What’s the Solution to Humanity’s Growing Ills?

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

High-speed rail in Japan. Max speed: 374 mph.

Two elements to wrap your head around. They connect, as you’ll see.

Life Without Air Travel

The first is a speculation on what it would mean to be without air travel entirely. The source is here from the BBC: “What would a flying-free world look like?

Some background:

Aviation has long been a pain in the neck for those working to cut human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. It is the pinnacle of a “hard-to-decarbonise” sector: energy-intensive, lacking in immediate technical options to make it lower carbon, and strongly associated with the lifestyles of the richest and most powerful in society.

It has also become one of the fastest growing sectors emissions-wise. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from planes grew 30% between 2013 and 2019 while the CO2 emissions growth in the wider economy between the same years was just 4%.

And some of their conclusions:

High-Speed Rail Around the World

Consider the last point above: High-speed rail would become an immediate priority.

Here’s the buildout of high-speed rail worldwide in 2016 (blue) and projected for 2025 (red), source The Guardian. Most of that projected track has been laid already; China is now far in the lead.

The U.S. claims to have high-speed rail, but barely. Regarding the Acela (lower right on the graphic):

Acela trains are the fastest in the Americas, reaching 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) (qualifying as high-speed rail), but only over 49.9 miles (80.3 km) of the 457-mile (735 km) route.

Fifty miles of low-speed high-speed rail. And holding. Go us.

Not Going to Happen…

The second element in today’s piece is this: Once you start to think about high-speed rail replacing air travel, you begin to see a larger problem. In fact, a very large problem. In the U.S., nothing that challenges modern industrial life is going to change till circumstance (meaning, collapse) forces it to.

Futurist Marshall Brain (yes, that’s his name) has considered this issue at least twice. Once in a Doomsday article (here), and once in a Spacemen-can-save us article (here).

In the Doomsday article, he generously ascribes the failure of our leaders to their great concern for our welfare and lives:

“If planet Earth stopped burning fossil fuels today, what would happen?”

The answer is just as simple: The effects would be profound, and billions of people would die within a year. Why?

• Modern agriculture would come to a dead stop. Nearly every tractor in the world, and every combine harvester, is powered by fossil fuels. Without fossil fuels there would be no plowing, no planting, no cultivating, no harvesting. Therefore, there would be no food for people to eat and billions would starve to death.

• Modern transportation would come to a dead stop. Even if there were food, it moves around a country like the United States in diesel trucks and diesel trains and diesel ships. Without fossil fuels, all these vehicles stop moving and we all starve to death.

• Modern electricity grids would come to a complete stop. More than half of the electricity in the United States comes from fossil fuels like natural gas.

• Modern factories would come to a complete stop. Factories need electricity and fossil fuels to power their operations, and they need trucks and trains to bring in the raw materials for the factories to digest.

Without these four essentials, modern society collapses. They all require fossil fuels.


Can we wean all these sectors off fossil fuels? Yes, of course. But it will take decades even if we ignore all the power wielded by the incumbent fossil fuel companies and their lackeys. What if we saw a headline tomorrow that said, “World leaders allocate $10 trillion to rapidly decarbonize all of global agriculture, transportation and electricity generation in 5 years.”? We will never see this headline. There is no group of world leaders thinking in this way. World leaders are not on the verge of allocating this kind of money. Nor are world leaders even contemplating such an allocation.

Modern economies will be burning fossil fuels, and therefore adding gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, for many decades to come. History shows us that this is what will happen. Modern economies will do this because there is no near-term alternative to fossil fuels that does not involve spending trillions of dollars to speed things up. Because world leaders don’t want their people to starve and die, fossil fuel consumption will continue largely unabated.

I admire his generosity, his unwarranted assumption of billionaire concern, but still, he makes a good point. The obvious solution is Plato’s benevolent dictator, what Plato calls the “philosopher king.” But who would that be?

…Unless the Aliens Step In

Obviously, we won’t get a philosopher king anytime soon, not from among ourselves. We’ll have dictators aplenty, though none benevolent, and none with sufficient power.

