11/02/2012

Sandy shores and global warming

Global Warming, AKA Climate Change, was on the back burner in the US presidential election until Sandy demonstrated nature's power.


It was understandable, though disappointing, that climate change played virtually no part in the run-up to the US presidential election. In the short term people are worried about their job, their mortgage, their pension and their health. Climate change is a long-term problem which politicians don't generally talk about. Sir Harold Wilson, who was for some time the British Prime Minister, once said that a week is a long time in politics.

The coming of superstorm Sandy, which some have called Frankenstorm, appears to have changed this attitude. First, the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is a Republican, praised President Obama and implicitly agreed that federal authorities can handle disasters better than private enterprise. This was followed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsing the candidature of President Obama on the basis that he has done more to tackle climate change than Mitt Romney would ever do. His devastating condemnation of Mitt Romney was his statement that Mitt Romney has reversed himself on too many issues, including climate change. President Obama, in welcoming Michael Bloomberg's endorsement, said that climate change is a threat to our children's future, and we owe it to them to do something about it.

Aviation has again been to the fore, with the three New York airports being closed, together with other forms of transportation. As such, nature has again demonstrated its power over human enterprise.

Is climate change happening (pretty surely) and is it being provoked by human activities which generate noxious emissions? Some (the sceptics) argue that while it may be happening, there is no proof that our activities are to blame, and hence that we can continue as we are now, with no restrictions. Others (the believers) are convinced that we are provoking it, and that we must change our ways before it is too late (it may already be too late!).

This is a classical case in which it is arguable that we should be believers, and act accordingly, because there are unlikely to be bad effects if we are wrong. If, on the other hand, the sceptics are wrong, then failing to act now will make the consequences worse for us all.

Where does aviation fit into all of this? Even in Europe, which is in the middle of a financial crisis, there are continually more people flying around on more scheduled flights, though the number of non-scheduled (business jets) flights in Geneva is decreasing. In other parts of the world, in particular Asia, air travel is forecast to grow immensely. There are people (the aviation sceptics!) who believe that aircraft emissions, even though they are at a high altitude, have little to do with climate change, so we should keep popping down to the South of France for a day at the beach, or to London to do our Christmas shopping.The believers, however, take their holidays in the country in which they live and shop in their nearest town (or via the Web).

In which camp do you belong?

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