Of the many adverse impacts caused by aviation, the slowest to set in is likely climate change, as will eventually follow from our excessive consumption of fossil fuels. One of the points emphasized within this website is that aviation, with very high fuel burn rates needed to power aircraft, has an exceptionally high rate of CO2 generation per minute. Another key point is that the ‘decision’ to travel by air is exceptionally discretionary. In other words, in the largest analysis we do not have to travel long distances, but it has been our cultural habit that ‘we choose to’, and in so doing we generate a very substantial CO2 impact in a short period of time. Seemingly, if we ever get serious about reducing our CO2 generation, aviation is a logical first target – the easy-to-pick low-hanging fruit. An easy adjustment to our cultural habit will be to significantly reduce air travel, and also ensure our aviation regulators are disincentivizing fuel-inefficient practices such as trips via hubs off the direct route, or use of over-congested airports.
Regular measurements of the level of atmospheric CO2 began in the late 1950s. The Keeling Curve is broadly accepted as the original and longest standing CO2 chart, depicting daily readings near the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Here is a recent screen capture of the Keeling Curve, posted by Scripps:At the Scripps website, the chart is viewable in a variety of timeframes. The above is a 2-year view, showing readings from mid-February 2014 through 2/15/2016. The curve is striking in its regularity, and in the consistent sawtooth pattern that has been climbing roughly two parts per million each year. On this image, lines have been added (red, and orange) to aid in quantifying year-to-year changes. The annual changes are then quantified, using red numbers (e.g., “+2.0”). The four annual changes, in sequence, are:
- peak 2014 to peak 2015 (approx. 5/20/2015): +2.0 ppm
- trough 2014 to trough 2015 (approx. 9/25/2015): +2.7 ppm
- January 1, 2015 to January 1, 2016: +3.0 ppm
- February 1, 2015 to February 1, 2016: +3.1ppm.
This would appear to show a substantial acceleration has occurred since last May. We will know better in another year, if it is a data anomaly or the leading edge of a major shift. If it is the latter, we can expect further acceleration of polar ice melts, sea rise, and weather intensification and ‘weirding’.
The case for a unified action against climate change may soon become more urgent.
One U.S. Corporation, AT&T, Warned Us About Climate Change in 1958
Sixty years ago, CO2 was not even an issue. There were some scientists thinking ahead and stating it might eventually become an issue, but it was not until the late 1950s that we even developed a means to accurately measure atmospheric CO2, to document trends from year to year. Surprisingly, one of those early ‘scientists’ was actually a ‘scientist character’ in a science film directed by Frank Capra. Mr. Capra is familiar to many who have watched classic movies he directed in the 1930s and 1940s, such as ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, both starring James Stewart. Mr. Capra earned his college degree at Cal Tech, after studying chemical engineering. He got into the film industry and was successful, winning three ‘Best Director’ Oscars by 1938. When World War II broke out, Mr. Capra enlisted in the Army, where he helped create propaganda films. In the mid-1950s, he was hired by the original telecommunications giant, AT&T, to produce the first four in a series of nine educational films called ‘The Bell Laboratory Science Series’. These 16mm films were widely distributed to schools, free of charge. Estimates are that, by the late 1960s, five million school children and a half million college students had watched these films.
The fourth film by Mr. Capra was released in 1958, the same year FAA was created by Congress. ‘Unchained Goddess’ presents a discussion between a scientist and a writer, rehearsing for their science TV show. Their work area includes a ‘magic screen’ upon which animation appears. Part of that animation is a set of weather gods, including Meteora, the Goddess of Weather. The interactions with the magic screen and the animated figures aids in explaining all sorts of weather phenomena, while also showing weather equipment and the labor-intensive work of technicians at the National Weather Analysis Center.Here’s a 2-minute clip focused on the portion most relevant today, where Mr. Capra’s scientist offers the 1958 view of possible consequences of global warming: