thenextwave

Shifting the battle-lines on climate change

Posted in aviation, climate change, environment, sustainability, transport, trends by thenextwavefutures on 18 June, 2007

Obviously, like the writer Bruce Sterling on his Beyond The Beyond blog, one can be as sceptical as one wants about Exxon’s explanation last week that they haven’t doubted for a decade the threat from climate change, and were just plain misunderstood (shades of the Animals hit in the 60s, whose lyrics seem surprisingly apt), but it does mean that the last of the big climate-change deniers has shut up shop. In turn, one can watch the battle-lines shifting to carbon impact.

Two relevant stories, both from the UK aviation sector.

The first is the floating by EasyJet of their “eco-jet”, designed in-house, with the claim that it can reduce aircraft emissions by 50% in eight years, provided they can get it built – which they say they will because they’re spending so much on plans.

The picture, which I can share provided I credit easyJet airline company limited, is relevant:

Big model ecojet from easyjet

EasyJet explains – in a story generally published fairly uncritically – that the reasons this plane can reduce emissions by 50% are as follows:

  • engines (25%)
  • lightweight airframe (15%) and
  • improvements to air traffic control technology and design (10%).

The plane would be slower than current design, and noisier (because of the open rotors), which immediately suggests that given tighter standards generally on noise pollution that this option may not have as easy a ride as possible. The 10% claimed from air traffic control could largely be gained from existing planes, as I understand it, but the difficulties aren’t technical but institutional, because of the international agreements which underpin traffic control. What’s striking on close analysis of the easyJet story is that this is largely a story of incremental improvements.

It also looks quite a lot like “vapourware“, as the technology industry would call it, because of the low chances of getting any new plane into service from the stage of being a big model photo-op any time quickly.

The other story, also, unsurprisingly, is from the aviation sector, where the UK pilots’ union. BALPA, has today published a report on Aviation and the Environment: the Pilots’ Perspective. While taking pains to insist that they are not denying climate change, the report effectively sets out to position aviation as much less of a carbon problem than other forms of transport (and other carbon sources); it gets into specific arguments about long-haul (800 km plus) train journeys; that technology will reduce the rate of growth in emissions compared to aviation mileage (which needs to be supported for reasons of economic growth, especially in developing nations) and so on. Oh, and they also claim that aviation is not subsidised (“far from it”).

I’m not going to get into the detail of the arguments here, although I’m not sure that they would survive long at the hands of any of the academic institutes which track this type of thing.

What was striking about it, as with the Exxon statement, was that the discourse was almost the same: early statement that climate change was a big problem, followed by commitment to being involved in sorting it out, followed by some rairly technical arguments which when unravelled seem to be embedded in self-interest. The Exxon statement for example, goes into deep detail about the best way to manage carbon markets.

Expect more of the same for several years to come.

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