Crossing the ocean (in hours, not days)

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B and I crossed the Pacific Ocean. Or rather, we just got to India. The longest leg of our journey was 14 hours, from SFO to Hong Kong. We slept much of the way, then watched movies (her), read (me), and played video games (us),

We bitch about plane travel--the food, the cost, the security restrictions, the poor customer service--but it's pretty amazing how things have changed. We both have family stories of relatives traveling from India to the UK by ship. It seems like another world. B's uncle did that journey sometime in the 1950s; we talk about the journey as a curiosity from the past. He flew back to India, decades later, married to a British woman; it's the marriage that people remarked on at the time, not the mode of transportation. Air travel has become utterly mundane; how else would you get around?

It's no joke that global warming is an inconvenient truth. Air travel is currently responsible for somewhere upwards of 3% of human-generated emissions, but is rising swiftly; the IPCC fears it may grow to as high as 15% by 2050. Assuming we actually want to slow down global warming, the facts seem inconveniently biased against air travel as we know it.

But what are the alternatives? We keep hearing of aviation tech efficiencies, but there's been no magic bullet yet. If there were, could we replace the entire global airline fleet in a matter of years?

Which brings me back to ships. It takes about a week and a half to cross the Pacific Ocean by freighter -- each hour by plane turned into almost a full day of travel. I'm tempted to try it sometime. It could be a way of exploring the past, or possibly a glimpse at part of an alternate future. Either way, it'd be a very different way of interacting with vast swaths of our "flyover" planet.

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Anirvan Chatterjee is a San Francisco Bay Area tech geek and bibliophile.

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This page contains a single entry by Anirvan Chatterjee published on December 28, 2008 12:38 PM.

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