Which leads to his brilliant, fantastic solution — aliens from space who literally want only our good. What would they do to solve our problems for us?

First, how did these benevolent aliens gain control? The writer gives them great power.

The first act of the Sleeborans [the aliens] was apparently to neuter the planet’s military forces in every country. Every nuclear missile silo and transporter was mysteriously disabled. Every military submarine and warship lost the ability to move or fire its weapons. Every military jet, helicopter, tank or transport was disabled and grounded.

The second act for the Sleeborans was to meet with every high government official and corporate leader on the planet. Apparently the Sleeborans had transporter rooms like the ones in Star Trek, because a Sleeboran robot, according to news reports, appeared in the office or home of thousands of important and wealthy people across the planet. …

The third act was for the Sleeborans to deploy millions of robots across the planet in every population center, from small towns to major cities. There appeared to be approximately one robot per 100 people. These robots appeared to do nothing unless they detected anger or violence or what might be thought of as criminal or rude behavior – things like theft, vandalism, racism, misogyny. The robot would appear on the scene and the angry or violent or criminal person would vanish in a brief flash of light. No one knew where they went. [They are later revealed to be safe.] Word quickly spread on the Internet, and people quickly recognized, that anger and violence and crime were unacceptable to the Sleeborans. Therefore, these activities quickly subsided, either through attrition of the perpetrators or lessons learned.

What’s the Sleeboran solution to humanity’s ills?

The Sleeborans noted four important trends that had triggered their arrival on Earth:

  1. The growing threat of global war and nuclear war, and in particular the war in Ukraine.
  2. The unmanaged threat of climate change, where Earth was about to reach irreversible tipping points.
  3. The extreme economic inequalities that were growing without restraint.
  4. The proliferation of crime and corruption and general asshole behavior, especially within governments, which was making the planet’s decent people miserable with no corresponding benefit.

Their Solution to Unequal Wealth

As an example of Sleeboran solutions, consider wealth inequality. After noting that “a small percentage of humans have the means to purchase a $1,000 smart phone, while those assembling the phones often received only pennies in return for an hour of their labor,” a situation they called “irrational, cruel and immoral,” the Sleeborans did this:

Therefore, the wealthy would be stripped of their assets and wealth, down to the level of a normal standard of living. And the poor would all be raised up to the same standard of living. This standard of living would be defined by the healthy carrying capacity of the planet.

Under the rules of capitalism, it was perfectly normal for a person to start a successful company, hire a million employees, and for the one person to amass $100 billion using the work of those employees to do it. To the Sleeborans, the notion of extreme wealth like this was abhorrent. Why not instead give $100,000 to each employee? Or lower prices so that the $100 billion never accumulated? The whole notion was ridiculous to the Sleeborans and would be dismantled quickly. The era of 300-foot-long yachts and private jets and 12 mansions on 5 different continents was gone forever under the Sleeborans.

The rest of their solutions follow similar lines.

The Fantasy Tells the Truth

The problem with this fantasy is that it’s true — in a very specific way:

[T]he Sleeborans did the things that every thoughtful person knew had to be done. They destroyed the threat of nuclear annihilation. They eliminated all the assholes who were ruining society for everyone else. They made the hard decisions on climate change and then acted impressively. They brought everyone in the human species up to the same standard of living, rather than tolerating the amazing inequalities that had been the norm for so long. They eliminated the hyper rich and their absurdities. The world was becoming a much better place.

What the truth does this contains? Every thoughtful person knows these things have to be done.

Why the coming collapse? No thoughtful person thinks these things could happen. Not in the quantity needed. Not in time.

Back to the Future

We started with air travel and high-speed rail. We’ll end there as well.

In the U.S., how many miles of high-speed rail will be built, beyond the less-than-a-hundred it already has, by … let’s say, the end of your life? How much less than what’s needed will that number be?

In the meantime, global warming is speeding up. It’s easy to do the math. I’m with the Sleeborans.

