage. A half measure with zero benefit.

Wake up world. The time for half measures is over.

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