A recent article in the Guardian about emissions trading schemes and whether they reduce the personal imperative to stop flying so much provoked over 400 comments. One very eloquent commentator was teratornis. I reproduce here his response to the argument that people wanting to stop flying are out-of-touch killjoys.
The blogger @naughtysophie wrote:
I question the sanity of someone that believes that backpacking around Asia isn’t worth it. The kind of people that come on a self absorbed echo chamber, showing off to a few fellow die hards how ecologically sound they are. We can either stand there like king Canute, trying to hold back the tide, or we can get on with life, maybe try to bring about less polluting aircraft. The genie has well and truly flown and he ain’t going back in the bottle. Comparing people trying to find ways of doing this to people in favour of slavery might impress your fellow zealots, but to everyone else you just look bonkers and hyperbolic.
Here is his reply:
Do you also think those melting glaciers up in Alaska are being bonkers and hyperbolic too? What they are doing is more extreme than anything a low-carbon individual is doing in attempt to minimize his or her contribution to what they are doing.
The difference is mainly that the melting glaciers don’t talk, so their implicit judgment on your received values is not yet apparent to you.
The climate system won’t verbally judge you, won’t accuse you, won’t warn you, and won’t tell you the consequences of your behavior choices in advance. Instead it will just silently change in response to the climate forcing that humans unwittingly shove at it. And then eventually it will begin speaking in a language humans can understand – the language of death and destruction. By the time the climate is speaking for itself, you won’t like what it’s saying, and you certainly won’t be able to shout it down by calling it a pompous twit (as you try to do to anyone who tries to warn you in advance).
In your life with your fellow humans, you have learned that socially speaking at least, everything is negotiable. Humans who disagree with you can often be propitiated, placated, intimidated, or otherwise influenced in a variety of ways.
Nature is not like that. You cannot negotiate with nature, propitiate her, nor intimidate her. You can only live according to natural law, or ignore it for a while and get smacked.
At the moment, nearly everyone on the planet agrees with you completely, climate science must be some sort of a big hoax if they’ve heard of it at all, something we can all safely ignore as we get on with the giant fossil fueled party. If people are vaguely aware of climate change, they assume it’s something for governments to solve, without asking ordinary people to change anything they are now doing.
Behavioral scientists know that most people live in social reality – we judge what is right vs. wrong, true vs. false, largely according to how the people around us behave. I step outside and all I see are people driving around in cars and heating their houses with natural gas and flying in airplanes and lugging home big boxes from Wal*Mart in their SUVs. There is no visible group of people around me who behave as if climate science is real.
Only a tiny fraction of people are able to dial back the overwhelming social consensus and use their rational thinking toolkit to examine the scientific evidence. Among those people, the consensus is that climate change is a really big deal, and to avoid some really horrible consequences that would be far worse than, say, having to learn how to enjoy yourself without airplanes, we have to cut everybody’s greenhouse gas emissions by an amount hardly anyone in a developed country will contemplate.
But there’s a ticking clock here. We are on an accelerating trend toward climate destruction. The longer we put off acting, the more extreme our response will have to be when we do act – or the more extreme the damage will be when nature passes judgment on our behavior.
Then @naughtysophie said:
If everyone else is engaging in something so enjoyable as flying, denying yourself such a treat knowing full well that it won’t make any difference is just pious, nonsense.
1. Your use of the word “pious” suggests you don’t understand the difference between religion and science. A pious act is one undertaken to curry favor with some imagined divine being. I.e., an act whose motive is not based on fact. In contrast, climate science has whole shelves full of facts, and everyone who burns fossil fuels ignores those facts. Eventually the consequences will be impossible to ignore. If you live long enough, you will probably regret having been a hedonistic contributor to civilization’s destruction, unless you are a nihilist in addition to a hedonist, in which case destroying civilization and inflicting great harm on others could be a plus.
1. If climate science seems nonsensical to you, you could do with some education.
2. If you believe that a low-carbon individual’s self-sacrifice on your behalf is ineffective, why do you invest so much personal energy in an attempt to discourage it? My conjecture: you sense a serious threat to your hedonistic habit of planetary destruction, because at least subconsciously you suspect there’s a pretty good chance climate science will turn out to have been as reliable as all the rest of the science we depend on every day, including the science that puts airplanes in the sky. What science has given you, science could just as easily take away. Thus you must do everything in your power to nip this personal responsibility trend in the bud, lest it grow into a real social movement and force you to teach your brain to enjoy alternative activities that don’t kill as many people.
But rest assured, people found lots of ways to enjoy themselves before airplanes existed, and their brains probably have not lost that ability yet, although it does seem to be in an atrophied state for many.
