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WHO predicts more global epidemics

David Batty and agencies, Guardian
A new killer disease on a par with HIV/Aids or ebola is likely to emerge in the next few years and threaten the lives of millions of people worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

Potentially deadly new diseases are being identified at an “unprecedented rate”, with global epidemics spreading more rapidly than ever, the United Nations agency warned in its annual world health report.

At least one new disease has been identified every year since the 1970s. Today, there are 39 that were unknown just over a generation ago.

…The agency said infectious diseases were spreading faster due to global travel, with more than 1,100 epidemics verified in the last five years, including bird flu, cholera and polio.

With more than 2 billion people travelling by air every year, the WHO said “an outbreak or epidemic in one part of the world is only a few hours away from becoming an imminent threat somewhere else”.

“Infectious diseases are now spreading geographically much faster than at any time in history.”
(23 August 2007)
Another reason to cut down air travel, in addition to global warming. Invasive organisms are also easily spread by air transport. -BA

Does Flying Harm the Planet?

Bryan Walsh, TIME Magazine
Given the rage that air travel can provoke in even the most tranquil among us these days, it may be surprising that riot police aren’t a more regular feature at airports. But Sunday’s pitched battle between roughly 500 environmental activists and a phalanx of baton-wielding police at London’s Heathrow airport wasn’t about long lines, delays, lost luggage or missed connections. Instead, the protesters – who had demonstrated outside Heathrow all of last week – were trying to draw travelers’ attention to the impact on climate change of the carbon gases emitted by the aircraft in which they fly. A placard from one activist at Heathrow expressed it thus: “You Fly, They Die.”

Airplanes operate on petroleum fuel, which means they release large amounts of carbon dioxide when they fly. Commercial air travel is currently responsible for a relatively tiny part of the global carbon footprint -just 3.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But the unique chemistry of high-altitude jet emissions may produce an additional warming effect, while the explosive growth in air travel makes it one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon gases in the atmosphere. And unlike energy or automobiles, where carbon-free or lower-carbon alternatives already exist, even if they have yet to be widely adopted, there is no low-carbon way to fly, and there likely won’t be for decades.

“It’s not so much where we are now, but where we’ll be in 30 years’ time,” says Peter Lockley, head of policy development at the Aviation Environment Federation in London. “We need to bring global carbon emissions down rapidly, but this sector is just going to grow.”

…So what’s the solution? Perhaps that there is no solution, or at least no simple one – aside from just flying less, as the Heathrow activists demanded. And there’s little sign of that happening, as air passenger numbers rose 6.3% globally through the first half of 2007. So, expect similar protests in the future. The activists at Heathrow threw out a moral challenge to those well-off on a global scale (anyone who can afford a JetBlue ticket) to stop flying in order to save the poor from the effects of climate change. It’s not quite that simple, but until technology and policy catch up – which still seems a long way off – carbon emissions will only slow if consumers choose to use less energy, live more modestly, and fly less. In other words, stay at home to save the world.
(20 August 2007)

Oil Depletion and the Brisbane Airport Expansion
(Doc file)
Stuart McCarty, ASPO-Australia
This is a submission to the Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) on the New Parallel Runway (NPR) Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Major Development Plan (EIS/MDP).

The NPR project involves the construction of an additional runway and associated infrastructure including a seawall, approach lighting, tidal discharge channels and other temporary works at Brisbane Airport, at a cost of approximately $1 billion. Construction is intended to commence in 2008 and conclude in 2015.

The EIS/MDP contends that the project is necessitated by growth in passenger and air traffic demand at Brisbane Airport, with demand predicted to exceed existing capacity by 2015. One of the assumptions supporting this growth forecast is that oil prices will remain relatively cheap into the medium to long term. This is seriously flawed in that it ignores the impact of world oil depletion, which will see prices remain volatile in the short term and increase dramatically in the medium to long term. Demand for Brisbane Airport may continue to grow in the short term, but will most likely decline from approximately 2010, i.e. before construction of the NPR is complete. This casts serious doubt over the rationale for the project and needs to be properly addressed in the final EIS/MDP assuming that BAC decides to continue with the project regardless.
Executive Summary

·The rationale that the NPR project is necessitated by growing aircraft and passenger demand is predicated on discredited forecasts of static world oil prices into the medium and long term.

·The EIS/MDP ignores the impending peak and subsequent decline of world oil production or ‘peak oil’. Authoritative forecasts indicate that the production peak will occur in approximately 2010. Crude oil prices and therefore the price of liquid fuels including aviation fuel will increase dramatically from their present levels. The impact on the overall economy will be severe as alternative fuels are not viable and the necessary infrastructure is decades away. This problem is well known to the airline and related industries, governments and the public.

·With its viability already questionable, the airline industry is particularly vulnerable to oil depletion as there is simply no alternative to oil based jet fuel. Further increases in fuel prices will increase airline operating costs in the medium term to the extent many will collapse. Simultaneously, the effects of oil depletion in the broader economy will dramatically reduce passenger demand. Industry experts suggest that airlines should prepare for the orderly demise of commercial aviation. Proposals to develop airport infrastructure elsewhere in the world have been criticised on this basis.

·The specific oil price forecast cited in the EIS/MDP, providing the basis for assumptions regarding growing aircraft and passenger demand, has been widely discredited and proven inaccurate only six months after its release. More credible forecasts from within the airline industry predict much higher oil prices and therefore invalidate the assumptions made in the EIS/MDP.

·Analysis of the direct and indirect impacts of higher oil prices predicted in more credible forecasts casts serious doubt on the financial viability of the NPR project, indeed it is likely to be redundant even before it is complete. The best case scenario is for air traffic to steadily decline from 2015, while the worst case is for it to decline sharply from as early as next year.

·Acknowledging the mitigation measures described in the EIS/MDP, the environmental impact of the project is unwarranted.

·Arup’s ‘SPeAR’ sustainability assessment, including social, natural resources and economic factors, needs to be comprehensively revised to take into account the impact of oil depletion on the NPR project.

·The investment of $1 billion in the NPR, representing a doubling in the value of BAC’s infrastructure and a two-fifths increase in the corporation’s total value, is financially unviable and therefore high risk. The lead consultants have thus far failed to inform their client of risks that are well known to the community in general and their own company in particular. BAC also has an obligation to disclose the risks to the project posed by oil depletion if it decides to proceed with the project, preferably via the final EIS/MDP.
(2 February 2007, but just made public)