09/15/2011

Arctic ice-melt: plane stupid

In today's Times, Joss Garman (one of the founders of Plane Stupid) highlighs the increasing rate of melting of Arctic ice, and the race by the oil giants to search for fossil fuels there.


Over the past few days there have actually been many reports (one in this newspaper) of a finding by scientists in the University of Bremen, that the area of sea ice in the Arctic reached a record minimum this year. One of the persons commenting on this, in blogs, tweets and an article in today's "The Times", is Joss Garman, one of the founders of the umbrella organisation "Plane Stupid" (which fights against airport expansion in the UK) and Greenpeace. Clearly, he believes that aircraft emissions contribute significantly to the overall rise in temperatures which are a major factor in this reduction of Arctic ice.

He actually wrote his article while on the Greenpeace ship "Arctic Sunrise" at latitude 81° North, only a few hundred miles from the North Pole. In looking at the ice which is still there, he finds it difficult to imagine its complete disappearance, possibly even in just a few years. If this happens then the consequences could be devastating for us all.

What he particularly regrets, and I agree with him, is that it is likely that the giant oil companies will want to extract fossil fuels there: witness the different nations around there frantically trying to establish sovereignty over regions which are currently ice, so that they can get richer on the pickings from the region. These pickings will then simply add to the problem.

So what about each of us, simple citizens trying to live our life. Probably most of us want this all to stop, and vaguely think what we might do to help it stop. We might like to see less pollution from motor vehicles, aircraft and ships, and less use of fossil fuels. However, are we prepared to put our money where our mouth is? I suspect mostly not, citing what I consider as two relevant and related principles: rational/irrational behaviour and the NIMBY principle.

The rationality/irrationality was well described in a history of Mathematics book called "Taming the Infinite". In a chapter on logic it was noted that humans can operate happily in an illogical framework. We can agree that spending by the population is the way out of the current recession, yet want to save money "in case things go bad". We can assert that global warming is destroying the planet, while simultaneously asserting that low-cost airlines are a great invention (the latter came directly from the book, not from me!).

The well-known NIMBY (not in my back-yard) principle says that we might want certain things to happen, but not to affect us negatively. We want to see less motor vehicle pollution, but want to keep driving our children to school in a big 4x4 gas guzzler. We want more available housing accommodation, but not a tall block of flats in our quiet neighbourhood. We want electricity to power more and more gadgets, but not wind turbines near us (and certainly not nuclear power stations).

And me, a simple citizen trying his best to be ecological (all my recent long trips are by rail), but recognising that I am not exempt from faults myself?

Must try harder!

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