“In These Times” says U.S. Puts Concerns about Aviation’s Climate Impacts “On Stand-by”

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An article published August 15 by the online magazine In These Times quotes CSW Director Rick Piltz and echoes concerns raised in a CSW report issued July 18 that the FAA is failing to take into account the potential climate change impacts of aircraft emissions in its long-term planning for the rapidly expanding airline industry.

The article’s author Megan Tady, a national political reporter for In These Times, points out the discrepancies between the 2004 FAA statement that climate change is “the most serious long-term environmental issue” and subsequent progress reports and online information for the Next Generation Air Transportation System ( NextGen) that fail to mention climate change and indicate the issue is barely being addressed, if at all.   While key FAA officials have stated they believe the number one environmental issue for the aviation industry is noise, given the pressure from the European Union and rising public concern about the link between air travel and global warming, the silence is deafening.   The article quotes Piltz as saying “If you're doing strategic planning and you're reporting to Congress about the stuff you're doing, shouldn't you at least be talking about how a global warming emissions reduction policy would have some implications for the future of aviation policy?"

Tady mentions the CSW report and points out that “Piltz says the FAA's failure to confront climate change is characteristic of an ‘anti-regulatory and anti-preparedness’ administration that is notorious for soft-pedaling the issue.”   Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has also expressed these concerns in a letter to the FAA (see related post).  

Rising aircraft emissions of a mixture of carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and water vapor, injected at high altitudes, is causing increased global concern and media attention.    In recent press statements, Norway’s University of Oslo professor Ivar Isaksen, an expert on aircraft emissions and climate, has recently warned that every plane’s climate impact “may be magnified by factors including heat-trapping nitrogen oxides that are more damaging at high altitude” and the warming effect of high-altitude cirrus clouds produced from jet condensation trails (see Aviation greenhouse curbs may fall short, Reuters, August 16, 2007).  Activists continue to camp at Heathrow Airport outside London to call attention to the problem.  

The US so far has failed to respond with any demonstrable level of responsible leadership and governance over the rapidly burgeoning aviation industry.   Tady goes on to quote Piltz:

"The Bush administration has a specific way of dealing with climate change, which is, 'We will not regulate emissions, we will manipulate or ignore the intelligence about the problem and the implications in order to conform to our political message, and we will leave us unprepared… [ NextGen] is just one more example. Inside the government,  Bush administration officials are steering conversation away from the connection between aviation and global warming, instead of putting it out on the table."

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