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The changing face of air travel in light of climate change

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Do you worry about global warming? If so, you don't posses a solitary sentiment. Thankfully, though, ethics and policies are changing in response to Earth's changing climate.

"The value system which drives our society permits the satisfaction of personal pleasure," said University of Calgary geography professor Dianne Drapper. "Our system is so far removed from the reality of most. Maybe we could think differently about our choices.

"We need to make big changes in order to reduce the rate of change," she said. "The problem is ongoing and will be for a long time."

Drapper's conviction that global climate change is a problem needing urgent attention is strongly supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Drapper said she highly respects the work of the IPCC.

"Physical and biological systems on all continents and in most oceans are already being affected by recent climate changes, particularly regional temperature increases," states the IPCC's latest report.

There are many industrial sectors which release CO2 emissions to our atmosphere, but Drapper argued that, "air travel has a significant impact."

Air travellers are categorized into three different groups: business, pleasure and social aide. This system is used both by Drapper as well as in the March, 2008, issue of The New Internationalist, a social action magazine.

"The segment that could be reduced is pleasure," said Drapper, while, The New Internationalist went as far as to postulate that air travel for pleasure should be all but eradicated.

As for business, Drapper suggested that technological advancements such as the Internet and Skype should be able to significantly reduce the necessity of air travel.

"It's really important to maintain a high quality of life, without compromising our future generation's opportunity for the same," said Pembina Institute researcher and technical analyst Greg Powell.

A multiplier called the radiative forcing index is applied to emissions from air travel because the pollutants emitted at high altitude create cloud cover and reflect sunlight. While this may appear to be a good thing, keeping the incoming rays away from the earth, the negative effect is that they keep heat from being released back into the atmosphere, said Pembina analyst in corporate consulting Richard Wong.

The aviation industry is aware of the problem posed by high-altitude emissions and the International Air Travel Association has a plan to reduce the industry's CO2 emissions. The plan will be presented at the UN's climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

"We are calling on governments to adopt a global sectorial approach to reducing aviation emissions," said IATA assistant director of aviation environment, Quentin Browell.

Browell said that between 2008 and 2009 there has been a 1.8 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from increased industrial efficiencies with 4.5 per cent coming from capacity cuts, largely because of the global economic recession.

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