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Chinese Fires, Castro Invective, Obama’s Beach Reads

Chinese Fires, Castro Invective, Obama’s Beach Reads

GREECE APPROVES THIRD BAILOUT

After what the newspaper Kathimerini describes as “a tempestuous night of debate,” Greek lawmakers this morning approved the deal reached with international lenders for a third Greek bailout. It will now go to the Eurozone’s finance ministers, who are due to meet later today, and all eyes will focus on the “isolated” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund renewed calls for the EU to “write-down” part of Greece’s debt, which the organization believes has become unsustainable.

  • Though successful, today’s vote leaves Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras badly wounded. The Syriza leader has lost the support of 42 lawmakers inside his radical-left party, and it’s believed he might call a confidence vote as early as next week. The BBC notes that Parliament Speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis voted against the bailout agreement, while another Syriza legislator, Panagiotis Lafazanis, told Tsipras, “I feel ashamed for you. We no longer have a democracy, but a Eurozone dictatorship.”
  • According to Kathimerini, the 85-million-euro bailout will bring drastic tax hikes in many crucial sectors of the Greek economy, including in the farming and shipping industries.

VERBATIM

“Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages, which total many millions of dollars,” former Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote in an opinion column yesterday in the Communist newspaper Granma, marking his 89th birthday with a swing at the United States. He denounced the American embargo against his country and President Nixon’s 1971 decision to end the convertibility of U.S. dollars in gold, which effectively killed the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange. But Castro’s piece makes no mention of today’s reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba, the latest step in the normalization of bilateral relations.


U.S. BELIEVES ISIS USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS

U.S. officials believe ISIS used a chemical agent against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal and CNN report. Specifically, they say, about 60 Kurdish fighters began showing wounds consistent with mustard gas Wednesday, which could have been obtained from old weapons caches.


4,000

Photo: Arnold Drapkin/ZUMA

Air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, with coal-burning believed to be the primary cause, researchers say in a new study. As many as 17% of China’s annual deaths are related to a group of tiny particles that can cause heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and asthma, the study claims. “It’s as if every man, woman and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” co-author Richard Muller wrote, describing air pollution in Beijing. Read more from Bloomberg.


CHINESE FIRES STILL BURNING, DEATH TOLL RISES

Firefighters are still battling flames in the Chinese city of Tianjin, where two gigantic explosions devastated entire areas of the port city Wednesday night, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 700, 70 of them critically, Xinhua reports. It’s still unclear what caused the initial fire, which ignited chemicals being stored at a warehouse. According to Global Times newspaper, authorities said they had found no traces of hazardous chemicals in the seawater around the city. Many fear that the materials that caused the explosions could pose a danger to the population and contaminate the air and water.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

What did Pompeii look like before Mount Vesuvius erupted? And what was on the famous Herculaneum scrolls? Modern technology can provide answers, Les Echos’ Yann Verdo reports. “Herculaneum and especially Pompeii, a small thriving town at the time of the eruption, would become famous centuries later because of how they were inadvertently preserved by the disaster. Since their discovery in the 18th century, the ruined towns have been an ongoing subject of fascination, as much so for today’s scientists as it was for their predecessors,” the journalist writes. “Researchers today have come up with an entirely new way of reconstituting the nearly 1,000-year-old disaster. The approach, which uses bytes rather than plaster, and processing power instead of physical excavation, was developed by French researchers and engineers from Microsoft Research and the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA), along with help of the startups Iconem and Cintoo 3D.”

Read the full article, Revisiting Pompeii With Drones, Algorithms And Super Processors.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



2015 EL NINO MAY BE STRONGEST EVER

Scientists believe that this year’s El Niño could be the most powerful on record, disrupting weather patterns across the globe with hotter temperatures, The New York Times reports. And although the climate phenomenon is expected to bring “enormous amounts of rain to California,” it won’t be anywhere near enough to end the state’s devastating drought.


ON THIS DAY


Happy birthday to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who turns 59 today. This, and more, in today’s shot of history.


OBAMA’S SUMMER READS

The White House has released Barack Obama’s reading list, as the U.S. president is on Martha's Vineyard for his annual two-week summer vacation. Yes, he too is reading Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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