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  1. JohnA

    “Because world leaders don’t want their people to starve and die”

    Er, world leaders, certainly those in the west, do not give a proverbial tinker’s curse for the health and welfare of their people. They are completely captured by big ag, big pharma, big MIC etc., and do what suits them, not what is best for the people or planet.

    1. SocalJimObjects

      And yet one does not become a world leader by telling the masses the truth either. The only thing most people want to hear is that everything will be all right, and there’s no need to sacrifice anything on the march to an ever brighter future.

      There’s really no panacea to humanity’s ills, not even high speed trains, because engineers will try to figure out how to squeeze out even more speed, etc and those will create problems that we can’t foresee right now.

      There are two extremes that I foresee under our current predicament of global warming and depleting reserves, one is that humanity will disappear, or eventually some people will figure out interstellar travel and off they go to migrate to the most habitable planet closest to our current solar system. I would bet zero dollars on the second possibility though.

      1. Kit

        There is a middle road in “that which has been done is that which chall be done”. A continuum of survival-friendly, lower-resource lifestyles, from rude huts to comfortable villas with indoor plumbing, is possible and fairly sustainable. Neolithic people adapted to climes from the tropics to the arctic. Someone is likely to be fine.

        But this world we know has gone wobbly and seems unlikely to be saved, and I’m right there with you in doubting a new space-travel-friendly physics is lurking in a corner waiting to be uncovered..

      2. Not Qualified to Comment

        Humanity is unlikely to disappear. Some claim the climatic disturbance caused by the Mt. Toba volcanic eruption c.75,000 years ago reduced the human population of the earth to a few thousands, while a 2005 DNA study from Rutgers University theorized that the pre-1492 native populations of the Americas are the descendants of only 70 individuals who crossed the then land bridge between Asia and North America.

        What would disappear is ‘life-as-most-of-us-know-it’, which might not be a bad thing. Let’s hope that the few survivors who get to start again don’t totally forget what happened and encapsulate the mistakes we made into myth and legend that provide guidance for their future. And don’t re-invent money!

        1. Ben

          I agree but it would certainly destroy our civilisation.

          This would explain the lack of any alien signals form space thus solving the Fermi paradox

    2. Snailslime

      He does seriously seem to think that the most destructive governments on earth are those of Afghanistan, North Korea and Venezuela.

      That alone likely suggests that he probably has rather inflated sense of western leaders’ virtue.

      1. Societal Illusions

        how does one measure “destruction”? is this on a per capita or cumulative total or how does one properly value and compare said destruction? how much is acceptable? apparently quite a bit…

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Just a point on alternatives to air travel – HSR is not actually optimum for most longer journeys – sleeper trains (or boats) are far more viable for many trips. For example, an 80mph sleeper train could do a city centre to city centre trip of 1000 miles between 7pm and 8am, very convenient for business and leisure travellers. One of the somewhat unexpected benefits of deregulating railways in Europe has been an increased interest in sleepers using underutilised night time capacity. In contrast, a HSR line would take perhaps 6-7 hours to do that trip – essentially taking up most of a day. Plus of course the cost of building a HSR line.

    I was comparing the time and cost of going from Ireland to the Pyrenees for a skiing holiday recently with a friend. To fly, would take her most of a day – 2 hours in the air to Lourdes or similar, with another couple of hours in a hire car. An alternative would be an 18 hour overnight ferry to France, 4 hours train to Paris, then an overnight train to high in the mountains. A somewhat quicker, but very awkward trip, would be 8am ferry from Dublin to Wales, 4 hours train to Euston in London, walk to Kings Cross, HSR to Paris, subway to Gare St. Lazare, then sleeper train overnight to a ski station. Start in the morning, arrive the next morning. the problem is that its impossible to book a thru ticket all the way, leaving a risk (as I found out doing that trip to Paris and getting stuck thanks to a UK railway strike).

    Overnight ferries are surprisingly competitive in time terms in many parts of the world, particularly Japan. What better than to have a soak in an onsen (heated with waste heat from the engines?), a sleep on a futon, and wake up in the morning at your destination. You can do this between many Japanese coastal cities, plus going to Busan in Korea.

