Our modern world needs a high-speed long-distance air transport system that is safe, convenient, flexible, resilient, affordable, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable. Whilst trends for most of these elements are improving year on year, there is one in particular that is not; environmental sustainability. What does this mean and why should we care?
Flying long distances at high speed needs a vast amounts of energy. Today this energy is extracted from fossil fuels. Without energy our modern world would grind to a halt. Fossil fuels come from the sun's energy and atmospheric carbon dioxide that was captured by plants through photosynthesis millions of years ago. This occurred during a particular period in the Earth's history called the Carboniferous Period when conditions allowed a vast but fixed quantity of the world's carbon to be buried deep underground. As a result of it being buried the Earth's atmospheric conditions were able to coincidentally and conveniently stabilise in the so-called Goldilocks equilibrium needed for human civilisation to prosper. In particular the volatile global average temperature of hot periods and ice ages levelled out at an ideal 15 degrees Celsius. This occurred because the non-buried carbon that remained in the terrestrial carbon cycle allowed the blanket of the atmosphere around the Earth to regulate the Sun's heat in just the right way. Reversing this photosynthesis through the burning of fossil fuels releases this previously permanently sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere very rapidly. When atmospheric carbon levels rise global temperatures rise, just as they did in the past. The Earth's average temperature doesn't need to rise by very much in a short period of time geographically-speaking to cause environmental impacts that will make things very bad for our economy, global society and you. To compound this, fossil fuels are endful. They can run out, and will in the not too distant future if we continue to exponentially consume them.
Put very simply if we continue to burn fossil fuels as much as we are, things are very likely to get very bad rather soon.
This entertaining and insightful background primer expands on the summary of the problem provided above and references all key facts that you need to know to understand the magnitude of the challenge with a focus on highlighting Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
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