Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Procrastination and Climate Change

I have 3 reports to read before a meeting on Friday so I shouldn't even be blogging. I have real work to do. But, the reports are about how satellites measure the temperature in the upper atmosphere and that got me thinking about my personal responsibility for the temperature up there.

Today, I went to the post office and sent the packages of tie-dye to their respective new owners via Parcel Post. I didn't use air mail, FedEx, or any other air express package service. It will be a little bit slower. However, if they needed to get there earlier, then I should have sent them earlier.

They are going the slower surface route because it takes less energy to ship them that way. These packages will not be on jet aircraft making contrails. Contrails are aircraft-generated cirrus clouds which in turn seed yet more cirrus clouds. Satellite imagery of the earth in the 3 days after September 11, 2001 show just how much jet travel has changed the earth's cloud cover and radiation budget (fancy words for heat and energy in and out). See this NOVA story for a synopsis. See this science news story for a more technical discussion.

Cirrus clouds do not reflect as much sunlight back out to space as thicker types of clouds. However, they trap heat at night. A major cause for the increasing deadliness of heat waves is that the earth is not cooling as much at night as it did 40 years ago. Nightime temperatures are increasing even faster than daytime temperatures, partly because of the global increase in cirrus clouds. You can blame the urban heat island effect (huge amounts of concrete) and decreasing urban tree cover (urban trees are dying) and lots of other stuff. But there is no doubt that jet contrails are a major culprit.

I do travel by jet for work quite a bit more than the average working mother. Our family also makes about one trip by jet for pleasure every year. I am not ready to give up our annual vacation. But I do ask myself if each business trip is truly necessary. This is beneficial for family harmony as well.

The easy thing to eliminate or reduce is our use of goods that travel by jet. So our packages take a little bit longer to arrive because we use surface shipping options. By the way, I walked to the post office. ;-)

Digression
Delivery trucks also use up fossil fuels and cause air pollution. By utilizing a service that goes to almost every home, 6 days a week anyways, we use our resources more sparingly. Even DHL Express uses USPS for their last mile delivery!

Link:
I write about energy efficiency and global warming frequently. Click here to read a representative sample. I also write about the impact of my work and business travel on home life. Click here for an overview.

1 comment:

  1. Ineresting post. Thank you for reminding me of things I don't often thing about, not enough obviously.

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