Sunday, September 24, 2006

George Monbiot is Wrong

The Guardian carried a large excerpt from George Monbiot's coming book this week in which he launched a formidable attack on aeroplanes, on the grounds that they are indefensible in terms of climate change. I find it hard to work out his logic. For a start, if you get the data, you'll find that, when you interpolate the emissions from aviation fuel uplifted from the UK, it makes up 5.5 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions. (Comparison - electricity generation is 30 or so, road transport a quarter)

Now, if you accept his premise that it's even worse than the climatologists say, you would think that we need immediate and massive cuts in CO2 emissions. But even if aviation were abolished tomorrow, we'd still have 94.5 per cent of the way to go. You can't get around the big systems - only changing them can deliver, and only changing them can deliver quickly. But it's worse than that: as he points out, nothing is more difficult in this sense than replacing aviation fuel. Plug-in hybrid deployment, wind, solar, marine, biomass and perhaps nuclear power, insulation and heat-pumps can fix all the other sectors, could even get to zero (the chemical industry might in the long run go negative). A lot of this is mature technology. A lot of it would probably be economically beneficial, rather than a sacrifice.

So why would you go for the hardest problem first, especially when it only represents 5 per cent of the problem?

He doesn't help his case by talking nonsense, either. Quote: "As far as aircraft engines are concerned, major new efficiencies in the next 20 years are a pipedream." Well, not really. Propfans exist, and reduce the fuel burn by some 30 per cent, independently of changes to aerodynamic design (10 per cent in the near term) and efficiencies in air traffic control (up to 12 per cent). This is pretty cool, too, as is this.

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