    The key problem is actually having an overarching body controlling all the modes of travel. It shouldn’t take an hour of research (or a volunteer website like Seat61.com) to allow you to plan this sort of trip.

    A point on HSR – it it fully competitive with airlines over a fairly narrow range of journeys – basically up to around 4 hours (maybe 600 miles). To make longer trips, you need active disincentives for air travel. Even in China and Japan, domestic air travel is booming. People just prefer the perception of speed. For the US, I think HSR would never work due to the very large distances between the key population areas, not to mention the very low density of city nodes. But if it was to be built, the US should go all the way and buy the 300mph+ Japanese Chou Shinkansen – its much faster than conventional HSR, so would make a lot of medium to long distance trips far more viable. It would cost trillions of course (or put another way, one years defence budget).

    A key point of course is that the majority of the worlds population don’t fly regularly – most flying is done by a small number of frequent flyers. Greatly reducing air travel will only hit a minority – but a very powerful and vocal minority. IMO one of the best short term fixes would be a stiff per-flight tax, which can be claimed back on the basis of one trip a year. This would address ‘necessary’ trips while penalising those taking multiple flights, just because. As for the impacts of air travel, realistically, I think the only short to medium term solution are sustainable fuels. It’s technically fully possible to make aviation fuel that can be burnt in existing engines from waste organic material (including sewage sludge). The barrier is cost, nothing else.

    1. digi_owl

      All in all it comes down to human’s ability to plan and execute on said plan.

      Thing is that i fear this is something that has to be learned, and few people these days live in conditions where they need to.

      One of the drives of marketing etc since the depression has been to make the public more impulsive, to spend according to desires rather than needs. And then prey on those desires.

    2. Pat

      Can I make a couple of suggestions – that the stiff tax be called something else and classified so that it is not tax deductible in any manner, and that the version for private flights be exponentially larger to compensate for the damage divided by a smaller number of passengers.

      The first so that there is no offset to the increased cost of doing business.
      (One of the additional slaps in the public face from the absurdly small and non deterrence level fines levied on corporations for criminal acts is that they get to deduct them and offset taxes so the ROI from those criminal acts is even higher than first calculated.)

    3. Em

      I really don’t see the US building out any new infrastructure. I live in a fairly wealthy and functional part of the US but can take a year to build a traffic overpass or add a lane to an existing road. DC took something like a decade to add 3 above ground subway stations. The SF to LA HSR line, going over flat, sparsely populated terrain, is estimated to cost over $100 billion and won’t be built until 2032, Meanwhile the Chinese could build out HSR in mountainous SEAsia in a few years for a small fraction of the cost.

      We’re in the terminal phase of Western financial capitalism. All we can do now is manipulate symbols.

    4. upstater

      On the subject of HSR, the Grauniad maps and graphics are riddled with blatant errors. The Chinese HSR system is 42,000 km, more than the rest of the world combined. It already had 8000+ km in 2010.

      As noted in the post, Amtrak Acela has very limited, disconnected segments of 150 mph track. It does not reach Portland Maine and requires a station change in Boston to continue onward. I’m sure Lambert will attest that the Amtrak service to Maine isn’t HSR. The Grauniad tells us the whole thing is HSR. But we don’t have nice things in the such US.

      BTW, the replacement trainsets for the the 26 year old Acela, “Avelia Liberty”, are more than 2 years behind schedule.https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/top-10-stories-of-2023-no-8-new-acela-delays/ Building bespoke low volume trainsets is a recipe for disaster. Passenger rail car building in the US is not world class. In New York State intercity trains use cars 30-50 years old, pulled by 32 year old locomotives. The average speed for the NYC to Buffalo run is 51 mph; 50 years ago it was about 50 mph.

