Saturday, July 25, 2009

Greenwash: easyJet's carbon claims written on the wind

EasyJet says its flights have a smaller carbon footprint than a Toyota Prius hybrid car. Let's do the maths…


EasyJet claims its flights have smaller carbon footprints than a Toyota Prius. Photograph: Philippe Hays/Rex Features

You probably weren't watching BBC3 at 4am on Monday morning. Not if you had a job to go to in the morning, anyhow. So you probably missed a nice little programme called Britain's Embarrassing Emissions.

It door-stepped the budget airline easyJet about claims on the company's website that it is greener than a hybrid car. Or, more particularly, that its emissions were less than those of a Toyota Prius. It's greenwash, of course. As, I discovered, are several of its other environmental claims.

The crux of the matter is the company's website, which highlights a graph showing that its emissions "based on one person" are 95.7g/km, whereas those for a Prius are 104g/km. As the programme pointed out, this is not comparing like with like. EasyJet doesn't say so, but its "typical comparison" is very atypical. It assumes that the plane is full and its emissions are shared out among all the passengers, while the Prius is presumed to have only one occupant.

EasyJet may succeed in its aim of completely filling up every flight (though it is not true in my experience). But all British official stats on car emissions reckon on an average of 1.6 passengers in a car. Eastjet presumably didn't follow this convention, because it would show even a full easyJet flight emitting 47% more per passenger-kilometre than an averagely full Prius. And of course a full easyJet flight would emit close to for four times as much per passenger as a full Prius carrying four people.

In the programme, which I'm guessing was filmed recently, the hapless easyJet spokesman appeared to promise to try and get the website changed to reflect reality. Not so far, it hasn't. The greenwash persists. And if the claims are repeated in any of easyJet's advertising perhaps someone fancies contacting the Advertising Standards Authority...

But the environment pages of easyJet's site contain other slippery claims. They repeatedly proclaim that "aviation's carbon dioxide emissions... only account for 1.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions", citing as the source Lord Stern's famous review of the economics of climate change. But the company ignores the next sentence in Stern's text, which says that "the impact of aviation on climate change is greater than these figures suggest because of other gases released by aircraft... for example water vapour". These emissions roughly double the effect, says Stern. So make that 3.2%.

Oddly enough, easyJet's seems seems not to trust its headline claims. Its own report on corporate and social responsibility quotes a figure of 3.5% contained in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1999.

In any event, both Stern and the IPCC report are out of date. Stern's data come from someone else's report in 2005, which in turn cites data for 2002. Since when global aircraft emissions have grown by about 40%. And IPCC scientists now quote a figure for aviation's contribution to global warming of almost 5%.

Whatever aviation's true contribution to global warming, it is not 1.6%.

What else does easyJet offer to reassure its growing number of passengers that it is green to fly? Naturally, since it doesn't fly to the US, the company flags up how flying to Europe is better. So it says in big letters: "Flying from London to Nice produces 10 times fewer CO2 emissions than flying London to Miami."

Leaving aside the ugly English, I am not sure this stands up. Since easyJet doesn't fly to Miami, we can't check the stat on its own carbon calculator. But a couple of others I went to, including Climate Care, show the difference at a bit over eight times.

The comparison is misleading in a more important way, however. If I need to get to Miami, I have little choice other than to fly. Whereas if i need to get to Nice, I can catch a train. It might take a bit longer, but it will save on carbon. Thanks to the nuclear power-running Eurostar and the French railways, my emissions would be, very roughly, one-tenth those of flying. With easyJet or anyone else.

China dust cloud circled globe in 13 days

China dust cloud circled globe in 13 days

Dust clouds generated by a huge dust storm in China's Taklimakan desert in 2007 made more than one full circle around the globe in just 13 days, a Japanese study using a NASA satellite has found.

When the cloud reached the Pacific Ocean

the second time, it descended and deposited some of its dust into the sea, showing how a natural phenomenon can impact the environment far away.

"Asian dust is usually deposited near the Yellow Sea, around the Japan area, while Sahara dust ends up around the Atlantic Ocean and coast of Africa," said Itsushi Uno of Kyushu University's Research Institute for Applied Mechanics.

Article continues

Ocean current switch due to warming could be slower than feared

CHICAGO — The nightmare global warming scenario which provided the plot for a Hollywood blockbuster -- the Atlantic Ocean current that keeps Europe warm shuts down and triggers rapid climate change -- has long worried scientists.

But a study published Thursday in the journal Science found it may not occur as quickly as previously feared.

There is evidence that this current has shut down with some regularity in the past -- and sometimes quite rapidly -- in response to large influxes of fresh water from melting glaciers.

However, it appears as though the current rate of glacial melt is occurring at a more gradual pace which will "give ecosystems more time to adjust to new conditions," said study coauthor Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University.

Article continues

NOAA Reports Record Ocean Surface Temperatures for June

From: , Global Warming is Real, More from this Affiliate
Published July 21, 2009 07:30 AM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported findings of preliminary analysis from the agency's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina that shows global ocean surface temperatures for June broke the previous record set in 2005.

The combined average global/land and ocean surface temperature for June was the second warmest on record, 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (0.62 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees F.

Ocean surface temperatures for June '09 were the warmest on record, 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees F.

The global land surface temperature for June was 1.26 degrees F above the 20th century average, and the sixth warmest June on record.

Article continues:

How Clouds Over the Oceans Affect Our Climate

How clouds over the ocean affect our climate, and how climate change

may be affecting THEM, is not well known. There is no network of observing stations like on land, and climate models have not been shown to really simulate clouds well. They may be just too fine a detail for models that cover such large scale phenomenon as oceanic circulation. But clouds over the oceans have been thought be important in our understanding of what drives our climate.

In a study published in the July 24 issue of Science, researchers Amy Clement and Robert Burgman from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Joel Norris from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego begin to unravel this mystery. Using observational data collected over the last 50 years and complex climate models, the team has established that low-level stratiform clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds may enhance the warming of the planet.
The result of their analysis was a surprising degree of agreement between two multi-decade datasets that were not only independent of each other, but that employed fundamentally different measurement methods. One set consisted of collected visual observations from ships over the last 50 years, and the other was based on data collected from weather satellites.

"The agreement we found between the surface-based observations and the satellite data was almost shocking," said Clement, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami and winner of the American Geophysical Union's 2007 Macelwane Award for her groundbreaking work on climate change. "These are subtle changes that take place over decades. It is extremely encouraging that a satellite passing miles above the earth would document the same thing as sailors looking up at a cloudy sky from the deck of a ship."
Together, the observations and the Hadley Centre model results provide evidence that low-level stratiform clouds, which currently shield the earth from the sun's radiation, may dissipate in warming climates, allowing the oceans to further heat up, which would then cause more cloud dissipation.

"This is somewhat of a vicious cycle potentially exacerbating global warming," said Clement. "But these findings provide a new way of looking at cloud changes. This can help to improve the simulation of clouds in climate models, which will lead to more accurate projections of future climate changes. "

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