Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How to build a safe plane according to the COP21 in Paris

In the 1950s, a series of crashes affected the "Comet,"  a plane that was supposed to be a major innovation in aviation. The main reasons of the disasters can be attributed to the general atmosphere of technological optimism that pervaded the 1950s and that led engineers to overestimate their capabilities. The Comet was a hard lesson to learn, but it was learned. Today, the industry is extremely conservative and modern planes are way safer than they used to be.

Several years of work with materials for turbine engines have taught me  how careful is the aerospace industry about the safety of their products. Of course, nobody wants to think about planes crashing, not even aerospace engineers, but they must. There is no such thing as an "alarmist" in the aerospace industry. So, the industry is extremely conservative and careful; nothing goes inside a plane unless it has passed rigorous tests and having been conclusively demonstrated to be safe and conforming to the specifics. That is what makes planes one of the safest existing transportation systems.  

Now, imagine now to handle the management of the earth's climate to aerospace engineers. They would quickly understand that the earth's ecosystem can crash; meaning that it can warm up out of control as the result of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And that can kill almost everything on the planet: it has happened in the past and there is no reason to believe it is impossible now. That would be the equivalent of a major plane crash; as they say in the industry a "hull loss." So, if the planet were a plane, it would have to be immediately grounded. Safety dictates that we should stop burning fossil fuels from now.

Unfortunately, it seems that the rules that hold for the aerospace industry are not valid when it is question of managing the earth's atmosphere. Let's suppose that a plane were to be built by the methods used in Paris.

How to build a safe plane according to the methods used in the COP21 in Paris.

1. A large group of politicians and bureaucrats convenes in a city in order to decide the specifics of the plane. Aerospace engineers provide advice, but they are not the ones responsible for the decisions made.

2. Those engineers who worry that the plane could crash are branded as "alarmists" and removed from the design process. Politicians not attending the conference declare that it is impossible that any plane can ever crash and that all the worries about planes crashing are only the result of aerospace engineers lobbying for fat research grants. 

3. The specifics of the plane, speed, range, size, etc, are decided by a debate among politicians, while grassroots activists march in the streets asking for better planes.

4. No one designs the plane, Contractors provide their own specifics for each subsystem (wings, engine, control system,etc) in total autonomy. Nobody can say whether these subsystems will work together and whether the result will be a plane that can fly.

5. The management of the conference has no power to modify the proposals of the contractors, nor to make sure that the specifics that have been listed will actually be met once the subsystems are delivered for assemblage. 

6. The conference is concluded with the politicians declaring that the plane will fly.  

7. The first test flight will be performed with the plane fully loaded with passengers.

h/t Richard Heinberg


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)