Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Scott Mackinney criticizes me in a comment on my blog about the damage I am causing to the environment with all of my air travel. I actually have been feeling a bit guilty about that and have been wondering where aviation is going to go from here.

On the one hand, in some areas, air travel is becoming cheaper and there are even people talking about small, low-cost private planes becoming more common.

A Feb 2000 GAO report warns that the damage to the environment from the emissions from aviation is particularly high because it is emitted into the upper atmosphere and that increased damage due to increases in travel can not be offset by technological advances. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of experts affiliated with the UN warned that the share of global warming caused by air traffic could increase from 3.5% in 1992 to 17% in 2050.

We clearly have a problem here. In an IHT article that I can not seem to find a link to, I read that one of the possibilities was to fly lower where there would be more turbulence, but less damage. I've also heard about the idea of levying high taxes for air travel. In any event, the air travel utopia story seems a bit flawed and if we would get up off our asses and really do something about global warming (which we must) one of the first hit probably should be our global aviation habits.

I WAS going to write about this before, but hadn't been able to gather enough sources. (Honest! ;-) ) I still don't think I have enough information to have an educated opinion. Any pointers to more resources would be greatly appreciated.


Speaking as an astrophysicist and one who has studied weather... one of the scariest parts of this whole mess is that there is a point of no return.

Past a certain point, global warming turns into the runaway greenhouse effect where greenhouse gases take over... which would result in Earth appearing more like Venus... which is no friggin' paradise! (sulfuric acid rain... that evaporates before reaching the ground because the surface temperature is close to the melting point of Iron... and a crushing atmosphere ninety times ours... no fun).

Oh yeah... as to solutions: Shouldn't the networked world mean that we don't have to travel so much? I sure as hell can't imagine hydrogen-powered / electric / solar airplanes any time soon.

I wonder how much the Space Shuttle and other rocket launches contribute to the global warming stats. (there's a paper waiting to be written! email me if you're interested!)

Shouldn't the networked world mean that we don't have to travel so much?

I don't think it has ever been a matter of "I have to travel", as much as "I want to travel". Who really needs most of the domestic flights especially, or a flight to the Bahamas to sit on the beach?

Recently I took a greyhound from New York to Detroit because I couldn't justify flying such a short distance. Sure the entire trip was about 12 hours longer, but it was over night, so I could sleep on the bus. If I had flown I would have gotten home and slept 8 of those 12 hours in my bed anyway, so I lost nothing but a little bit of comfort. In Japan especially, with the shinkansenn, there is really no excuse for domestic commercial flights.

Even when most people feel they have to for their work, isn't what their really saying "I want to get a fatter pay-check, so I can buy more stuff (which will degrade the environement even more). Therefore I have to travel."

I'm not saying that there are no real needs to fly, but I think taking a good hard look at most people's habits would show that most people don't have the need.

It's one thing to say we have to get serious about these problems, but another to act serious. And acting serious is sooo easy once you put your mind to it. It's gotta be easier than quitting drinking ;)

i have always wished they would bring blimps back, a slower, more luxurious way to travel, without the fuel consumption that causes air pollution as we know it

People: The temperature increase came first. Most of the temperature increase was before 1940, and most of the new carbon dioxide was added after 1960. The Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing.

Calm down.

Aviation fuel is untaxed under a worldwide treaty. Why not use Davos to persuade one major country to withdraw from that clause of the treaty? This should create a domino effect as governments discover a new source of revenue that's also very green.

Further note: it was the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) treaty of 1944. As the war ended, a lot of people thought that international harmony would be promoted by cheaper international transport. I think it's time we accepted that this fine sentiment has on balance done more harm than good.

Thinking about higher taxes on flying, I totally agree that it should reflect the real cost to the environment, but I wonder who would be effected.

I think that even if it was more expensive to fly, the big corporations who can afford millons to pay a CEO who does little, would still be able to pay the taxes. Not to lump Joi in with that group, cause I don't know him, but I'm sure that even if the cost of flying rose, he would still be able to make quite a few trips... The people who would have to cut back are the normal people, and small business owners. This would give huge business advantages to the wealthier, who can still afford to pollute the world the restof us live in. Then they would just get stronger and wealthier, and more damage follows.

Not that I have a solution, but if there's a tax, it better be damn high. High enough to effect the elite as well.

We should be careful not to underestimate the extent to which international travel helps build international cohesion, by allowing political and business alliances to be built. Think about it, if we weren't flying around buying each others products and investing in one anothers' economies, we probably would have blown each other to bits by now.

One alternative to air travel would be train travel through vacuum tubes. In principle you could travel from London to New York in about an hour this way. Tokyo-LA would be about an hour and a half I suppose. There's a few details at;sid=03/10/10/21055873 .

Of course the up-front capital expenditure and cost involved is absolutely enormous, maybe a hundred billion euro by the time you'd be done but if you want to cut down an intercontinental air travel, this is what you'll have to do. Might as well get started ...

I have not taken the plane for some 10 years, though I like, as everybody, to spend christmas on a sunny beach.
The main thing we are not used to consider is having the money to do something we'd like to, and not doing it for moral rasons.

This pollution is definetly an issue but only a small part of a much bigger issue of how we relate to our world. We are not separate from our world. We need to work together as an entire world to solve these challenges. America could take a hugh lead role here.

The Apollo Alliance ( has some interesting ideas and there are many more.

Blogs are already speading so many positive ideas between so many people and I think we have an opporunity to be proactive voices for positive solutions. There is nothing to protest. Lets just get going.

How about a world war on the war against all our homes!

As Bush says, bring it on!

Joi, a couple of books for you to read. One is Thomas Homer-Dixon's "The Ingenuity Gap" because the question you are bringing up is part of a bigger problem in society and the other one is "Futurewise" by Patrick Dixon which talks about terminal cities, airlines, and IT solutions changing work patterns. No easy answers.

Just another view,
Airplane cannot flight "most efficient air lanes" due to avoid military airspace.
''If you look at a map you'd think we are still fighting World War I.''

It's the shortcut to reduce the fuel and time that we spent on the airplane.
Sad to say, human cannot fly free as a bird.

Air pollution seems like a fraction of the factors that contribute to the global warming- automoblies, power plants, factories, deforestation, and even burning garbages may contribute more to global warming, and the trend of using fossil fuel for main energy source has been less than two centuries. Also, fossil fuel is more likely to be depleted within next few decades because of the increasing rate of its comsumption versus the possiblities of discovering more unharvested oil/better rate of utilizing such energy source. I think it is kinda hard to draw the lines right now, but now is the time to do so.

On the other hand, the last ice age was not caused by the human beings; and our knowledge about the Earth itself does not even cover half of its surface. Maybe we give ourselves too much credit about what mankind can do. By all means, if the Earth was not to be able to support us anymore, chances are we would not be able to do much about it.

im 13 i think global warming is a bigggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg
thing and we should all do some thing before it goes worse

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Joiさんのブログで「ビジネスマンとして世界中を飛び回るのはいいが、飛行機による移動の環境コスト(温暖化)を考えたことがある?」という突っ込みがあったと。コミュニケーション... Read More