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Flying free future

Sitting here in an airport lounge at LAX watching the planes take off is probably an apt time to contemplate  the way we take for granted  our ability  to travel, to viist other places and to do it quickly, hopping on a plane an being on the other side of the world in less than a day. It is interesting too that, despite damage to the environment  and the fact that the key requirement of air travel – oil – is a finite resource, we do not general question the fact that in 10, 20 or 30 years time we will still be able to jump on a plane and see  the world. Although this ability is a very recent one in historical terms – routine air travel overseas has only been around for 50 or so years in a manner affordable to the average citizen – it is now completely ingrained in our expectations about the world. This does not mean that everyyone has done it, but we all know it is a possibility. Even at the moments when I figure that perhaps oil won’t last for ever, those nagging doubts are replaced buy the thought that technology will have advanced, that we will have found something to replace jet fuel when we need to.

It is interesting then that two of the books I have read this year contemplate a future in which this kind of travel  is no longer routine, and potentially not even possible. In Player One by Douglas Coupland, a sharp sudden oil shock sometime in the approximate present suddenly grounds planes, leaving people stranded. While the cause is not explained, the major change in perspective is considered. Meanwhile in The Windup Girl the future seems to have run out of oil and people travel long distances on boats or dirigibles.

It clearly says something about the strength of environmental concerns that speculative fiction is now considering an energy poor future. In general much of the speculative fiction of the three decades that I have read (and I am not trying to argue that is comprehensive) have seen alternative technologies, often fusion, in the future. Or it hasn’t contemplated energy use. Future fiction, like historical fiction, does however reflect the concerns of the present in which it is created and thus oil shortages and the grounding of planes may become an increasing theme.

What would it be like to not fly routinely again? To find oneself grounded far from home, stranded in a foreign city? How would it be if we couldn’t visit friends or family who live on the other side of the world? What would it do to our cultures and economies to lose that ability? There is plenty of fodder in those ideas for many many works of fiction.

2 responses to “Flying free future

  1. What if we had three day work weeks and two month vacations and everyone had their home paid for? Why isn’t DOUBLE-ENTRY ACCOUNTING MANDATORY in our high schools? Double-entry accounting is SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS OLD. So with all of these cheap computers why isn’t everybody supposed to know accounting?

    So with 3-day work weeks wouldn’t there be less oil used up with smaller rush hours. The trouble is our science fiction is still on the side of STUPID CONSUMERISM. How much does stupid consumerism waste oil?

  2. evcricket ⋅

    Frala, while I agree about how there will likely be changes to the way we travel due to oil shortages etc, through my work I’m less pessemistic about what that might look like.

    Flying is the first thing to get squeezed by diminishing oil; it’s all about energy density cos the thing needs to stay in the air. Cars and to a lesser extent boats have alternatives because the mass isn’t such an issue.

    Heathrow has realised this and started driving some innovation. By 2013 I think it is they’ve mandated that all planes landing there must be 20% biofuels. A small step, but it’s going to drive some innovation in a sector financially committed to success.


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