According to the uncritically acclaimed ‘study’ by the Australia Institute on the evils of low cost air travel and its global warming impact, people will ‘have to fly a helluva lot less.’

The study had two agendas, ones that are common to calls for action on what is undeniably a very serious issue: excessive industrial greenhouse gas emissions that are overwhelming the natural carbon exchange cycles.

One is to panic the public policy response with bogus calculations, and the other is to promote carbon trading schemes which will generate massive fees out of bad air and create the 21st century equivalent of Papal dispensations for the activities that emit it.

The bogus element of the Australia Institute type of campaign is that total carbon emissions from any activity are classed as all going directly to global warming.

In fact, very little of any carbon emission escapes the natural processes of the intricate carbon cycles that exchange the gas between land, sea and air, and the various carbon sinks or repositories within them.

But what does escape and accumulate is the problem, especially when the adverse feedback between rising sea temperatures and a consequent decline in the capacity of the oceans to remove surplus carbon dioxide comes into the picture.

So why lie about gross figures, for example, by arguing as some anti-jet crusaders have that one trip to London is five years’ household output of carbon, or that an 85 kilogram passenger will send 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide straight to the furnace of global warming and disintegrating ice caps in the course of 22 hours?

The answer? To scare people sh-tless.

And keep them ignorant of the bigger picture or ‘confuse them’ with facts. The public can’t be trusted with the details of the science, and the media doesn’t try to understand it, so choosing and pursuing carbon criminals on the basis of hysteria is the easy option for those who peddle jets as the WMDs of climate change. And just as ethically bankrupt.

The Australia Institute repeats overseas claims that by 2050 air travel could be 50% of the global greenhouse gas problem.

This involves the extrapolation to absurd lengths of current traffic growth, and the assumption that major emitters like power stations will fall toward zero emissions but air transport technology somehow ceases to improve or evolve.

On the DOTARS traffic figures for the year to the end of March, there were 45.1 million individual domestic flights in Australia in a period of 7.6% growth. International flight accounted for 21.8 million passengers and grew over the year at 4.4%.

On domestic figures alone, that meant 123,562 people were flying somewhere on a plane each day, or 5,148 people each hour (unadjusted for duration) which is less than the typical peak hour load of three double decker suburban trains of eight carriages each.

If the Australia Institute was to come anywhere near to being right about the situation for airline domination of greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, a large fraction of today’s population would have to be trapped in misery tubes between cities, in devices with seating or perhaps stranding room for 10,000 victims at a time.

Just on domestic figures alone, if growth continued at an implausible 7.6% per annum until 2050, just over 1.052 billion Australians, or more than 50 times the current population would fly at least once a year, and that would still fall short of the nonsensical projections made by the Australia Institute.

But fantasy figures aside, it is at best seriously incomplete to model the impacts of passenger flights on emissions without calculating net surplus carbon contributions after deducting the emissions the person would not have otherwise contributed by driving or taking public transport to and from work during the interval of a holiday or business trip abroad, or by not using the national power grid, eating home grown cereals and meats, and running hot baths and air-conditioning.

Peter Fray

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