Paper terror in the skies

A week (?) ago I wrote a post called “Liquid terror in the skies” but it got eaten by weasels. Since then the usual lack of supporting evidence has not appeared, and today we have a paper bomb causing a plane to be diverted. One voice of sanity amongst the over reaction seems to be Ryanair, although of course they have a strong commercial interest in saying so.

The paper bomb reminds me very much of a Len Deighton short story – from “Declarations of War” – about a war gaming, when one side occupies a country house; a gardner is let in carrying some flowers, which turn out to contain the word “bomb” on a piece of paper. Within the rules of the game, the high command of one side are all dead; they then lose the game; careers end. Of course they protest that they searched the chap, and had he been carrying a real bomb it would have been found… but it does no good.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    2006/08/18

    Could the note have been referring to a bad movie? Jessica Simpson’s latest recording? Maybe a bad comedian’s performance?

  2. #2 Carl Christensen
    2006/08/18

    well it’s always over-reaction until a terrorist nut does get through and blows something up

    [Hasn't happened recently... -W]

  3. #3 Carl Christensen
    2006/08/18

    recently? well on 9/11/01 how many got through with “just l’il ole paper cutters.” and a week or so ago if inspectors weren’t a bit nervous about people with liquids in bottles, even baby bottles etc. just because one is paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get us…

    [They didn't blow the plane up, they crashed it. Seriously - has anyone smuggled stuff into hand lauggage and used it recently? Not sure what you mean by "and a week or so ago if inspectors weren't a bit nervous about people with liquids in bottles" ... you mean somehing would have happened? Maybe, though we don't know that. But since they knew who it was, why bother everyone else? -W]

  4. #4 Carl Christensen
    2006/08/18

    it’s just a bit funny that we on the “let’s do something about global warming” camp seem to be “let’s keep a stiff upper lip about terrorism.” I mean, no wonder the right-wing nutjobs have a hard time swallowing a 3 degree sensitivity to change our lifestyles; when pre-emptive acts to head off terrorists are simultaneously ridiculed as simply paranoia.

    [It is, isn't it? I think it must have something to do with your priors. I remember Ricin; the RWNJ's remember global cooling; neither of them existed :-)

    However, before we spin too far out of control, I'm not ridiculing *all* acts: just the over the top ones we have now -W]

  5. #5 Eli Rabett
    2006/08/18

    Increasingly the guys arrested in England look like a bunch a wanna bees without a clue. For the chemistry behind why their plot would have fizzled take a look at

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/

  6. #6 Thomas Palm
    2006/08/19

    Carl, the deaths from terrorism are totally insignificant compared to those from climate change. Just the European heatwave in 2003 killed more people (35,000) than terrorism has ever done in the West. (In other parts of the world drawing the line between terrorism and warfare is even trickier).

    Sure, the police should act on real threats, but we can’t go around jumping at shadows. These fake alarms are costing billions, although on second thought they do keep people from flying, thus reducing CO2 emissions. Perhaps the “left” really should ally themselves with the terrorists :-)

    [This is an interesting point... -W]

    Most of the current terrorist scares aren’t comparable to global warming, which has a solid scientific basis. They are more like the fear of radiation from mobile phones, or some of the more hysterical fear of gene modified products.

  7. #7 James Annan
    2006/08/19

    Thomas, the deaths from climate change are total insignificant compared to those from winter. Just a standard British winter kills as many people as the 2003 European heatwave, and that’s a year-on-year toll, not a one-off problem for an unprepared population (I’ve already mentioned that the summer heat in Paris in 2003 was nothing compared to an average Tokyo summer).

    We can’t go around jumping at shadows. Let’s deal with the real threat. War on Winter anyway?

    :-)

  8. #8 Hank Roberts
    2006/08/20

    James, would you look into this issue a bit further? Are you really saying you would not expect excess deaths when, say, Scotland or Chicago reaches temperatures typical of ordinary Tokyo conditions?

    The variation from what people are used to kills people, particularly old people.

    “Heat stroke and other health effects associated with exposure to extreme and prolonged heat appear to be related to environmental temperatures above those to which the population is accustomed. Thus, the regions most sensitive to projected increases in severity and frequency of heatwaves are likely to be those in which extremely high temperatures occur only irregularly.”

    http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/Library/nationalassessment/overviewhealth.htm

    In California, during the past few weeks there were public service announcements warning people that sitting in front of even the best electric fan doesn’t cool the body — when the temperature of the air is higher than body temperature, and the humidity is very high so sweat doesn’t evaporate.

    People who haven’t been in this kind of heat won’t know that from experience.

