Posts Tagged ‘environment’

An item of interest from the Guardian:

According to the researchers, people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.

Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, who led the research, said: “Green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”

Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.

Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behaviour at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University yesterday.

The research team questioned 200 people on their environmental attitudes and split them into three groups, based on a commitment to green living.

They found the longest and the most frequent flights were taken by those who were most aware of environmental issues, including the threat posed by climate change.

Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: “I recycle 100% of what I can, there’s not one piece of paper goes in my bin, so that makes me feel less guilty about flying as much as I do.”

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A much-trafficked article yesterday from Ireland’s Sunday Business Post offers a thorough takedown of Richard Branson’s green claims about the Virgin Group’s airlines:

In September 2006, Virgin boss Richard Branson pledged €1.9 billion towards tackling global warming. For the next ten years, he announced, the profits from his aviation and rail businesses would go towards combating the biggest, most complex problem that mankind has ever faced. . . . However, a look at the not-very-small print revealed that this amazing gesture would not be a matter of taking the profits from Branson’s polluting industries and using them to protect vast tracts of the Amazon.

In fact, the money would go to a new division of the Virgin conglomerate, called Virgin Fuel. Branson was simply gearing himself up to make more money. But as always, the PR spin was that he’d be doing the rest of us a favour in the process.

Branson has built an empire on this perception. . . . Whether it’s flights, records, mobile phones, cola, radio, television, hotels, trains or holidays, sticking the word ‘‘Virgin’’ in front of something supposedly makes it cheaper yet cooler, with the bearded, grinning boss fronting many of his own ad campaigns. Because if a hippy says it’s all right, then it must be. Mustn’t it?

Since Virgin Fuel was set up in 2006, the tide has very much turned against bio-fuels with the realisation that far too much agricultural land could be eaten up by fuel crops. Palm oil, one of the major biofuels, is contributing to global warming as virgin (no pun intended) rainforests in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are decimated to make way for palm plantations. (more…)

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The Dutch “green tax” on aviation, which I’ve blogged about here and here, is already negatively affecting Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, according to a report:

Some 50,000 fewer passengers are expected to use Amsterdam Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s busiest, this summer on account of a Dutch environmental tax on flights, it was reported Saturday.

“We’re expected zero growth in 2008, and in fact a decrease (in passenger numbers) in July and August,” an airport spokesman was quoted as saying by the domestic ANP news agency.

Tax means fewer travellers at main Dutch airport: report [AFP/Breitbart]

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Lots of interesting testimony at today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on climate change and transportation. Discussion subjects ranged widely, from surface transportation to the possibility of shipping in the Arctic. “The transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” announced committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). He added that GHG emissions from transportation are projected by the EPA to increase by 26 percent by 2020.

The first panel featured several government officials. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Thomas J. Barrett said that DOT is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — without compromising the “indispensable role” that transportation plays in the U.S. economy. He touted increased CAFE standards (only to be chided later by John Kerry [D-Mass.] for the administration’s foot-dragging on CAFE). Barrett emphasized the role of markets in the DOT’s transportation planning. “Markets provide strong incentives for improving efficiency,” he said. Market-oriented devices like runway slot auctions or highway tolling theoretically reduce congestion. Less congestion means less fuel consumed, which means fewer GHG emissions. Barrett spoke about a DOT’s across-all-modes experiments with “direct user fees and more congestion pricing.” For more information on these initiatives, along with some critical voices, see this WaPo article. “One study found that congestion pricing reduced emissions up to 10 percent in the aggregate and as much as 30 percent in high pollution areas.”

Barrett touted the airline industry’s sometimes surprising success in reducing emissions: “Aviation is a somewhat unheralded but real success story in these programs.” He urged Congress to exercise caution in “not hampering” the industry as it weighs GHG regulations. As for further improvements, Barrett claimed that the FAA is moving to accelerate its air traffic management improvements “to make it more NowGen than NextGen.” Some of these changes are already coming on line. (more…)

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As I see it, one of the problems of responding to climate change is the need for a response coordinated across industries and countries. Lots of industries like to trumpet what they are doing on their own to reduce their carbon footprints, but what if these reductions simply shift the climate change contribution onto another sector of the economy without reducing net impact? Case in point: aviation biofuels. Airbus and Boeing both affirm biofuels’ importance. Japan Airlines is running a biofuel test flight soon, and Air New Zealand will test biofuel made from jatropha, which meets its criteria of environmental sustainability without competing with food production, quality equal to today’s jet fuel, and significant cost savings. Much has been made of plans like benign megalomaniac Richard Branson’s to expand use of biofuels, not only to reduce emissions but also to save money:

Virgin’s much-ballyhood flight from London to Amsterdam used 5% coconut-oil biofuel . . . to show biofuel could take the high-altitude cold. But the test flight alone used 150,000 coconuts, Petroleum Review says—and at least 3 million would have been needed for a full biofuel flight. Multiply that by world air traffic, and the problem comes into focus.

