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Kathie Lingle's Work-Life Blog

The Even BIGGER Gasoline Problem

May 12, 2008 — Last night while watching a news report about how the airlines are struggling with fuel costs, I was overtaken by a bone-chilling concern that had never occurred to me before. What sort of alternative fuel is being developed for commercial aircraft?

As petroleum supplies are squeezed even further over the next decades and eventually dwindle, what substance is going to be robust enough to keep airplanes aloft? We seem to be having enough trouble with powering cars. But, if they are small enough, electricity and maybe cooking oil can propel you a finite distance before a mandatory return to the mother ship for recharging or a refill of otherwise not-well-distributed supplies.

The implications are mind-boggling. The most obvious impact will be on everyday travel — business and personal. A colleague here at WorldatWork is so intrigued with my obsession about this topic that she has dug up a few relevant articles to feed my frenzy. My favorite of these summarizes the conclusion to which my mind immediately leaped: “without a viable jet-fuel alternative, air travel in 30 years may be only for the wealthy.”

Apparently, like every other green initiative, this problem is already on the radar screen (pun intended!) of environmentalists outside the United States, especially in Britain, where the Bishop of London considers taking a vacation that involves flying “a symptom of sin.” 

But humor me. Think about this in a larger context for a minute. What happens to the many countries in the world whose economies depend largely on tourism that drops from the sky? What about the fast-growing developing countries, which experts think will be hit the hardest? Progress nipped in the bud, so to speak.

And what about modern warfare? Could this mean the end of war, American-style? How do you pull off “shock and awe” without an abundance of jet fighters and airplane fuel? Politics aside, should we be thinking about war as an extravagance – the ultimate waste of valuable fuel that we are going to desperately miss later in this century, when the only cost-effective way to get across the pond will be on something akin to the “student ships” that flourished in the 1960s? 

So, do you see what I see? People working mostly at home (which, by the way, is where mankind has worked throughout the countless millennia of human history except for the last hundred or so years). Local to mid-range travel in specially adapted cars. Trains, boats and ships for commerce and longer journeys for business or pleasure, powered by mini nuclear reactors, hydro-electricity, solar – who knows by then? Ballooning becomes robust enough to actually arrive at a destination. Other sun and wind-powered vehicles emerge that we haven’t imagined yet. Cross-country oil pipelines are converted to aqueducts that redistribute increasingly precious water from areas that flood to regions of drought, as global warming creates more and more extremes in weather. And airplane trips are occasional events, mostly reserved for extremely important global business and the wealthy. 

Some of this feels oddly familiar. Families were home, neighborhoods were busy places during the day, and airplane travel was a rarity when I was a child. Can the latter really come and go as a primary form of transport as quickly as one person’s adulthood? Are we slowly spiraling back to where we came from, or am I only capable of looking in my own rear view mirror?

What do you see when you peer into the future? Do you know something important about the development of alternative jet fuel? Please help me out here!

Reader Comments

Wed. May 21, 200811:47 AM (edited 5/22/2008)
Stanley Schmuckler

Alternate fuels are wonderful, when and if they are developed. The U.S. has not tapped for oil offshore, or in Alaska, or oil shale. What the real crime is that we have the resources and we are letting them just sit there. Alternative fuel supply may not be available to impact our lifestyle in our lifetime. Let's keep working on it, but at the same time, let’s tap what we know we have.

 
Wed. May 14, 2008 8:50 AM (edited 5/14/2008)
Linda M. Jones, CCP If the global outlook with regard to fuel costs seems so daunting and potentially damaging to world economies, why not appeal to the powers-to-be to freeze prices?
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