A departure from the daily challenge theme today.
The BBC news Science and Environment page includes a range of stories today, almost all of which are linked to the growing realisation that climate change and the knock-on effects on the environment is rapidly moving from “what will be” to “what is”.
The first story relates to a review by British Airways of its use of an industry-wide practice known as ‘tankering’ – where planes are over-fuelled for journeys to avoid the extra costs of refuelling at destination airports. The airline concedes that the extra weight carried by planes on the outward leg of journeys significantly increases carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. BA concedes that whilst there are environmental costs linked to this practice, it’s also the case that reducing the need for refuelling speeds up turnaround times and means that planes can get back into the air more quickly. This seems like something of an ‘own goal’ in terms of justifying action that increases carbon emissions – inevitably, the sooner an aircraft is back in the sky, the sooner it is pumping out even more toxic emissions!
The next feature story reports on research that concludes that a global speed limit on commercial shipping would reduce carbon emissions but would also reduce by 66% the noise pollution into the ocean (impacting on the navigation of fish and other marine species); and would reduce the risk of collisions between shipping and whales by other 75%. Globally, commercial shipping accounts for 3% of all carbon emissions (the equivalent of the output of Germany) and there is hope that the International Maritime Organisation will now agree to a reduction in speed for all shipping at its meeting in London later in November. This will be a necessarily short-term initiative while the industry gradually moves over to alternative cleaner and quieter engines.
The final story summarises research that has linked the spread of a distemper virus across mammal populations in the Arctic Ocean and North Pacific ocean with a decline in the permanent sea ice that previously acted as a natural barrier preventing species in each ocean from coming into direct contact with one another. Scientists have shown a direct correlation between the spread of disease in the periods immediately following significant sea-ice melting. The expectation is that there will be similar disease spreading as climate change globally leads to the migration of insects, fish and mammals into new habitats that were previously uninhabitable by them.
It’s stories like these that ‘make real’ the existential threat that is wrapped up in the concerns about carbon emissions and global warming. It’s also why initiatives such as Bristol City Council’s decision to ban diesel engines from the city centre from 2021 are both welcome and long overdue. It’s interesting that the debate now is increasingly about how we best address the environmental challenges of climate change, rather than whether it’s even a problem. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but at least we seem to be waking up to the threat while there’s still a small window of opportunity to do something about it.