    5. Richard

      Your last sentence of your penultimate paragraph – about the cost for building HSR being about 1 years defence budget, is very salient. There is very little return on a dollar spent on the MIC – yes workers get a salary, and there are some export sales, but a tank or fighter on it’s own generates no income. Instead imagine redirecting all those engineers into building HSR using a year of defence budget. Once you have HSR, it enables so much new business. Each dollar spent on building it will be massively returned over the years of operation. You could even say, it will pay for itself!

      It really seems such a no-brainer doesn’t it?

    6. Bazarov

      I know this is off topic–please forgive me if you’ve already commented on this–but since you’re well informed as regards the Irish political scene, what’s your assessment of the situation post-referendum debacle and post-Varadkar resignation?

    7. Not Qualified to Comment

      The problem isn’t the polluting difference between planes and boats and trains. It’s your desire to have a ski-ing holiday – which incidentally also pollutes, modifies and wrecks the beauties of the mountains for future generations.

      If the idea of the airship hadn’t gone down in flames with the Hindenberg and instead it had received the research, innovation and investment that went into passenger aircraft, perhaps air travel today would be far more leisurely and less cattle-class and polluting. Of course it would be a little slower than the Boeing 737, and time is money….

      1. sfglossolalia

        Along these lines, I often wonder how many of my friends who are very concerned about climate change also expect their supermarket to have all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world available in the middle of winter.

    8. Ludus57

      London to Paris HSR departs from St. Pancras International, next door to Kings Cross.
      But thanks for a great comment, which I enthusiastically endorse.

  3. Jams O'Donnell

    The truth is that eventually we will run out of oil and gas. This is indisputable – there is only so much in the planet.

    The other fact is that it’s not going to happen soon enough.

    1. Michaelmas

      Jams O’Donnell: The truth is that eventually we will run out of oil and gas.

      We are not going to run out of gas. In the real world, gas — LNG is mostly methane — is likely to run out of us.

      A minimum of seventeen trillion tons of methane is stored under the Siberian tundra and at the Arctic Ocean’s bottom — I’m being conservative, it may be double that — and methane is twenty-eight times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. If all that’s released, we’ll get temperatures that aren’t in the historical record because, for one thing, the human race wouldn’t have survived them. Nor would most life on Earth.

      We know this because it didn’t—there’ve been five great extinction events in Earth’s prehistory, each coinciding with massive methane releases into the atmosphere.

      The Permian Mass Extinction and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, in particular, almost ended all life on this planet.

      So: no shortage of gas. It’s ludicrous to think there is. The problem is keeping it in the ground.

  4. Randall Flagg

    I have to say, reading the first lines of an Alien race showing up and my first thoughts go to that old Twilight Zone episode: To Serve Man.

    And on eliminating carbon emissions, comical that our “leaders of the free world” bleat on and on about reducing emissions yet do nothing to prevent those emissions with perpetuating war all around this blue orb. Just staggering to think of all that money redirected to positive things for the populace. The corruption is just right there in front of our eyes. I hate to be negative but from what I’ve seen so far in life, it’s all got to collapse first before enough people in positions of power wake up. Or they do understand it but are playing game of musical chairs, hoping they are not caught standing when the music stops.

    Love the high speed rail solutions but if it’s going to be like California’s roll out, I have little hope.

    And the Sleeboran solutions? Very thoughtful but c’mon man, that’s not the American way, unless I can make a buck from it say TPTB.
    But seriously, what’s not to like about eliminating all A-hole behavior at a minimum.
    Great post, thanks and thanks for the link to the Aliens from space essay.

  5. Barnes

    As I commented in one of the Prof. Michael Hudson posts a few days back:
    1. Disinherit everyone upon their deaths
    2. Invest the free funds in broad education that deserves its title as in “learning as humans would actually do”
    3. regulate resource based consumption on the basis of the finite resources they are (as in carrying capacity) and promote a sufficient dose of humility into all of us. This needs to be started in the rich countries but ultimately spread worldwide on a roughly egalitarian basis per capita.

    The ground rules have to be sufficiently simple(!) in order to leave no wiggle room for power/wealth and their financial/judiciary acrobats/enablers.

