Stumbled on a great site — Low Tech Magazine. Here’s a short bit from just one of many beautifully illustrated and thought-provoking posts:
Flying has become cheaper than taking a train or driving a car. Yet, environmental concerns, dwindling fuel reserves and fast rising kerosene prices are threatening to turn airline travel into a privilege for the rich again. This should not mean the end of mass travel or tourism, however. Before mass air travel took off in the 1960s, people crossed the globe in majestic passenger ships. Reintroducing ocean liners would be more than a nostalgic move: it would be a much more energy efficient (yet slower) way to travel.
Airlines all over the world are struggling to lower the energy consumption of their machines – by designing lighter planes and more efficient engines, by getting rid of needless weight inside the cabin, or by flying at lower speeds. At the same time, they started investigating alternative fuels like algae, coconut oil, hydrogen and solar power. None of these things will save cheap airline travel when kerosene prices keep going up, though. There is a limit to energy efficiency, and alternative fuels for airplanes are highly speculative; maybe we should first try and see if we could run our cars on “green” fuels without destroying the environment before we try to implement them in jumbo jets. There is no alternative for kerosene.
It has been said that there are no alternatives to airplanes either, when it comes to long distance travel. This might be true, but this alternative once existed and it disappeared because of planes. From the mid-19th century to the 1960s, millions of people crossed the oceans on passenger ships. Many hundreds of ocean liners were built. Most of these passenger ships were rather small and slow, but the superliners travelling the North Atlantic between Europe and North America were fast vessels with a much larger passenger capacity than that of a present plane (these sites have a good overview of historical ocean liners).