Wellington lawyer Tom Bennion feels so strongly that we need to act on climate change, that he is taking to the streets dressed as an elephant.
Mr Bennion will walk along Lambton Quay from 12-1pm on Thursday 2 and Friday 3 September 2010, asking people to stop flying.
“Climate change is a very dangerous problem which we need to talk about,” he says.
“We still have time to fix it but we must take urgent action.”
“My message is: let’s talk about the quite big but doable steps we need to take.”
He says stopping all but essential flying is the biggest single change people can make to reduce their personal emissions. A trip to Europe produces around 12 tonnes of CO2e, easily exceeding an entire year’s household emissions from all other sources, including car use. Even a trip to Australia or the Pacific Islands produces around a tonne of carbon per person. And cutting out flying is far easier for families and individuals than trying to do without a car, cutting heating etc.
In the recent Australian election a climate elephant made its appearance at some of the candidates’ press and photo ops. I liked the idea of the elephant in the room. It gets the message across in a simple and friendly fashion.
The British government has talked about the need to cut flights.
Why flying? Why not driving or changing lightbulbs?
A trip to Europe produces around 12 tonnes of CO2e, easily exceeding an entire year’s household emissions from all other sources, including car use (about 2 tonnes per annum). Even a trip to Australia or the Pacific Islands produces around a tonne of carbon per person. And cutting out flying is far easier for families and individuals than trying to do without a car, cutting heating etc.
Cutting out flying also sends a clear message to governments that people are ready for urgent steps to be taken at the national and international level to stabilise the climate.
What do you hope to achieve?
There is a lot of frustration about how to raise public understanding about the short time we have to act. I am hoping that meeting an elephant with a “stop flying” sign will generate discussion about the steps that we have to take today.
Are you serious?
Yes. I think that there is a special responsibility on professions that deal directly with climate issues to tell people how urgent this issue has become. This seemed to me to be the most direct way to do that.
Now that the US Senate has failed to follow the House of Representatives with climate legislation and put a price on carbon, there is talk about what can be done by the executive utilising existing powers. Environmental NGOs are using the legal levers that exist to push this effort forward, and aviation is in the firing line. Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth and others are suing the US government to get it to regulate GHG emissions from ocean-going ships and aircraft.
They are relying on the 2007 decision Massachusetts v Environmental Protection Agency in which the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA was wrong to conclude that it had no power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. It was also directed the EPA to review its decision not to regulate GHGs from cars.
“the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)–in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”
It also found that motor vehicle emissions needed to be regulated.
In relation to aviation, the legal action by the NGOs seeks findings:
“the Clean Air Act requires that the Administrator “shall … issue proposed emission standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of aircraft engines which in his judgment causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
EPA’s failure to determine whether emissions of greenhouse gases from aircraft engines cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare pursuant to section 231(a) of the Act, … constitutes unreasonable delay ….
Declare that EPA’s delay in determining whether emissions of greenhouse gases from aircraft engines cause or significantly contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare pursuant to section 231(a) of the Clean Air Act, … is unreasonable; and direct EPA to issue such a determination within 90 days after entry of this Court’s judgment.
Declare that if EPA, upon making a determination as directed under paragraph F above, finds that emissions of greenhouse gases from new aircraft engines cause or contribute to air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health and welfare, then EPA must initiate rulemaking … to establish standards to limit such emissions.
The obtuse and tortuous approach to law making in the US may be an advantage here. It clears the politicians out of the way and allows litigation to direct change and potentially develop a meaningful regime. Some US lawyers are making this point. Here’s hoping.
Greenair Online reports (under the headline “Progress on alternative jet fuels “stunning”, says aviation industry, but commercialization is now the major challenge”) that aviation industry chiefs are generally bullish about biofuels replacing kerosene. It is accepted that biofuels are the only route to reduce aviation carbon emissions. IATA’s Director of Aviation Environment says:
“Other forms of transport have options for alternative sources of energy but aviation right now really only has biofuels that it can benefit from and we need full support to move forward on this.”
“There are several constraints that limit the alternative fuel choices that the industry is considering: the very large investment in the existing fleet and jet fuel distribution system, and the typical lifetime of aircraft. These factors, coupled with stringent certification requirements for fuels, mean that airlines are not considering any fuel that is not a ‘drop-in’ replacement for petroleum-derived jet fuel.”
It seems the significant progress is being made in developing biofuels for airlines. This is not surprising. Aerospace engineering is at the cutting edge of development of technology generally, and has an acute emissions problem:
“Current global jet fuel demand is around 5 million barrels per day, or 5.8% of total global oil consumption. A paper published in April by Mohammad Mazraati of OPEC forecasted that even with current trends of fuel intensity improvements by the aviation industry, jet fuel demand could increase by a further 2.7 million barrels per day by 2030.”