    Wanna travel? There’s a bicycle/train for that. Preferably when young to help broaden ones horizon in real time and real world. Make work and travel a thing supported by communities internationally and a condition for long distance travel in the first place.

    These are proposals for the first babysteps away from the systems we have now.

    Reality be like: We will burn all fossil fuels in reach until theres nothing left. For more of the same. Shame.

    1. Ben Gunn

      It seems we are all like the Easter Islanders and will come to the same end. No more intelligent (as a group) than bacteria in an agar Petri dish.

  6. Robert Gray

    The question is not what it would mean to be without air travel entirely; put simply, naga happen. The genie is out of the bottle. And the key word is entirely.

    I’m reminded of the textbook that was used in the Logic 101 course I took as an undergrad way back when (which I still have). On the cover is a photo depicting some young people having fun in a park. In the background is a police car, parked, with the cop keeping an eye on the group. In the foreground is an official sign saying ‘No Cars or Trucks OF ANY KIND Allowed in Park’.

    Entirely. Yes, they might limit, tax or squeeze many, even most, commercial flights out of existence. But do you really think the president of the United States (and others of that ilk) will take a train — high-speed or low-speed — anywhere, except perhaps as a PR stunt? Do you think the US Air Force — and every other air force in the world — is going to voluntarily go out of business?

    The only question worth considering is what currently-unknown means of powering air travel might sooner-or-later appear, to make carbon-fuel engines obsolete. Historically, revolutionary technological breakthroughs are often undreamt of, even (comparatively) shortly before they arrive. For 5000+ years of human history, if you wanted to go anywhere on land you walked or availed of a horse, camel, etc. The 100+ years of the internal combustion engine is just the blink of an eye. (Indeed, it’s hardly 200 years since Fulton’s Folly elicited laughter and scorn.)

    Can batteries ever be made light enough to power a large airplane? Can nuclear energy ever be made practicable for such a use? Or will it be something not even a twinkle in the brain of a yet unborn inventor or engineer? In any case, one thing is clear: there is no point in wondering what it would mean to be without air travel entirely. Might as well wonder what it would mean to be without the MIC.

  7. SocalJimObjects

    If you think aliens will come and save us, then I would suggest taking a look at the Dark Forest hypothesis, which is explored quite brilliantly in Liu Cixin’s Three Body Trilogy, probably the best Science Fiction trilogy in the last 2 or 3 decades.

    The dark forest hypothesis is the conjecture that many alien civilizations exist throughout the universe, but they are both silent and hostile, maintaining their undetectability for fear of being destroyed by another hostile and undetected civilization.

    To the above, I will add the Freedumb hypothesis, if an alien civilization were to try to help us, Freedumbers will eventually find a way to destroy said aliens, probably by playing dumb until they gain access to some advanced technology that would allow them to drive off the invaders in some kind of Jihad.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      If we’re going to look to kitsch und shlock Hollywood and space aliens to save us, then we could also look for inspiration at “The Next Voice You Hear,” in which a young Nancy Davis (later Reagan) and family, living in the just-built aviation suburbs of Southern California, deal with panic and confusion when God simultaneously starts broadcasting threatening messages to his naughty and benighted creations.

      Spoiler alert: everything turns out OK!

    2. Irrational

      You beat me to it. Why, indeed, would the Sleeborians care about this little planet orbiting an insignificant star near the outer edges of an average galaxy? Guess we cannot shake that “humans are so special” attitude.
      Having said that: great post, great comments!

  8. Cassandra

    What if we saw a headline tomorrow that said, “World leaders allocate $10 trillion to rapidly decarbonize all of global agriculture, transportation and electricity generation in 5 years.”?


    Seems to me that if world leaders really didn’t want billions of their people to starve and die, there is a straight line connecting the two points above. If.

    1. Carla

      Uhm, we are not “their” people. Not in their minds, and not in fact. Their victims, but not their people.

