How are planes affecting the environment?

Lately, I’ve received a lot of e-mails from readers asking about the environment and the effect of internal combustion engine exhaust on our climate.

One factor is the effect of CO2 on the environment. My understanding is that CO2 is relatively harmless and naturally occurring.

To try to better understand the latest concern about CO2, I contacted a couple of “experts” who work in the environmental area. I found the answers fascinating and wanted to share them, but when I asked permission to quote them, the answer was absolutely NOT. When I asked why, they answered that they are in the research business and do not want to risk losing a grant from either side of the problem.

In other words, “what answer do you want?” has replaced “what is the correct answer?” as the guide for doing research.

To give you an example how this works, let’s say that the ethanol people give me a huge grant to show that fuel containing ethanol gives as good or better fuel mileage than straight hydrocarbon motor gas. An auto engine operates on the energy content of the fuel that you feed it, so ethanol at 74,000 BTUs per gallon is going to give you a lower mpg than a straight hydrocarbon fuel that contains 110,000 BTUs per gallon. This means a 10% blend of ethanol will, under normal driving conditions, give about 3.3% lower mpg than a straight hydrocarbon fuel.

How would I earn that big grant money? Fuels with 10% ethanol usually have a higher octane rating, so I would find vehicles that require high octane and knock on regular 87 octane fuel. I would then measure the fuel economy of these cars under high-load, high-speed conditions where they experience knocking and the knock sensor kicks in and retards the ignition’s timing. This would reduce the mpg of the cars on the straight hydrocarbon fuel and advance the timing and improve the mpg for the cars on the ethanol-containing fuel. Voila! The people paying me are happy and I have a big pot full of money — never mind that almost no one in the real world will get better mileage.

This problem goes deeper in our society than just research grants. It is especially prevalent in big business and governments. Say you work for a large auto manufacturer and the president tells you the company needs to build a larger SUV so he can tow his 20,000-lb. boat up to the lake. He would like you to do the market research to show that this vehicle will sell well in today’s market.

You have a choice: You can tell him the truth — that this is a bad idea and you will not be able to give them away at any price — or you can tell him it is a great idea and that the company should start working on it immediately.


  1. says

    They do not want to risk losing a grant from either side of the problem.
    In other words, “what answer do you want?” has replaced “what is the correct answer?” as the guide for doing research.

    Go Figure, money is the root of the problem.

  2. JJ Michelson says

    I find it sad that people always try to point a finger at scientists after reading a few papers about the topic such as global warming. Catherine French writes “there are more causes than most scientists have considered” and then goes on to outline a few of these ideas that she claims have not been considered. HA!

    Apparently she did not work anywhere close to the earth sciences while at the U of California. As somebody who has studied not only climate change, but other atmospheric issues for decades now, she is quite naive in her statement.

    Not only have the ideas she addresses been very closely studied by hundreds of researchers for decades now, there has been hundreds of research articles published on the topics (no doubt how she learned about them).

    So why does she say scientists haven’t considered them? They have been considered over and over and over again. Some of them have been determined based on our current research to not be a significant player, others have.

    I suppose I should comment on a story about aviation design (which I know little about, though a pilot for 40 years) suggesting that the engineers should really look at using rocket or turbine power for my Cub since it gives an amazing power boost for little weight. Oh wait, they already have looked into it many times and based on current technology it just doesn’t make sense for the average pilot.

    Unfortunately Ms. French’s writing shows she has a handle on the terminology and has obviously been exposed to the research, but she decides that to fulfill her agenda she will ignore the parts that don’t back up her predetermined concepts.


  3. Catherine French says

    Recently there have been articles and reviews on the melting Arctic ice and the warming temperatures. While we may blame humans for “global warming,” Nature itself has provide a much greater source of greenhouse gases in the form of “Burning Ice” (Methane Hydrates) that in the geological past have outgassed in massive amounts periodically into the atmosphere. I will review the megatons of burning ice later on, but first there is a technical scientific issue to resolve.