Those 2 factors combined make it an important sector to watch for speed of application of new technology reducing emissions.
The Greenair item notes bullish prospects for biofuels. For example:
“Solazyme’s technology, which uses algae to convert biomass to oil using indirect photosynthesis, once scaled up to full commercial scale production, could supply around 50 to 100 million gallons per year of cost-competitive jet biofuel at the $60-80 a barrel range, according to Isaacs. Solazyme already has in place contracts with the US navy and air force to supply its jet biofuel product.”
But using the Greenair figures, the industry would require at least 2810 million barrels per annum for aviation by 2030. At 42 gallons per barrel that is roughly 118,000 million gallons. So Solazyme could provide 0.08% of the annual requirement. It will have to get cracking, since Solazyme currently produces no commercial biofuel at all.
IATA is quoted referring to a report by a UK consultancy:
“IATA’s Steele pointed to the recent study carried by consultants E4tech on behalf of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change that showed a best case scenario for a full replacement of jet kerosene by biofuels by 2035 and a worse case of 40% replacement by 2050. “In reality, I think it will be somewhere between the two, and we in the industry will be trying to move things forward as quickly as we can.”
Some of the claims of the energy companies which are noted in that report are spectacular, for example:
“The US algae company Sapphire Energy, has said that it will reach the commercial scale by 2011 producing 1m gallons/yr, 100m gallons/yr by 2018 and 1bn gallons/yr by 2025.”
But its caveats are significant. Of the Sapphire Energy claim the report notes:
“It is impossible to know at this stage whether this kind of ramp up is actually feasible, without detailed knowledge of the technical progress they have made to date. However, the reality is likely to be that algae biofuels are a mid-term technology option, e.g. 2020 onwards, and unlikely to be produced in significant volumes in the near term.”
And the report makes this comment on the carbon cost of producing biofuels on land:
“The aviation sector is highly aware of the potential sustainability impacts of biofuels production, including the GHG and other impacts of direct land use change. For example, members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users group (SAFUG) have signed up to a sustainability pledge which involves avoiding biofuels produced from feedstocks with high biodiversity impacts, low GHG savings, or where high conservation value or native eco-system lands are converted. As a result, we have assumed that it is unlikely that biofuels for aviation will be produced on land directly converted from high carbon stock or high biodiversity land, and no impact of direct land use change has been included in our GHG figures.”
In other words, potential GHG leakage from land use changes to produce over 100,000 million gallons of aviation biofuel per annum have not been assessed.
Nor can leakage from indirect land use change brought about by using land for biofuels be easily assessed:
“Indirect land use change is less clear; establishing the causes of land use change, and the magnitude of the impact that can be indirectly attributed to production of bioenergy feedstocks, is the subject of considerable current global research. Although some approaches have been developed, there is as yet no agreement on the results, or on the means of incorporating this into biofuels policy. In particular, there is no agreement on a quantitative factor that can be included in GHG calculations for individual biofuels. As a result, we do not include an indirect land use change factor in the GHG data given here.”
The report considers how much planted land might be required for biofuels. It begins on a cautious but overall sanguine note:
“… in the long term, there is a large energy crop potential, without competition with land for food, and without deforestation or loss of protected areas. However, this does not mean that agricultural expansion will happen on the available areas identified, as a result of a large number of factors including the agricultural markets and policies of all countries worldwide. It will be important to ensure that this expansion does happen on the areas where impacts are low (abandoned agricultural land, low carbon stock pasture) rather than on arable land, or on high carbon stock lands.”
The report goes on to gives rough estimates for the areas of land required to provide all of aviation’s estimated fuel demand by 2050:
On a biomass-to-liquid fuel basis, this would require 254 million hectares of woody energy crops.
Providing it all by jatropha growing would require 477 million hectares or 34% of the world’s total current current arable area.
By algae production it would require around 31,000 algae plants of 1000 ha each, taking up 31 million hectares or 2% of the world’s total current arable area.
Ethanol production using Brazilian sugar cane would require 185 million hectares of land, equivalent to 13% of current global arable land.
The report concludes that it is “very unlikely” that conventional crops and a biomass-to-liquid approach (eg palm oil) would provide aviation biofuels on these kinds of scales. Unconventional crops or feedstocks have better prospects:
“Scenarios where conventional crops are not used require a relatively small proportion of the identified resource for lignocellulosic materials, relatively small areas for algae, and reasonable areas for jatropha and camelina. It is important to remember that the type of land used for these crops could be lower quality land, in the case of energy crops, jatropha and camelina, and any land type in the case of algae.