  9. Amfortas the Hippie

    1. ive flown 3 times…hated the twice i can remember…and will never ever set foot in an airport again…and, recently, the air traffic over my place is a lot louder than it used to be, for some reason…way up high, but loud and rumbly.
    i wont miss that when it goes.
    2. if a crippled dude in poverty can essentially singlehandedly build up a system to feed his small family(currently have eliminated around half the grocery bill—especially meat, but also most of the fruits and veg)…then it is, indeed, doable.
    whats missing is price incentive…and/or will.
    next big item on The List is solar/wind…at least enough for the well and the fridges/freezers….as we can do without the rest, if need be.

    1. Lena

      I’ve flown in planes twice, about thirty years ago. I’ve never owned a car. I used to walk at least 6 miles a day, to work, the grocery store, whatever. Occasionally, I’d take a city bus, or if I had to go out of town, I’d take a Greyhound. I well remember a Greyhound trip home from the East Coast – 38 hours long, 6 different bus changes, a lot of drunks and lord knows what else in the back seats (tip: always sit up front). Never doing that again. As a child, I dreamed of living on a farm like the one my grandfather had. Unfortunately, he died when I was quite young and the farm had to be sold. Still, in my dreams, that’s where I’d be.

  10. The Rev Kev

    This whole approach sounds like rather than going after the hard things to do like industry and agriculture, that they want to go after the low-hanging fruit of air travel for the plebs. Oddly enough, there is no mention of the lower hanging fruit of private jets. Now why would that be? If air travel is banned, then you will see a rise in ship travels as was the situation in the first half of the 20th century. So better start calculating the environmental effects of more cruise ships sailing the seas.

    High-speed rail may become an immediate priority but why? A lot of that travel can be done using regular diesel engines over a renovated network of rail. High-speed rail would require much more radical overhauls of the railway lines, huge investments of capital and unfortunately for the US, endless delay. It is like saying here that I will no longer be allowed to take a bus but if you wait, we will build you a fleet of Concordes to take you where you want.

  11. Es s Ce tera

    In the Ministry for the Future, one of the most widely read eco-fiction books by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the first things the ecoterrorists do is to start shooting down planes in a simultaneous worldwide action, leading to everyone being afraid to fly. Overnight the airline industry is killed and everyone more or less then travels exclusively by train or ship, and taking a month to cross the Atlantic becomes the norm, is something to look forward to, even.

    I think if some of the impacts of climate change are realized this will be a likely scenario, people WILL target the sources of their grief and misery. A single A320 needs 2-3 tonnes of fuel just to reach cruising attitude, which is mind boggling, so curbing air travel will probably always be at the top of any list of solutions.

    1. Kouros

      Airships were included in the novel, ansd also very fast clippers. Trans-atlantic trip was far less than a month.

  12. britzklieg

    There is no solution.
    “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
    And on that bright note…
    y’all have a nice day.

  13. zagonostra

    Apropos The Day the Earth Stood Still, Jack London wrote a short scifi story where someone developed a secret weapon that he used to force countries to cease their belligerence and destroy their weapons, forcing them to make peace or be destroyed, the name of the story escapes me…

  14. John

    Given the alternative, I would travel by train or by ship. What this article points out is that the Jackpot is inevitable.

  15. Clark Landwehr

    “The longer we postpone nature’s revenge for the crimes committed against her, the more cruel her vengeance shall be.”
    Nicolas Gomez Davila
    We should not do anything to avert the coming catastrophe. We should accept out punishment with humility.

  16. Jeff N

    Any article like this “end oil extraction” or “end planes”; it needs to start with “all workers in these industries will be continue to be paid 100% by the fed govt.”

  17. Mikel

    Getting half the population freaked out enough to kill the other half is most likely the ultimate go-to-play for the establishment. That’s why all the “bunker” building.

  18. Carolinian

    Ending or curtailing air travel–since I almost never fly these days I say go for it. Of course I very much enjoy tooling around in my car so it’s a somewhat hypocritical stance. But even if cars and engines do far more toward AGW, taking away the jet set’s exorbitant privilege might encourage the others in their monster pickup trucks to dial it back as well.

