Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Okay, here's another modest proposal

You know if you’ve had more than a cursory look at this blog that I am some way along the ‘sceptical’ continuum as far as Anthropogenic Global Warming goes. But one thing I have learned is that it is not enough to complain about things, one ought to make constructive suggestions. So here goes.

If we were serious about (a) proving cause and effect as far as Anthropogenic Global Warming is concerned; and (b) trying to stop it, there is one bold action I would happily get behind.

This would be grounding all the world’s aircraft for a few years. Take all the money currently being spent on various carbon trading schemes and bureaucracies and uneconomic renewable energy schemes and give it to the airlines to pay them to mothball their machines and pay their staff to sit around doing nothing. 

The rationale for this is two-fold:

1. We have a pretty good idea anthropogenic cirrus clouds from aircraft have a significant warming effect. And the warming observed over the past half-century is localised most strongly where these anthropogenic clouds are: in the northern hemisphere, not the south; and over continents, not oceans. 

2. All greenhouse gases are not equal. When I drive my car down the Princes Highway past the towering eucalypts of Royal National Park, I know that the water and carbon dioxide bands in the atmosphere at ground level are pretty nearly saturated, so the emissions of my car will not make a great deal of difference to how much additional infrared energy is absorbed. And I know also that my car’s emissions are not going to stay in the atmosphere for long, because those aforesaid towering eucalypts and other green plants are going to enthusiastically suck them up. When I fly down to Sydney, though, it worries me. The plane I’m riding is spewing carbon dioxide and water vapour out into a part of the atmosphere that doesn’t have a lot in it already, a long long way away from any plants that can use them.

I’ve made these arguments before on this blog, but not recently. So I figured it was time for some repetition.

Stopping aircraft for a few years should give a very good idea what proportion of the observed warming is due to anthropogenic cloud and emissions of greenhouse gases at altitude, and hence whether carbon dioxide emissions per se are worth stressing over.

I think the economics of this are solid. The maximum annual profit airlines have made recently seems to be of order $30 billion, and there probably aren’t more than 4 million people who would need to be paid to do nothing, as opposed to being swapped immediately to productive jobs elsewhere in the newly frisky sea and rail freight sectors. So maybe another $100 billion paid to them. That’s less than we’ve been spending in silly ways in recent years, I’m pretty sure.

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