Archive for the ‘Air Travel’ Category

“How many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for?”

Originally from the Guardian.

In April last year, a group of environmentalists shut down the energy company E.ON’s coal-fired power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, in the English Midlands. The goal: to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, in their words, “save lives”. On February 25, 2008, Judge Morris Cooper presented a 20-page ruling accepting that there was an “urgent need for drastic action”, but convicted the protestors of aggravated trespass, saying their defence — that their crime was necessary to save lives — could not be substantiated.

In the trial, for which I was an expert witness, crucial questions were: how many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for? I was surprised to discover that nobody knows. Scientists such as me are involved in programmes to measure CO2 emissions, air temperatures, sea-ice loss and the much more complex impacts on birds, rainforest trees and coral reefs. We know that climate change-related events are killing people, yet there is no comprehensive global monitoring program to document the lives lost due to climate change. There is no official climate-change body count.

The author, Simon Lewis, is, at least, kind enough to offer a concession, that “Admittedly, the impact of climate change on human health and mortality is difficult to quantify.” No kidding.

Lewis’ position is a little at odds with that of George Monbiot, but I suffer a Health Economist’s prejudice: I will take quantification of any and every outcome I can. Even if it means we go about comparing victims of climate change to victims of queues in airports.

“Dawning of a new ice age” – meaning one without it

Ah, irony. Or unbelievable stupidity. Opinions differ. But check out that photo


The opening of a blue ice runway in Australia’s Antarctic territoryThe opening of the air link between Australia and Antarctica, decades after it was first imagined, is belated but timely.

The secrets held in the ice have never been more valuable to humanity, revealing the planet’s climate history and exposing the minutia of unfolding change. As the American writer Barry Lopez observed on his Antarctic journey, it has become “a place from which to take the measure of the planet”. this week opens the last true wilderness to a new era of scientific exploration.

The story has to be read to be believed – 20 to 30 flights during the summer season. I wonder if their first observations are “Gee, what a lot of con-trails Antarctica has. Ooh, the ice sure is melting fast down here.”

From the IPCC’s report on aviation and the global atmosphere, we learned that air travel makes a contribution to climate change well above the fuel it burns:

Averaging all types of aircraft of different age and trip length and aircraft capacity factors, each passenger-mile flown emits 0.566 pounds of carbon dioxide. This does not include two other important impacts of commercial aviation on climate. The first is that commercial aircraft emit nitrous oxides (NOx) and other pollutants at high altitudes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that such pollutants increase the climate impact of flying by a factor of at least 2.5 compared to the combustion of jet fuel alone. Second, air travel results in additional greenhouse-gas emissions from energy used in airport buildings, facilities, baggage systems, airport service vehicles, concession facilities, aircraft fueling, airport construction, and air navigation and safety operations.

Monbiot: “a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means”

Still at the Guardian. Monbiot’s latest article is, as ever, entirely worth your time.

In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table that links different cuts to likely temperatures. It suggests that to prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2C, by 2050 the world will need to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537 tonnes by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6 tonnes. Reducing these figures to 0.537 means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9 billion, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.

It is more than a series of miserable numbers, of course. He certainly returns to the themes for which he will most likely be stoned, only to be hailed a visionary (if only we survive): specifically, electricity; maybe cars, no more aeroplanes.

Is it doable? Maybe, but. Remember Clare Short’s argument, neatly held together by a column in the Independent.

Ultimately, it comes down to persuading rich countries to reduce their standard of living – less air transport, processed food, air conditioning and fewer cars. But what western government – especially that of the USA – is prepared to put such proposals to their voters?

His (the author’s) reference to the US had a context: no suggestion exists that any rich country is any more prepared to make the necessary sacrifices – and every rich country needs to make great ones, indeed. Hence the so-called Johannesburg Conundrum: save the world, or save the world’s poor? Even at merely saving the world, one need not be Jim Kunstler to see that we just aren’t prepared to sacrifice the comforts that sustain us, but which we, in turn, simply cannot sustain.

“I’m not here to meddle in UK policies, if you don’t meddle in my environment.”

