For those of us who have to travel, flying is probably the worst thing we do to the environment. We recycle, drive our Prii cars, turn the heat down a notch, even eat vegetables to cut down on cow farts. We walk and bicycle, take the bus, wear vegan leather, and tweet severely and regularly about climate issues.
We do all that, then we blow it when we fly for a holiday or a business trip and share in the responsibility for all that jet spew. The spew undoes all that the good we’ve been struggling to do throughout the rest of the year.
So imagine the dilemma of someone like Elon Musk, who revolutionizes the car industry and saves countless pounds of Co2 with his clean luxury cars, only to return a million times as much into the atmosphere when he has one short but spectacular go with his rocket engines.
I’ve been thinking about this, working hard avoiding social media while discussing the issue in the pub and the like, and it seems to me and a select group of like-minded drinkers that the answer is for Elon to develop an electric jet engine. If he did that, then he wouldn’t need to feel guilty about his rocket engines, which we feel present a lot harder problem to solve.
Jets, as we all know, fly high enough in the air to be in direct contact with sunshine and with all sorts of other radiation that might be used to produce electricity. A jet liner made of solar cells would be able to fly almost indefinitely, and its passengers could even get carbon credits along with their air miles.
At a stroke, Elon would satisfy the environmentalists, appear — hard to imagine, I know — even smarter, advance the industry, and bring his company into colossal profit. Boeing would license his solar jet technology, and Airbus would go out of business. What marketers call a classic win-win I think.
The only potential fly in the ointment I and my fellow researchers have found is that there would eventually be millions of solar sucking jets pulling all that free energy out of the atmosphere before it could reach the earth. Now by our calculations it does take about thirty two miles-worth of jet sunshine to grow a tree. Fruits and vegetables in general take quite a bit of the new jet fuel to grow to the unfeasibly large sizes favored by the American consumer.
So you see Elon’s new dilemma; should he save the world from jet spew pollution, or save the vegetables from solar sucking jet engines.
Well, we researchers like to think ourselves not only visionaries — big picture thinkers — but also detail-oriented finishers who can execute on our deliverables.
The answer to the new Muskian paradox is to abandon vegetables altogether, return to eating flatulent animals, and harness those noxious yet highly flammable expulsions to fuel what we like to call internal combustion engines. The secret is to turn gas into motion via explosions.
I know what you’re thinking: turn explosions into motion? OK now you’ve lost me.
But crazy as it sounds, I’m convinced this is the key to making Elon feel as comfortable as the rest of us feel about his rocketry.