Article submitted to
the Op-Ed editor of the New York Times

Tuesday, October 30, 2007



C. Verhagen


The aviation industry together with the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey (PA) in confrontation with the FAA are dealing with the
congestion problem at the JFK, that is leading to so many delays for business
and leisure travelers. The JFK airlines behave like a bunch of screaming kids
of a dysfunctional family, each thinking of their own bottom line and not of
the common good. The parent, the PA, sides with them because the more flights,
late or not, are scheduled at those peak times, the more fees are being collected.

It is a fact that at other airports airlines and the airport
operator with assistance of the FAA make compromises and arrive at schedules
that are good for everyone. This often happens at hub airports where the major
airline can effect such schedule as is the case with Atlanta where Delta owns 85% of the slots.

It is not on account of the JFK congestion and other
so-called congested airports that I call for the US aviation industry is to be
revamped. There are at least three major reasons.

First, the US
aviation industry and the aviation industry worldwide is based upon the fallacy
of unlimited growth. This growthism syndrome drives the industry because it is
part of an international economic system that, according to sustainability
specialist John Elkington, resembles cannibals eating with forks. Whether or
not one considers that progress when cannibals start eating with forks, in
essence the international economic system does not work, because it enriches
the few, impoverishes the many and, on top of this, endangers the planet.

Second, the recent Record of Decision by the FAA to have the
metro NY, NJ and Philadelphia
airspace redesigned to put more planes into the air shows this unsustainable
growth syndrome. Several local governments are now getting involved by
requesting a review of that decision because of their citizens’ objections to
the increased noise. Unfortunately, however, these reviews only scratch the
surface of the problem by focusing on aircraft noise rather than digging deeper
and challenging the industry to become ecologically sustainable, equitable and

Third, related to the socially and ecologically inefficient
and cruel international economic system, the aviation industry as a whole
impacts on the Earth’s climate system in a very substantial way. Its greenhouse
gas emissions contribute presently about 15% of all emissions and, on account
of its expansionistic nature, it is predicted that by 2050 it will almost emit
50% of all GHG emissions. Note that CO2 and the other GHG are emitted in the
upper troposphere where their impact is multiplied by 2.7; emissions of CO2e by
military jets in the stratosphere have to be multiplied by a factor of 30. While
other industries are attempting to do their share to keep the global temperature
rise below 2 degree Celsius, the aviation industry is basically not able to do
its part unless it stops growing and, even unless it reduces its operations.

It has made significant progress in engine design and
aerodynamics during the last four decades and the technical changes it can make
now are not enough to substantially reduce its impact. It is during these
troubling times of the climate crisis where humanity is given a decade or so to
stop global heating and reduce it that both business and leisure travelers have
to reduce their flying by combining trips, substituting video conferencing for
their travel and last but not least not use air transportation for short haul
trips. Paying carbon offsets only is meaningful if reductions are attempted by
both classes of travelers and also the air cargo industry. It is up to
governments to create the context to make this possible and convenient. They
have to integrate aviation into an efficient intermodal transportation system
by increased funding of regular and high speed rail, modern coach network,
intercity light rail, etc. Given that air transportation is 3-10 more energy
intensive, i.e. polluting than surface transportation this building of
infrastructure is not only ecologically necessary on account of the climate
crisis, but also economically on account of the increasing price of oil that
has passed its peak of production. My national organization has proposed such
program that would cost about $300 billion over 15 years; it is called the IITS
Initiative where IITS stands for Integrated Intermodal Transportation System.
Though ISTEA of 1991 was a huge step forward, it did not integrate aviation.
What is needed is legislation that funds both air and surface transportation in
one bill which may be called the Intermodal Surface and Air Transportation
Efficiency Act or ISATEA. What difference a letter makes!

It is this IITS Initiative and nine other lesser demands
that the US citizen
sustainable aviation movement considers to be the cornerstone of a revamped US
integrated intermodal transportation system.
It can be demonstrated that such system is fully socially, ecologically
and economically sustainable. And it is only through the sustainability lens
that humanity can avoid the unmanageable part of the climate crisis and manage
the avoidable of the climate crisis by measures of mitigation and adaptation.

It was William D. Ruckleshaus, the first administrator of
the US EPA, who considered that this sustainability lens and the sustainability
revolution as a whole is able to pull humanity through under the guidance of
science. In the following quote I have added that science is to be guided by
values or a normative framework because as scientists they are to present
evidence, theories and options, but not values. The choice of these options,
however, are to be made by citizens based upon their value framework.

“Can we move nations
and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a
modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the
Agricultural Revolution of the late Neolithic, and the Industrial Revolution of
the past two centuries. These revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and
largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation,
guided by the foresight that science can provide. (and by the vision that humanity’s ethical systems can provide, such as
vision of the integrated social and ecological values of the present Earth
) If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique
in humanity’s stay on Earth


Frans C. Verhagen, M. Div., M.I.A., Ph.D., an
environmental/sustainability sociologist, is president of the national and
metropolitan New York organizations of the U.S. citizen
sustainable aviation movement. He also teaches sustainable aviation at a local
college, consults on sustainable aviation policies, programs and projects.