Through the years, I have often mentioned some of the opportunities available to inventors and entrepreneurs in trying to reshape out energy usage and infrastructure. After my trip to Florida for the last few days, I am reminded of another industry that needs to be disrupted and changed, and that is the airline industry. Unfortunately, this is one that is tougher to crack because of a mountain of regulations and the massive - sunk - legacy costs in the current infrastructure. Congratulations to Southwest for doing what they can to make the flying experience a little cheaper and slightly more convenient, but for the average jane or joe, flying is a nightmare. It is an exercise in patience standing through the myriad of lines for hours (for security, for ticketing, for food, to board and un-board, to claim your bag, to get a rental car, etc…) It is an exercise in hidden costs that make every trip more expensive than you thought. It is an exercise in discomfort as you are crammed into seats, aisles, and bathrooms that don’t fit a lot of people. All this being said, flying is quite nice for anyone who can afford a private jet or to pay for first class – which is sadly just a tiny sliver of society. The rest of us wait for someone to shake up the industry. (side note: most of the people working in the industry are not really to blame, they generally do their best in a flawed system.)
While musing about how horrible flying is, particularly in the U.S., my wife mentioned that we should have airplanes shaped more like “flying saucers”, then there would potentially be more room for people to sit. I have often thought about different aircraft designs, but it is hard to beat the “tube with wings” design for ease of manufacture and ease of flying. Thankfully, some people are working on new designs. Check out this new blended wing design from NASA. It could potentially shave 50% off of fuel costs if it had a state of the art engine. If such airplanes are ever developed, I hope there is some consideration for passenger comfort – a balance to be struck between efficiency and price. If airlines stuff new airplanes with as many seats as possible, we will just be back to square one.
Other than the unpleasantness of flying, my recent trip was enjoyable, and as usual I took note of how things look in a different part of the country – in a different city – from an environmental perspective. At first glance, Orlando does not seem as bad as LA, Phoenix, Miami, or Chicago because it is more spread out. There is plenty of sprawl but it is not as continuous as some other American cities. You will pass many small forests, swamps, and lakes moving from one side of the city to the other. Because the terrain has plenty of trees you cannot see how big the city is from ground level. You cannot see the downtown area from very many locations, so it seems like you might be in a smaller city. However, the problem with Orlando is that mass transit is almost non-existent. If you live in Orlando, you need a car. It is so spread out that it takes 30 minutes or more to complete almost any daily task. Forget about walking. Orlando was built for cars. Sidewalks are hard to find outside of a few select areas. Besides that, it would take you all day to walk to most destinations. Orlando had the distinction (at least as recent as a couple years ago) of having the highest vehicle-pedestrian accident rate in the nation. When there are hardly any sidewalks, that is bound to be a problem. Big cities in the south, like Orlando, also have a big energy budget for air conditioning. I was talking with friends about utility bills and they mentioned how electricity can run in the hundreds of dollars per month range. They asked me what my utility bill was like and I said I paid between $100 and $200 per month for gas and electricity combined. The gas being for heat of course. Heating a domicile, as it turns out, was a rather foreign concept to them. If the climate continues to warm, air conditioning will have to evolve and become more efficient, otherwise the big cities will continue to scorch in the Summer. Air conditioning, while cooling to interior of buildings, adds to the heat outdoors. When you have millions of air conditioning units operating is close quarters (in the city) it only adds to the urban heat island effect.
I didn’t happen to notice much alternative energy. I can’t say that I saw one solar panel or wind turbine. So Phoenix and Denver have Orlando beat in that regard.
Other than having to spend a lot of time driving from destination to destination, Orlando does offer some of the world’s best entertainment in the theme parks. It is also, of course, a nice destination to escape the cold of Winter if you are so inclined.
Have a nice Friday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on January 25, 2013