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On Secretary Kerry: Secure Global Agreement to Reduce Aviation Pollution


Airlines are definitely driven to reduce their fuel use as fuel cost is a huge variable cost in their business operation. But when I was working on reducing aviation NOx emissions in 2003 (see: I was told consistently by the airlines that: (1) they couldn't use winglets (those tips on the end of the wing) but they are now almost standard equipment on all new plans and many old ones are being retrofitted with them; (2) they can't use single-engine taxiing (only running one engine while pulling away from the gate), but was recently told by the many airlines that they often use it; (3) they couldn't reduce NOx, noise, and CO2 emissions (there would be a trade-off that would put them out of whack with noise goals) yet the new engines from Pratt & Whitney, GE, etc all significantly reduce all three; and (4) they can’t use composite materials in their aircraft as they wouldn’t be safe or the airlines wouldn’t buy them because the public would fear for their safety (yet Boeing’s new 787 is made up of 50% composite materials). So sorry if I’m a bit cynical that there aren’t inefficiencies in their airline fleet.

Plus the age of United, American, and Delta’s fleet is over 15 years, so there are clearly lots of inefficient planes in their fleet (see:

So yes they are driven towards efficiency, but clearly they don’t always deploy all the best technologies in their fleet quickly. It wasn’t until after oil prices spiked that I noticed winglets pretty regularly on planes. As an anecdote (but a telling one), why do they still have metal boxes for food and drinks instead a much lighter box (they are basically serving us food and drinks with a tank if you’ve ever had one of those hit your elbow)? Or why do they provide every seat (a significant weight) with a magazine the size of a mini telephone book? Without digging very deep I can see inefficiencies so clearly if they had a stronger policy signal they would do more. I’m convinced after years of dealing with the airlines. They can and must do more!

[And P.S. I'm working on coal in China as well. Tackling aviation is definitely not my only focus, nor that of NRDC.]

March 25, 2013    View Comment    

On Aviation Global Warming Pollution Will Rise Without New Action


Yes the US high-speed rail network is pretty pathetic. I travel on the Acela to NY every so often and have taken the high speed trains in Europe, China, and Japan. The difference between the two makes you realize that it isn't fair to call US high-speed "high speed" -- it is more like "faster than that other US train speed".

March 15, 2013    View Comment    

On Aviation Global Warming Pollution Will Rise Without New Action


I'm not sure that David and I disagree too much on the aviation solutions. We know for sure three things on aviation: (1) there are new and more efficient airplanes and technologies already coming to market; (2) biofuels have some promise in aviation; and (3) we need policy signals to drive (1) and (2) and push for the even deeper cuts that are needed.

Time and again we hear that industry will act on its own. Fuel price is a big factor for aviation so the airlines have a natural incentive to make fuel saving investments. But we know from anecdotes, evidence in the market, and my first-hand experience of working on aviation solutions almost 10 years ago, that the airlines don't deploy all the availalble fuel saving airplanes or technologies. There are a lot of reasons that sound similar to other reasons (e.g., timing of investment decisions by the management, employee uptick, etc). So we need a policy to drive these existing technologies and keepign pushing Airbus, Boeing, GE, Rolls Royce, and Pratt & Whitney to choose to build more efficient planes. Policy is important in this push. And cap-and-trade is the policy that the airlines have always chose over a carbon tax, so if they have a better mandatory policy I'm all ears. But no action or voluntary action doesn't cut it.

I'm not arguing that aviation and shipping should be our singular focus. But I'm not sure we have a lot of spare carbon in the atmosphere to ignore the doubling of emissions from a sector that is already the 7th largest emitting country in the world. Reduce power plant pollution (yes), spur EE/RE (yes), move our transportation sector to lower GHGs (yes), stop deforestation (yes), clean up aviation and shipping pollution (yes), and so on. We can't afford to turn a blind eye to any pollution at this point.

March 15, 2013    View Comment    

On UN panel urges phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies

Thanks everyone for the useful back and forth,


To me it comes down to a simple question: do you want to subsidize industries that are destroying the planet?  And this question comes into sharp contrast in the  midst of tight budget times, impending challenges of global warming, and the real prospect for clean energy to be an economic driver of future development.  Clearly the answer should be no, so it ultimately matters less about how much money this saves and how big of a climate impact you get.  Those are critical, but getting a good answer to that doesn't weaken the answer to the question of whether we should be subsidizing climate destroying action.

February 2, 2012    View Comment    

On UN panel urges phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies

Actually the G20 commitment didn't distinguish between consumption and production subsidies.  They are working on phase-outs of all subsidies. The actual language is: "Rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption..."

As for the number of $100 billion it is from the Global Subsidies Initiative which has the best handle of these figures:  Different people/countries define their subsidies differently which is part of the ongoing process.  For example, if I give you a tax break for the faster depreciation of capital than other industries get is that a subsidy?  The OECD has the beginnings of a list for OECD countries here:,3746,en_21571361_48776931_48783776_1_1_1_1,00.html  

The $6 billion per year in the US that you quote is only a portion of the subsidies that are given.  In fact, President Obama's proposed phase-out in his budget materials as scored by OMB amount to around $38 billion:

February 2, 2012    View Comment