    Perhaps your point is that, in Tokyo, those who can’t afford air conditioning died off long since, so there’s no new excess mortality from normal hot summers?

    But what will happen there when the next big power failure occurs during a heat wave, do you predict?

    We’re heading into a predicted high solar sunspot maximum that will play hob with the electric grids.

  9. #9 James Annan
    2006/08/20

    Hank,

    I’m not too sure about the Chicago situation, but as far as Scotland is concerned it is very much if rather than when, for its climate to approach that of Tokyo! At the very least, the time scale for this possible climate change is so long-term that the “variation from what people are used to” argument hardly applies – by the time it is that hot, everyone will be growing up in hot conditions.

    One-off exceptional heat may kill off a whole cohort who are unused to it – this undoubtedly happened in 2003, but note that even then the excess deaths were pretty insignificant compared to the regular excess winter deaths in Europe, each year.

    I have absolutely no doubt that if such summers were to become a regular occurrence, the number of excess deaths each year would be very very much smaller, as in Tokyo (and across much of the rest of the world). People would get used to it. Building styles can also get used to it – over recent decades, the abundance of cheap energy has increased the reliance of the developed world on A/C in hot areas, but there is no doubt that better design (shade, vegetation, airflow etc) can also greatly increase comfort levels in an energy-efficient manner.

    Of course even now, there are people in Tokyo with limited use of A/C, and the hottest region of Japan (Okinawa) has the highest life expectancy. The overnight minimum temperature in Okinawa will not drop below 27C for the next week, and that is just routine summer, nothing exceptional.

    I would be surprised to find that the summer death rate here has ever been greater than the winter rate, even before A/C ever existed. But I haven’t seen figures on that, and I guess it is possible back in the days when much work was manual labour outside day-long in the sun (even now, builders and road repairmen etc seem to cope). >30C isn’t pleasant but it isn’t actually very dangerous if you learn to drink fluids and shelter from the sun. Note also the exceptional humidity here, which must be way in excess of anything that Europe has ever experienced.

    I struggled with the summer here for the first couple of years. Now, I don’t enjoy it, but neither does it fill me with the same sort of dread as it used to. Only 31 days to the equinox!

  10. #10 Thomas Palm
    2006/08/22

    James, you can (almost) always find something worse to compare to. Why bother with war on winter when obesity kill so many more people? Maybe if we diverted the terrorists into blowing up McDonalds they could improve life expectancy.

    I’m sure people can adjust to a different climate, but as Hank suggested it’s the change that kills, the heatwave that people haven’t encountered before and thus don’t know how to cope with. In a changing climate there will be more of these extreme events that catches people by surprise, and that a few climate scientists have predicted them will realistically not make society prepared. People rarely listen to warnings about things that have never happened.

  11. #11 James Annan
    2006/08/22

    Thomas,

    I’m not trying any spurious lomborgian dodge, but trying to compare the numbers killed with increasing heat, with the numbers saved by decreasing cold.

    In a changing climate, will the increasingly hot summers outweigh the increasingly warm winters? Even without any adaptation at all, this seems to result in a clear win (in human health terms) for several decades to come. But this fact is hard to discern from the public discussion of this issue.

  12. #12 Eli Rabett
    2006/08/23

    The problem with James’ question is where. 5C is a disaster in Bangladesh, not much of a problem in say Italy. 40 C is normal in Baghdad, but not in Boston. In this, as much else, the negative aspects in either direction can be handled given enough time and money to prepare.

  13. #13 James Annan
    2006/08/24

    Note that it was Thomas who specifically brought up the subject of the European heatwave. I agree there are likely to be a range of winners and losers in different regions and at different times. Any reasonable analysis has to look at the overall picture.

  14. #14 Eli Rabett
    2006/08/24

    Actually on this one I’m with RPSr. The issue is so small site and time (e.g. time needed to adapt) specific that I don’t think you can get a meaningful global answer.

    OTOH sea level rise is a global issue, artic warming is over a very large region, Amazon desertification is over a very large region and all of these things will have significant global consequences. Here, as in many problems, the global/large scale situation is easier to analyze than the small scale/local issues.

    However, I do think that the point about the problem being soluble given time and money is the correct one. This was also the US NAS answer about global health effects from climate change. The problem, of course, is that adapting costs money, a lot of money. It is NOT a no cost option, a wave of the magic adaptation wand, and the proper balance between adaptation and mitigation is a min-max problem (we do want the min part). If you say only adaptation or only mitigation you end up with the max expense.

    This is one of my substantial beefs with the Pielke’s. To merely say adapt (or mitigate), without saying how and how much it will cost is simply to try and wave the problem away. Somewhere between useless and deceitful.

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