2015, not such a good year (part 1: aviation and environment)

Happy new year, friends! Despite the discombobulation of having to find new chambers last year, I came away with a better feeling than I did about 2014 which (my thoughts on 2014 were here).  I took a sabbatical which probably had a lot to do with it (just back today, really).  That was pretty sweet. And you know, we solved global warming, those Parisians really showed Al Qaeda and ISIS how to stick it up themselves, with their ‘Je Suis Charlie’s and rambunctious singing of the Marseillaise, more than one government seemed to right itself, and David Cameron really isn’t that bad compared to some other conservative leaders getting about.

And my goodness, what a year for apologies! Wasn’t it delicious to see the appalling Speaker fall off her perch after so tenacious and prolonged a defence of her chopper charter to — of all places — the home town of the mohawked Mayor? Speaking of Darren Lyons, he turned up at Oktoberfest in a t-shirt featuring a full frontal naked Madonna hitch-hiking, with the words ‘Gas, grass or ass, nobody rides for free.’ He defended the appropriateness of wearing the artistic nude but apologised for the ‘sexist scrawl’, explaining that he hadn’t read the t-shirt before wearing it out, no doubt focusing on certain of its other features.  Then Tony Blair apologised ‘for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong’. Hilarious.

It was still a pretty bad year though, as years go, as we will see in the next couple of days’ posts.  Today, we look at the planes forced from the skies and the state of the environment.

Aviation

Atypical air crashes continued to make news and kill hundreds, but the much vaunted jet pack appeared to become a reality, co-developed by Australian David Mayman. He flew around the Statue of Liberty landing especially stylishly (if the clip’s authenticity was good enough for the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s good enough for me).

The pilot of a German Wings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf appears (assuming his sanity) to have murdered 150 of his passengers by locking the co-pilot out of the cockpit while he was taking a leak and flying the plane into some mountains.

Then terrorists are thought to have blown up a Metrojet Airbus over the Sinai en route from Egypt to Russia on 31 October, killing 223 Russians and Ukrainians, and a Belarussian.  It was the deadliest aircraft bombing since 1988.  ISIL claimed responsibility.  Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons about the incident caused great offence in Russia, where there were calls for its ban as extremist literature.

Environment

The world’s population rose to about 7.4 billion, three quarters of whom lived in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Fewer than half a billion of them were in the Middle East and quite a lot of them were Asian maids and construction workers. It was predicted last year that by 2050, one in four of us will be in Africa. Only 10% of the world lived in Europe and 5% in North America, even though the US is the third most populous nation. Fewer than 9% lived in South and Central America.

We, Oceania, accounted for less than 1% of the world’s people, but we still managed to win every sporting contest conducted, none moreso than the women (who bordered on mainstream for the first time, at least in the T20 cricket). Michelle Payne even rode Prince of Penzance to victory in the Melbourne Cup. My seven year old son refuses to believe that the West Indies were ever any better than Bangladesh.

2015 was the warmest year ever recorded, beating the previous record set in 2014. And the prediction is that 2016 will be warmer still. No wonder you felt all warm and cuddly after the Paris Climate Conference achieved a non-binding plan to cut global warming to 1.5 degree above pre-industrial levels. Did you know it is presently still a draft, and will not come into force unless 55 countries with at least 55% of greenhouse emissions ratify it? Whether Congress will allow Mr Obama to do so remains to be seen. But James Hansen, the scientist seen by many as the father of global awareness of climate change, said: “It’s a fraud really, a fake … It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.”

The Pope had published a 180 page encyclical on the environment, telling industrialised nations to pay their grave social debt to other countries, and telling everyone to phase out coal. The Presidents of the United States and of China also unexpectedly announced an agreement. The detail was important (China agreed to slow and then stop its emissions by 2030 while the United States agreed to reduce emissions by up to 28% by 2025.) But so too was the rhetoric: when the Pope, POTUS, and the Chinese President start banging on about climate change, the parochial fanaticism of some in the Australian government was difficult to spin. Because there are about 1.4 billion Chinese, a third of a billion Americans, and about 1.2 billion Catholics outside those two countries. Those three blokes might be said in some sense to speak for 2.7 billion people.

Nevertheless, Australian politicians are great at dressing up the fact that our emissions have largely only ever gone up by claiming to be meeting and beating emissions reduction targets, as Lenore Taylor brilliantly explained in this article. At Kyoto, for example, Europe and the US promised to reduce 1990 emissions by about 8% by 2012, while Australia promised to cap its increase over the same period at 8%. Then, in a last minute negotiation, Australia negotiated a clause relating to land clearance which meant, in the context of reductions on land clearance already legislated, that it did not have to do a thing to ensure that the increases in emissions we proposed did not exceed 8%. Then we refused to ratify the treaty until Kevin Rudd came along. When we met and beat the Kyoto targets, we were allowed to bring forward the difference as a credit. And so on and so on.

Australia produced more greenhouse gases than ever before. While the world may just have managed not to emit more greenhouse gases than ever before, we kept emissions at just about the same as the previous record in 2014 instead, largely because China stopped using as much coal and generated half of its power from renewables.

The world cut down 15 billion of the 3 trillion trees with a diameter of at least 10 cm on the planet, despite the fact that we have already lost 46% of its trees.

Indonesia is the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, mainly as a result of burning down their forests. Indonesians (illegally) burnt 2.6 million hectares of forest and farmland in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, principally in order to produce palm oil, the main ingredient in most margarines, and present in about half the packaged items in our supermarkets. The cost to the economy of South East Asia was estimated at US$16 billion. The maximum profits theoretically possible from growing palm oil on the burnt land were estimated to be US$8 billion. More than half a million people suffered acute respiratory infections in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Marathons were cancelled. Melbourners got stuck in Bali because flights were cancelled. Amazingly, it is thought that the smoke will lead to the ‘premature death’ of over 100,000 people, and I’m not sure how this is different from the fires killing that number of people. Further, the greenhouse gas emissions from the fire was thought to be likely to be greater than the entire emissions of the UK for the year. This was a real mother of a flame, putting Australian bushfires to shame.

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