Friday, January 2, 2009

Getting To Paradise On A Low-Carbon Budget

Yesterday I went with my small son to visit the wreckage of the first model aeroplane I had flown in more than thirty years. It wasn't a pilgrimage and to be honest these days with most model planes being made out of polystyrene instead of balsa wood and tissue, unless you achieve a really first class prang, the bounce factor is quite extraordinary.

In reality, this little 40" electric-motor powered model is mostly intact, but I don't have a workshop, so I have left it with Dennis, who runs his busy hobby shop with love and vigour. He will patch the plane up (again) and then test fly it to try to determine whether the problem is battery failure or pilot failure. I suspect the latter personally, and that admission led me to discovering an excellent remedy not just for my cack-handed aeronautical efforts but something rather more significant.

I realised today that we (or maybe 'they') could create an extension of my model 'remedy' that would have an immense benefit not just for the bruised wings of my hobby plane but for the whole global climate. Quite a sweeping claim, if I say so myself.

What can this miraculous cure be? One word: simulation! The answer to my pilot woes is a simulator - I tried one out in the hobby shop and it was quite remarkably realistic, even making a good graunching noise and shattering the propeller when I inevitably ploughed into a nice grassy field upside down. I pressed the red reset button, and was magically made whole again, and shot off into the ether for another attempt at safe flight.

So just think about it for a minute. The idea of a flight simulator is to help someone learn to fly without killing themselves or anyone else. And without damaging an expensive machine. But it also uses no jet fuel or kerosene or aviation gas. No fossil fuel at all. Just a tiny amount of electricity to run the computer - which when compared to a full-size aircraft would be infinitesimal.

Imagine then if we could simulate not just a flight but a whole holiday? At first when I had the idea, several hours ago, I thought it was amusing, and would make a quick and easy blog after my long labours developing ideas about deception, deflation and trying to find the bright side of the economic crash. But there is more to this simulation idea than at first I had thought. Tourism and other discretionary flights make up about 70% of all passenger flights, and flying is one of the fastest growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

With the downturn threatening to become a Depression, people are going to want something to be cheerful about but both the planet and our pocketbooks are finding the burden of our continually jetting off to paradise less and less sustainable. However, business executives are reporting that some of the new video immersion systems are staggeringly realistic and are beginning to allow people to feel more genuinely as if they are in the same room as someone, even if they are on the other side of the planet.

I am not pretending that there can ever be a total substitute for 'being there', but as oil production goes into long-term decline and carbon taxes inevitably get imposed, like it or lump it, we are going to be travelling less. Many of us know this is a good thing, but like St Augustine, we'd like to put off being 'good' for just a little longer. With this little bit of technology we could welcome being good: simulated holidays could become virtual vacations with the added virtue of minimizing the damage to the environment and your wallet.

In fact, with these lightweight escapes, we could take short holidays of say two days or even two hours. Just imagine - no packing, no flight delays, and no security frisking. Unless of course you buy a masochist's virtual vacation that includes those things, perhaps along the lines of the famous Monty Python five-minute argument sessions. Anyway, in this new Alice-in-Cyberland you could go anywhere and do anything (as long as it was legal).

In the meantime, I plan to get an inexpensive model flight simulator and start learning how to stay in the air instead of digging furrows. And by the time I am ready to pilot a full-size virtual plane (as it were), the virtual vacation business should be in full swing and I can make flying myself and intrepid family to Pixel Paradise all part of the excursion. If anything goes wrong, I can just press the reset button, which, by the way, also refills your martini glass.

1 comment:

UmassMenus said...

You should watch the last episode of "Stella" with Michael Ian Black.

In all honesty, I don't think it is a necessity to have a vacation outside of one's town so I find it alarming that people have to pushed into another "vacation" system.

When has reading a book, or building a snowman with one's kids, become so beyond what a vacation should actually be.