Over at the website China Dialogue is a story about the proposed expansion of Stansted airport, and the contribution to the debate being made by an Inuit politician from Greenland, Aqqaluk Lynge (of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference – Alaska, Russia, Canada and Greenland).

This is (for non-Brits) Stansted, not Heathrow- at which the absurd abuses of the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act and the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act are in play.

So… how near is Stansted to Greenland, or the Cirumpolar thingamabob? Let’s break out the Google Map again:


Far enough that one might question the propriety of Inuit commentary. And one did. The motivating exchange for this post:

As spectators’ applause for Lynge’s speech died down, BAA’s lawyers did not seek to question his account of changes in the Arctic. Their argument is that a local planning inquiry is no place to challenge the government’s overall policy on climate change, since allowing more flights from Stansted could be consistent with the overall aim of reducing carbon emissions provided sufficient reductions are made elsewhere. Flying Matters, a group backed by the airline industry, says Lynge’s claims are part of “an apocalyptic campaign of green spin”.

Surely, said Michael Humphries, legal counsel for BAA, Lynge agreed that it was “not for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to tell the UK government how it should deliver its greenhouse gas totals?”

Lynge proposed a deal: “I’m not here to meddle in UK policies, if you don’t meddle in my environment.”

Lovely. His argument:

If thousands more flights were allowed to take off from Stansted – London’s third airport – each year, he told the inquiry, their impact would be felt in his homeland, in the form of thinning ice, lost hunting grounds and eroded shorelines which are already threatening many Inuit settlements in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland.

“What happens in the world happens first in the Arctic,” said Lynge, a former minister in Greenland’s home-rule government and a vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) [actually he is the President], a organization promoting Inuit rights, development and culture. The Inuit – “the people who live farther north than anyone else” – were “the canary in the global coal mine”, he said. Climate change was “not just a theory to us … It is a stark and dangerous reality.” Some Inuit villages have already lost homes as the sea moves 300 metres inland in places, while thinning ice makes hunting increasingly difficult, even dangerous. “We don’t hunt for sport or recreation,” Lynge said. “Hunters put food on the table. You go to the supermarket. We go on the sea ice.”

From the other side of the argument:

BAA is seeking to remove the cap that limits the number of passengers taking off from Stansted to 25 million a year. Opponents say that could see flights increase from 192,000 to 264,000 a year, raising the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from 5 million to 7 million tonnes. The inquiry’s lead inspector, Alan Boyland, will make a recommendation after the process concludes in October, and a government announcement is expected next spring. Stop Stansted Expansion says it will be “the litmus test of the seriousness of the government’s commitment to properly tackling the climate change issue”.

Honestly, I can’t see ordinary people getting that worked up over 2 million more tonnes of CO2, George Monbiot or no George Monbiot (which, I assure you, I think is a dangerous shame). I expect the 66,000 extra flights to be the big problem. BAA may be selling the airport off, anyway.

It would be fascinating to watch a Coasean solution develop here. Purely voluntary (given we’re talking about different sovereign nations) and whereby BAA taxed British travellers and dispursed the money to Inuits as compensation. The trouble of course is that they aren’t losing money, they’re losing land, culture, etc. Monetising that is exactly the reason why Coasean solutions are so difficult to bring about. The information-gathering and negotiating process alone would take so long the bloody ice-caps would probably be gone before an agreement could be reached.

Billionaire pitches supersonic business jets at Paris Air Show


Bass is bankrolling an effort to build the world’s first supersonic private business jet. He was at the Paris Air Show this week, pitching his project, known as Aerion, to aircraft manufacturers and potential customers.

“With this plane, you can have breakfast in New York, fly to London, stay for four hours, and fly back to New York for dinner,” said Bass, who makes do with a Falcon jet that flies below the speed of sound – too slow to make it to that Manhattan dinner.

Even with a minimum price of $80 million, Bass said, his needle-nose jet had drawn keen interest, which said something about the “Can-you-top-this?” exuberance of the market for private aircraft.

