Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fly Hypocrisy Airlines

Oh, this is rich.  The United States yesterday demanded that the European Union exempt U.S. airlines from rules regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.   In fact, three U.S. airlines – United, Continental and American – have sued the EU to block it from regulating carbon emissions on flights to and from Europe.  And now the U.S. government (yes, the Obama administration) is backing them.

Here’s the story:  Europe has had a GHG emissions trading system in place since 2005, recognizing the need to provide incentives to limit global GHG pollution.  In 2009, the EU decided that as of 2012, airlines would be included in the system.  It means that for flights to and from Europe, GHG emissions will have to be no greater than they were on average in 2005, or the airlines will have to purchase credits from emitters that had reduced their carbon emissions.  It applies to some 2,800 airlines worldwide, relating only to their European flights. (Read about it here.)

Airlines emit 2-3% of global GHGs
But the U.S. airlines are indignant.  Their lobbying group, the Air Transportation Association, accused the EU of imposing its judgment on other parts of the world.  “The Europeans,” said an ATA spokeswoman, “are going to have to decide whether they’re playing in the sandbox or not.” 

Aside from indignation, the U.S. airlines have made two important arguments.  First, they don’t want to have to pay for carbon offsets twice.  You see, they argue, our home country recently dreamt of enacting GHG cap-and-trade legislation, which would force us to pay for our GHG pollution here at home.  If we are subject to the European GHG regulations, we might be paying twice!

Does this sound funny to anybody else?  American industries and one of our great political parties killed cap-and-trade two years ago, and most presidential candidates in our country today even deny the validity of climate science.  With the Americans dead in the water on a serious global threat, it’s little wonder that the Europeans have decided to move forward on their own.

But the second argument is more deliciously ironic still.  The U.S. has argued that the European airline standards are a violation of the Kyoto Protocol.  You remember Kyoto, right?  You know, the global agreement signed by 191 countries promising to reduce GHG emissions by specified amounts?  There were two holdouts that refused to sign: Australia, and the U.S.  Last year, Australia changed its mind and came on board.  And that left…

Anyway, the U.S. is now telling Europe – all of whose member states have signed Kyoto – that they can’t regulate airline GHGs because of the Kyoto Protocol.  Picture Madalyn Murray O'Hair lecturing Christian churches on some theological controversy.

Airline GHG emissions are expected to double by 2025
In all this, the message to Americans should be clear.  We live in an interconnected world, in which American oil & coal companies and American politicians don’t control knowledge and opinion.  If we hope to suppress and ignore the vast swell of scientific warnings coming from all corners of the globe, we will bear the consequences.  Eventually, the world will give up on us and act to save their children without our involvement.   

And the resulting economic order will be controlled by those who acted on the facts, not by those who hid from them.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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