    The issue of “global warming” brings up the need for good mathematics in analyzing the various data sources to determine the true causes-and-effects (“inputs” and “outputs”) and to filter out those causes that either do not affect the output, or in minor ways, or in combined effects that do not show up until certain conditions are correct. As I have spent time in R&D and also getting my series of degrees, I have found that very few scientists and researchers know how to use statistics properly to be able to filter and view data for the actual, true cause-and-effects. Too many times statistical regression methods are used that assume a direct relationship between the causes and effect, which may not be real. Although there are several books on the market, one of the best books I know of that can help researchers, analysts, and scientists is a book entitled, “Statistics for Experimenters,” by Box, Hunter, and Hunter.

    When it comes to global warming, there are more causes than most scientists have considered. For example, the increase in the number and intensity of solar eruptions has a much higher statistical correlation than the other causes/inputs. There are not many web pages that show these in good ways, but here are two articles for present the correlations rather easily.

    Although these graphs are from the late 1990s, the use of this type of statistical tool, SPC charting, has hardly ever been used by scientific researchers and investigators. Most of them have used other mathematical methods that assume a direct correlation between greenhouse gases and Global warming, as directed and determined by the process modeler. This traditional “assumption” may not be correct, and in some cases may potentially mislead scientists and modelers. These other tools can allow a scientist to purposely minimize the effects from natural causes and to maximize the effects of human sources.

    Some researchers say that they know all the effects that the increased solar flux has on the atmosphere and have included this in their models, and stated that there are no real effects from the solar flux. But then there are other scientists with different theories on the effects of increased flux that present different scenarios for atmospheric reactions, such as the geomagnetic fields and changes, volcanics and their outgassings, etc. You do not hear much in the news about these other scientists and their results.

    People should be very cautious about assuming that the global warming “effect” is due solely to “greenhouse” gases. Also, it should be noted that recent satellite data has shown that upper atmosphere is actually cooling.

    Some researchers say that their theory and modeling shows that this cooling should occur, while others show differing effects. We see that there is still not complete agreements on the causes and especially the effects of global warming. Then there are some researchers who have purposely manipulated their models, formulas, and analyses to purposely disregard all other inputs and only tie the temperatures to greenhouse gases.

    There is the other issue of how some scientists and researchers can purposely change the structure of the formulas used in their models, the mathematical terms used in the formulas, the parameters and scaling factors in the formulas, and the values of any exponentials so as to obtain predetermined results that the scientists wanted to get anyway. This allows the scientist to minimize effects from natural causes and to maximize the effects of human sources. This is “tampering” with the formulas so as to get the predetermined results that someone might want to get, no matter what the real processes are.

    In my experiences in the scientific / R&D cultures, I have seen this happen several times, even with Peer Reviews. Peer Reviews are “supposed” to catch incorrect things, inconsistencies, and errors. But this does not always occur. In some cases, the scientific peers involved in those Peer Reviews also wanted “certain” results to come out of the modeling and designs that they were reviewing. In other cases, the peers were not paying attention to critical items and issues.

    Also the issue of temperature collection has not been properly resolved. Temperatures are taken in cities that have the heat island effect. I have seen several different approached to handling and correcting these heat effects, but these approaches vary and also give various results. Then there is the issue of thermometer calibration. I have observed where some thermometers for city temperatures were not calibrated properly at the required intervals, and some times not calibrated at all. How can we trust the temperature data if there are these variations in the instruments?

    Climate models overheat Antarctica incorrectly
    Shame on those computer models!

    None of the environmentalists or businesses involved in reducing carbon emissions can go and blame massive climate changes in the ancient past on power plants and vehicles!

    It is not wise to make international policies on theories that are not agreed upon by the scientists who have been studying these causes and effects. Other scientists have published their works dealing with other causes, but have not been given the publicity such as the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has received.

    But if the Solar Sun is the major, primary cause and we are just a minor contributor, then our Governments are imposing on us a major compliance issue that will NOT solve the problem. Control of carbon emissions does NOT equal Control of the Solar Sun and its flux intensities on us. Several environmental groups have told us and openly admitted at other times that they want to use the idea of human sources in order to shut down industrial activities — their words, not ours.

    Retired Univ. of California technical staff member
    Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA

  4. says

    I think one side-effect of all of this is the devaluing of science in school and society. Science has been turned into a political tool and until it is taken out of the political equation, it will not be respected.

    This is doubly sad because of the impact of science on aviation.

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