The other options? Flavor-of-the-month jatropha biofuel would be fine—except aviation would require a land area twice the size of France to grow the stuff. . . . How about biomass, like bits of wood and useless plants? Well, they still need to grow somewhere—and commercial aviation would need to harvest an area three times the size of Germany.

My question: if aviation washes its hands of its climate change impact (estimated to be 2-3 percent) with biofuels, and since biofuels require more arable land and lead to the clearing of forested areas, how much does that add to deforestation’s estimated 25 percent contribution to anthropogenic climate change? The airline sector currently has no incentive to worry about this transfer of emissions, and every incentive (financial, PR, etc.) to just do it.

I’ve written before about a similar but not identical problem in “green taxation,” in which one country’s aviation taxes reduce one country’s aviation carbon footprint but not the world’s, because the flights shift to other countries’ airports. In the case of biofuels, will the airline industry be able to “greenwash” away its climate sins without actually making a difference in manmade CO2 emissions?

As for the extent to which widespread use of aviation biofuels will mitigate climate change, or what kind of policies or institutional structures can prevent this problem, I will leave further discussion up to those much better versed in this subject than I. Ahem, ahem.

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News came out today that the U.S. embassy in London has responded harshly to plans by HM Treasury to change the Air Passenger Duty into a per-plane tax at great expense to airlines and, ultimately, travelers. Air Passenger Duty was last raised dramatically in 2006 as an anti-climate change measure. Then-chancellor (and current prime minister) Gordon Brown said that APD was only a temporary solution to restraining aviation’s climate impacts until the sectors scheduled 2010 inclusion in the European emissions trading scheme. Airlines were starkly opposed, claiming that it was merely a revenue grab, and environmental campaigners dismissed its “green” credentials.

The current plan, outlined in a consultation document [PDF] released earlier this year, is to change the per-passenger charge into a per-plane charge based on maximum takeoff weight as a factor of three distance ranges: the European Economic Area, less than 3,000 miles from London (non-EEA), and more than 3,000 miles from London. The argument is that a given plane produces the same emissions whether it is fully loaded with APD-paying travelers or just half-full. The current £40 APD for economy-class long-haul travelers could climb as high as £100, according to the Daily Telegraph — which might severely affect traffic at British airports, especially connecting flights through London’s Heathrow Airport. Indeed, the Treasury acknowledges this in its consultation: “London Heathrow airport has the highest number of international transfer passengers of any airport in the world; transfer traffic there represents 34 per cent of all passenger traffic. Some airlines argue that the knock-on impact of aviation duty would reduce UK transfer traffic by imposing an effective cost on the provision of transfer traffic; and that this would have negative consequences for the UK economy, including through a reduction in the frequency and variety of services that can be offered directly from London.” This exposes one of the major obstacles facing those who would implement regional “green” taxes: competition.


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Greenhouse gas emissions from domestic commercial aviation have fallen 13 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to recently released figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. I blogged about a USA Today article on this report last week, and I finally tracked down the original, cleverly obscured on the EPA website. (The aviation-relevant sections are here and here.) The pattern of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation mirrors consumption of fuel. Carbon dioxide is by far the most common greenhouse gas to be emitted, although relatively small amounts of methane are emitted , especially during takeoff and landing, along with nitrous oxides. (Newer engines have to comply with EPA rules limiting nitrous oxide emissions.)

Energy Information Administration; Environmental Protection Agency

The relationship between jet fuel consumption and all aviation emissions (including general aviation and military flights) is even more closely mirrored.

But did emissions fall just because of the 2000-2001 recession and September 11, both of which did a number on the airline industry? That is not clear. As the chart below shows, with the exception of a post-9/11 slump, passenger totals grew even as emissions declined: (more…)

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