*The highest use of lignocellulosic materials is in the High scenario, where supplying 100% of the 2050 jet demand would require 200Mha of land for energy crops (equivalent to 12% of the projected energy crop resource) or 8% of the total projected lignocellulosic material resource, for BTL and SH together.
*The highest use of new oil crops is in the Central (High) scenario, where 19Mha jatropha, 20Mha camelina and 7Mha algae plants would be required. The total can be compared with the current figures of 14Mha for palm, 30Mha for rapeseed, and 90Mha for soybeans.”
All of this effort, assuming it could be done sustainably and with no or limited carbon leakage, and in the midst of heatwaves, wildfires, food shortages etc, and efforts to reduce all other emissions to zero, would presumably be made to enable people to continue to take their holidays abroad, make shopping trips to exotic places, business trips that could easily be replaced by video conferencing and perhaps trips just to top up frequent flyer miles.
I think senior airline officials are involved in magical thinking, don’t you? Its time to limit flying.
According to Greenaironline, the NZ ETS is the “first major carbon emissions trading scheme to affect airlines”. It does so by imposing a requirement to purchase carbon credits on companies which import or remove fuel at more than 50,000 litres a year from NZ refineries. Those fuels include aviation gas.
The scheme mainly hits domestic airlines. It does not affect international flights fueled outside NZ. However, purchasers of more than 10 million litres of aviation fuel per annum can choose to opt into the scheme. Air NZ has elected to do so. This has been described as a hedging opportunity against future carbon prices or a branding exercise or both.
The scheme is “expected to add around three New Zealand cents (two US cents) to a litre of jet fuel.” Air NZ expects to face, in the first 30-month transition phase of the scheme, “an additional NZ$6 million ($4.16m) cost on its domestic jet fuel consumption” and has notified customers that domestic air fares might see a NZ$1 to $2 fare rise.
Although modest in scope, it is significant that in a small country, far removed from much of the world and highly dependent on air travel, the first charges of airline travel explictly related to climate change have now been imposed.
NZ under its National-led coalition government had severely trimmed the emissions trading scheme developed under the previous Labour-led coalition last government, and did so on the basis that it should be a follower and not a leader. But on this matter the lead appears to have been taken.
So it is a matter for modest celebration. Just how modest can be gauged from other news which shows a bad situation getting rapidly worse, including ominous signs that extreme weather events are on a serious upswing. Perhaps most alarming have been the record smashing temperatures across Africa:
“Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Chad, Niger, Pakistan, and Myanmar have all set new records for their hottest temperatures of all time over the past six weeks. The remarkable heat continued over Africa and Asia late this week. The Asian portion of Russia recorded its highest temperate in history yesterday, when the mercury hit 42.3°C (108.1°F) at Belogorsk, near the Amur River border with China. The previous record was 41.7°C (107.1°F) at nearby Aksha on July 21, 2004. (The record for European Russia is 43.8°C–110.8°F–set on August 6, 1940, at Alexandrov Gaj near the border with Kazakhstan.) Also, on Thursday, Sudan recorded its hottest temperature in its history when the mercury rose to 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Dongola. The previous record was 49.5°C (121.1°F) set in July 1987 in Aba Hamed.We’ve now had eight countries in Asia and Africa, plus the Asian portion of Russia, that have beaten their all-time hottest temperature record during the past two months. This includes Asia’s hottest temperature of all-time, the astonishing 53.5°C (128.3°F) mark set on May 26 in Pakistan.”
The New York Times reports that the new coalition government in Britain has “canceled longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport” and will also “refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London’s second-string airports.”
The worry is the growth trends for emissions from air travel:
The British government has calculated that aviation emissions accounted for just 6 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2006. But it concluded in a report that aviation could contribute up to a quarter of those emissions by 2030.
In the United States, the number of general aviation hours is forecast to grow an average of 1.8 percent a year, and to be 60 percent greater by 2025 than it is now, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. While airlines have worked hard to improve airplane efficiency, those efforts are dwarfed by the upward trend in flying.
An important factor in the decision is Britain’ s Climate Change Act 2008 which requires the country to reduce emissions by at least 34 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
“The inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions in the Act or an explanation to Parliament why not – by 31 December 2012. The Committee on Climate Change is required to advise the Government on the consequences of including emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Act’s targets and budgets. Projected emissions from international aviation and shipping must be taken into account in making decisions on carbon budgets.”
The article points out that Britain is the only country in the world to actually slash runway building plans because of concerns about climate change.