    So sorry Leo DiCaprio. Time to become an earthbound peasant like the rest of us.

  19. Lena

    IMHO, building small supportive communities is going to be increasingly important. We used to have extended families and religious communities that helped each other. Were they perfect? I’m sure they weren’t but people did survive.

    All of my grandparents grew up on farms. They were part of large families (one of my grandmothers was the 13th of 14 children). They also had many aunts, uncles and cousins living nearby. They belonged to religious groups that had been part of their families for generations. Life was hard but they always had someone to help them. They weren’t bowling alone.

    When I was doing genealogy years ago, something that struck me was that my pioneer ancestors did not move into the frontier as rugged individuals. No, they came as groups, usually both familial and religious in nature. They needed a lot of help to build houses and barns, borrow tools, grow crops, tend animals and care for young, elderly and sick people.

    I am not suggesting we go back to having large families, living on farms or becoming church goers. But I am thinking we can learn a great deal from how our ancestors survived. They helped each other, in part because they knew at some point they themselves would need help. That’s the real story of how humanity continues.

  20. stickNmud

    War-making is the most destructive, GHG-creating, and polluting activity imaginable: open burn pits, bomb craters exposing toxic subsoil, chemical and bio-weapons, nuclear fallout, plus jet fuel kerosene, diesel or gasoline for most aircraft, vehicles, and ships, plus some nuclear reactor powered subs and carriers– with the risk of nuclear waste and pollution from uranium mining. But the popular Green Party in Germany is now the pro-war party.

    In transportation, HSR is a $100B+ boondoggle in California (where I live), while jetliners are not just polluting, but waste much energy climbing to cruising altitude above 30,000 feet, and can’t recapture that energy in descent.

    I suggest we take a ‘retro’ look at ground effect (GE) vehicles: in the late 1930’s, the Boeing Clipper flying boats used GE to conserve fuel for trans-Pacific flights to Hawaii and East Asia, flying 100-200 feet above the water. No expensive airports required, as they took off and landed at Clipper Cove at Treasure Island in San Francisco, and docked at piers in existing harbors. Maybe one third as fast in flight, but potentially much more direct, so possibly competitive in door-to-door time comparison. There are startups looking at this, but little press coverage. There are also potential land applications for GE transportation, possibly using interstate highway and railroad corridors, which tend to be wide and relatively level. Just trying to think ‘outside the box’.

  21. justsomeguy05

    Nothing short of an evolution in human nature can save us.
    To a large degree a spiritual evolution. Which means overcoming sociopathy, and our essential irrationality (lizard brain, hierarchy, tribal identity, religion, fear, hate, desire).
    That would require technologies to improve education & socialization, as well as to effectively prevent, detect, and treat sociopathy, reduction of trauma (massive changes in parenting and education would be needed), much better treatment of existing trauma.
    And none of the solutions are currently within our capabilities as a species.

  22. WillD

    The solution is to react to the inevitable catastrophe, and hopefully learn some lessons on how not to do things.

    When greed, megalomania, psychopathathy and cruelty dominate those in power today, there is no chance they will learn anything useful to the survival of our species. They don’t care about the people, only themselves and what they can gain from us. So they will continue until the bitter end, and resist all change that they can’t exploit.

    Only when it all goes to pieces will the rest of us (survivors) have a chance to change the fundamental way we live.

  23. MFB

    I’m not an engineer, but the faster things move, the more energy they require to be moved. Really high-speed rail requires magnetic levitation systems which use up a really, really large amount of energy. Is it genuinely sensible to have trains hurtling around at several hundred kph if you are out to save energy? Back in the nineteenth century there were trains capable of about 150kph, which gets you pretty much anywhere in the US in less than a day. I submit that the future of high-speed rail is to be replaced by traditional fast trains, which are also less likely to kill everybody if there’s a mishap.

  24. Robby44

    The planet will survive as it did despite several mass extinctions of it’s inhabitants. Interestingly we may be the first species which actually precipitated its own demise.

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