As someone who has flown less than 4000 miles in a lifetime I am hardly the most reliant on air transport as a method of getting where I need to be.  This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate there are some things for which it is necessary to get somewhere thousands of miles away fast, where an international conference call will not suffice.  The world needs air travel.  The world also needs a way to do it without toasting itself in the process.

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned to me at dinner something he had been pondering: ‘How do we fly when the oil runs out?  You’re a physicist and you’re into environmental stuff, what do you think?’  The slightly shameful answer is that at the time I hadn’t given that scenario much thought.  After trying to solve the problem at the dinner table using some theoretically perfect solar panels and my rather sketchy memory of Stefan’s constant we eventually had to admit defeat and consult Google.  Sadly (at least with my search terms) Google did not seem to come up with ways we can commercially fly without oil, just ways we can’t.

The problem with most of the alternative energy sources for cars and the like which are being researched at the moment is they are quite heavy.  For flight, weight is (of course) one of the most important considerations.  If a fuel hasn’t a high enough energy density you aren’t going anywhere.  This rules out hydrogen fuel cells and solar panels somewhat.

Many say that when oil runs out we will be able to produce biofuels which can do the job, but emissions from burning biofuels are hardly much of an improvement.

I don’t know the answer and (correct me if I’m wrong) it seems that few do at the current moment in time.  Until we find a solution all we can do is encourage new planes such as the Airbus A380 – the double decker bus of the aeroplane world - which are far more efficient per passenger than standard sized planes.  Most importantly though, cut out frivolous flying.

Blog written by Natalie Haley, E&E Chair
In the Nineties, green issues were certainly apparent in the minds of the general population; logging in the Amazon was a major concern, and who can forget Captain Planet and the Planeteers? Even educational videos designed to teach good spelling were themed around pollution on planet Earth (I can't have been the only one to watch Earth Warp, surely?).

In the Noughties, however, green campaigning really took off. 'Global Warming' became 'climate change,' pollution and wastefulness became your 'carbon footprint' and the dangers of carbon dioxide were no longer limited to an overflowing soft drink. But are people now, in this new decade, getting a little tired?

I believe that now is the time to stop trying to convince the sceptics, and I began the OUSU Environment Handbook by saying that anyone who didn't believe in the existence of climate change is either misinformed or stubborn. Whilst this is wholly true, I worry about the effect this will have on green campaigning as a whole.

By relaxing our campaign efforts, people have begun to forget the message of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and especially the order in which those words should come. I was appalled when I heard of an advert condoning leaving a light on all night because it was fitted with an energy efficient bulb; such a notion is wholly misleading. By reducing the amount of energy we use in our day-to-day lives, we should not therefore start engaging in more energy-wasting activities.

The government has now finally agreed to a target for reducing the country's carbon footprint by 80% before 2050, but there's only one way to do this. We have to throw out the strategy of showing people little changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint, and start impressing the importance of the big changes. Line drying your clothes instead of using a tumble dryer will save much more energy than switching lights off when you leave the room, and I think everyone knows what to do when it comes to air travel. A renewal within the green campaign is necessary to provide the same effervescent campaign of the mid noughties if we are to convince those that have installed the right lightbulbs that the next step is to unplug their tumble dryer.

Blog post by Tobias Allen