If you think that aviation’s energy use is too high, consider that the Internet’s will soon surpass it.
Summer 2019 saw the duke of Sussex and Mayor Pete Buttigieg both apologizing for the “sin” of flying private, given the supposedly drastic effect it has on the climate. And in August, to much media hoopla, a Swedish teenage “climate warrior” sailed to New York to encourage everyday folks to stop flying so much.
What a contrast to the summer of 1939, when PanAm’s huge Dixie Clipper left New York for the first ever transatlantic passenger flight. Reporting on that momentous event, the Associated Press exulted that “aviation’s long-cherished dream of regular transatlantic passenger service by plane became a reality.” Today we have “flight-shaming.”
Flying, which no longer engenders much awe, now gobbles over two billion barrels of oil a year. Aviation saves that most precious commodity — personal time — but polls show that many people also want to do “something” about climate change, which unavoidably means tamping down energy use. Thus we see Millennials in Europe and America virtue-signal by taking days-long train rides instead of hours-long flights.
As it happens, flight-shaming is a good example of the fatuousness of environmental extremism. Aviation’s fuel use soared after the introduction of commercial aircraft, precisely because of flying’s manifold benefits. The comparable innovation of our time is ubiquitous computing. Numerous analyses show that the energy used by the global Internet already rivals that used by the commercial airline industry — and demand for data is growing far faster than demand for air miles.
Mark P. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, and author of the recent report, “The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking.” Follow him on Twitter here.