Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Airlines And The Greenhouse Effect

Two recent announcements in the local news caught my eye. The first was that the E.U. intended to impose a carbon tax on airlines, the tax being proportional to the distance flown, the argument being that the further you fly, the greater the amounts of carbon dioxide is put into the upper atmosphere, and that, of course, is bad, at least according to those wishing to impose the tax. Estimates on the additional cost for a single flight to Europe from here amount to about $800, and, of course, Europe will keep all the money. It is also noticeable that there is no suggestion that the taxpayers pay to their own government and thus contribute to their own countries' efforts against climate change, so the suspicion here is that this has little to do with climate change and more an excuse to raise cash.
 
Be that as it may, the second article was a proposal to spend a lot of cash to find ways of sending lots of material from the surface into the stratosphere to initiate clouds, etc, and thus raise the albedo of the planet, that way reflecting more light back to space and thus cool the planet.
 
It seems to me this raises two interesting questions. The first one is, given airlines produce water that at minus 50 C tends to form ice, which is white and hence a good reflector of light, there is no evidence that airlines produce a net detrimental effect. For all we know, their total effect may be beneficial. Even if they did raise the stratospheric temperature by a couple of degrees, would that be bad? Carbon dioxide at that altitude should be a net radiator, and in this context the thermosphere of Earth is about 1400 degrees C, while that of Venus is about 300 degrees C. Yes, the carbon dioxide will eventually sink to lower altitudes, but even then there is no evidence there is ever net detrimental effect unless the airlines stop flying.
 
The second question is, can we put something in the fuels that will maintain a longer albedo enhancement? The problem with ice is that it does not take long to sublime, so the effect does not last. Suppose, however, we put in an alkyl aluminium compound, or an alkyl zinc. The oxides melt at about 2070 and 1970 respectively so they will not slag, the oxides are white, you get heat when they burn, and yes, a little more care is needed in fuel handling to avoid spontaneous combustion and self-ignition but the fuel systems on aircraft would have to be redesigned anyway because you would only desire this fuel to be burnt when cruising altitude was reached. However, when dissolved in hydrocarbon solution, these materials are safer, as shown by a Youtube video that failed to illustrate spontaneous combustion with diethyl zinc.
 
Of course there is the obvious objection: you have to do quite some redesigning of fuel systems and handling. My answer is, if you want to save a planet, you have to do more than raise tax!
 
I suppose the last question is, suppose this worked and there was a massive reduction in heat retention and the climate problem was solved; would the E.U. give put massive tax rebates or other payments as a reward for saving the world? (Note that every rhetorical question deserves a rhetorical answer!)
Posted by Ian Miller on Oct 2, 2011 10:21 PM Europe/London

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