Climate Science is Complicated

According to Reuters, a week of clear skies over Europe has given scientists another rare glimpse into the effects of aviation on the Earth’s climate.   Given that there are roughly 100,000 flights every day, getting control samples is usually impossible.

There seem to be at least two concerns regarding aviation and climate change.  First, there’s the logical assumption that burning so much fuel in general (again, an estimated 100,000 flights a day) contributes quite a bit to global warming. Some studies suggest that aviation accounts for 2 to 3 percent percent — still less than the livestock industry (don’t order steaks on a plane!).

Second, there are many unknowns about the effects of “non-carbon factors,” including contrails (watch out Goose!). A study published in 2002 by David Travis from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater found that the lack of vapor trails led to large temperature swings. Travis’s study was possible due to the lack of air traffic over the U.S. after the attacks of September 11.

New information gleaned last week could be used to incorporate aviation curbs in any future climate deal. There are no such restrictions in the Kyoto Protocol.