I saw this literally upon the finishing of the Futureshock documentary, which closed with discussion that peak oil, and the fact that oil (particularly the cheap stuff) is running out, and there won’t be any more – but ordinary citizens aren’t aware of it. Despite the catastrophic economic consequences of entering real peak oil (by which I mean the acknowledged state in which we wake up every day with less oil to use than the day before), governments clearly are not acting, and probably will not act in time.

Then of course, I see this. A billionaire at the Paris Air Show, shopping supersonic jets for other billionaires. At any point in the following timeline:

  • Peak oil hits. Oil supplies decline permanently. Oil prices escalate dramatically.
  • Costs of production follow suit. Wage demands follow that, sending inflation up dramatically.
  • Central banks (and, indeed, governments), irrespective of the state of their economy, increase interest rates in order to cope.
  • Economies dry up, particularly (i) economies dependent upon oil, trade or both, (ii) economies expanding on cheap credit (the UK and Europe, the US, Australia, et al).
  • Transport is priced out of the hands of most households, food and household necessities begin to be rationed along with oil.

you may stop and marvel that we ever carried on like this. Air Shows, of all things.

Among the interesting points in the documentary was near-casual mention that, although we’ve seen oil shocks before, as devastating as those were, they were temporary. This is permanent. As many allusions as we can make to the Great Depression, it too was temporary. Moreover, it was based on decimation of the public’s confidence in stocks and lending. This will be an actual decimation of the value of those things.

Business, meanwhile, continues to do, at the top, exactly what consumers do at the bottom (what is this, if not the elite equivalent of driving one-per-car on the highway to and from work?) – exactly the opposite of what we should be doing right now.

During the next decade, Teal projects, manufacturers will turn out 12,000 business jets, worth a cumulative $173.2 billion. While analysts expect a temporary plateau in sales after 2009, few predict a recurrence of the boom-and-bust cycle that used to haunt the market.

In part, that has to do with the increasingly global nature of wealth. The United States used to be the dominant market for these jets, making the industry hostage to the U.S. economy.

Environmentally Friendly New Jet Planned

More Aeronautical fun:

British low-cost airline easyJet has unveiled a design for a radically different-looking short-haul airliner that it says would be highly environmentally friendly and could be built by 2015.

From LiveScience:

Easyjet eco jet

Neat, no? NASA (the first A stands for “Aeronautics”, something we are inclined to forget) found in 2004 that a 1% increase in cirrus clouds over the US was probably due to air traffic (in particular the trails of condensation left by the jet engine – Brits in particular will be familiar with this, as on colder morning white trails are easily visibly across the sky). These allow heat from the Sun in, but then don’t let it (from the Earth) back out – contributing to global warming.

Those doohickies at the back (aeoronautics is not my bag – I have a colleague who could do well with that sort of thing) take care of some of that, while being 25% quieter (quote. I would have said “25% less God-awfully deafening and noise-polluting”, but that’s just me). Less weight in its airframe contributes to a lowering of CO2 emissions, as does an improvement in ‘air traffic control technology and design’. Which isn’t within easyJet’s purview, really.


Robert Culleymore, an analyst at Aviation Economics, said easyJet’s projections were over-optimistic. “To get to a 50 per cent reduction would require a fairly revolutionary breakthrough,” Mr Culleymore said. “Both Airbus and Boeing are already in the process of designing replacements for the type of plane that easyJet flies, but the 50 per cent target would also require huge strides forward from engine manufacturers.”

Engines also aren’t really within easyJet’s purview. However, back to Robert Cullymore,

“Easyjet’s statement serves two purposes,” Mr Culleymore added. “It’s always good to ask for as much as you can get from manufacturers, but secondly, environment concerns are now at the forefront for aviation companies from a public relations perspective.”

So it can’t hurt. If only for the effect on contrails and noise pollution, I think the open-rotor design has a lot going for it. Airframe weight, engines, etc. appear to be on the agenda of the industry anyway, as I found yesterday. Every little bit helps, surely.

I’ll leave you with the last line from the Independent’s coverage of the story.

A spokesman for Ryanair, the Irish short-haul carrier that is easyJet’s biggest rival, dismissed the ecoJet idea, and said it had already invested in more modern, cleaner planes.