SPOTLIGHT: EXPLOSIONS IN THAILAND, QUESTIONS OF LABEL
Thailand was hit by a series of coordinated blasts across the country last night and early this morning, leaving four people dead and 34 injured. The Bangkok Post reports that the heaviest damage was in the resort town of Hua Hin, where explosions killed two and injured dozens, including foreign tourists. The popular island of Phuket was also targeted in the string of attacks that struck at least five cities on a public holiday marking the queenâ€™s birthday.
Tensions were running high in Thailand after last weekendâ€™s vote on a new constitution and in the run up to the anniversary of a bombing that killed 22 people in Bangkok last year. â€œThe bombs are an attempt to create chaos and confusion,â€ said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
What is unclear is who was behind the explosions. "It's too soon to jump to any conclusion," deputy police spokesman Poll Col Krisana Pattanacharoen was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "But what we know for sure is that the incidents are not linked directly to any kinds of terrorism, in fact it's local sabotage and we are trying to identify those responsible behind the scenes.â€
As we get endless news of attacks from different corners of the world, itâ€™s worth taking a step back before jumping to labels of any kind â€" especially when the motive remains unknown. An article by Süddeutsche Zeitungâ€™s Joachim Käppner, translated exclusively into English by Worldcrunch, says that societies often dismiss bombers and terrorists as â€œinsaneâ€ and â€œcrazyâ€ but argues that these labels hide an uncomfortable truth: According to forensic experts cited by Käppner, pathologizing such crimes only blurs the culpritâ€™s responsibility and stigmatizes those who are truly mentally ill.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)
- International Youth Day focuses on poverty eradication and sustainable consumption.
- World Alternative Games open in Wales. They include bog snorkelling, wife carrying, husband dragging, gravy wrestling, Russian egg roulette, backward running and worm charming.
- Fidel Castro turns 90 on Saturday.
TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
Russian president Vladimir Putin announced counter-terrorism measures and naval training exercises in the Black Sea, a day after he accused Ukraine of sending saboteurs to Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Ukraine, worried about Russia ramping up fighting in the war between Kiev and pro-Russia separatists, put all troops near Crimea and in eastern Ukraine on high alert, Reuters reports.
â€" MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
No Bumps In Translation â€" Reykjavik, 2001
Scientists have discovered that Greenland sharks are the longest-living vertebrates known on earth. Their lifespan is believed to be at least 400 years, and they reach sexual maturity around the age of 150.
COLOMBIA AND VENEZUELA TO PARTIALLY REOPEN BORDER
Colombia and Venezuela have agreed to partially reopen the border between the two countries, almost a year after President Nicolas Maduro closed it on security grounds. El Espectador reports that Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed on other bilateral measures including fighting transnational crime.
â€" ON THIS DAY
Happy birthday to the â€œSultan of Swing,â€ turning 67 today! That, and more, in your 57-second shot of History.
POLIO CASES IN NIGERIA
Two new cases of polio were reported today in Nigeriaâ€™s northeastern state of Borno, marking the return of the disease to the country after two years of being polio-free. According to local daily Vanguard, Nigerian authorities will launch a drive to immunize 5 million children to prevent the virus from spreading.
Cuban illustrator Edel Rodriguez turned up the heat on Donald Trump in TIME magazine's latest issue. Check it out here.
PHELPS MATCHES ANCIENT GREECEâ€™S LEONIDAS
American swimmer Michael Phelps shattered yet another Olympic record yesterday, winning his 12th individual medal and matching the tally of another famous Olympic athlete â€" albeit one from ancient Greece. Leonidas of Rhodes, a runner, had won 12 solo medals at four Games between 164 and 152 BC, possibly one of the worldâ€™s oldest records.
MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH
- Mexicoâ€™s Problem Goes Beyond Trump, Straight To The American People â€" America Economia
- Iranâ€™s Divorce Rate, A State Secret? â€" Arman-e Emrooz
- The Other Rio â€" Glaucio: Iâ€™ve Saved Some Kids, Lost Some Too â€" Essay
FIJI CELEBRATES FIRST OLYMPIC MEDAL
Fijiâ€™s rugby sevens team won a gold â€" a first for the South Pacific archipelago. Fiji Times reports that Aug. 22 was declared a public holiday to celebrate the teamâ€™s victory. From the stands in Rio de Janeiro, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama expressed hope that the countryâ€™s â€œGDP would go up in the next couple of weeksâ€ after days of â€œnil productivityâ€ as citizens breathlessly followed their teamâ€™s success.
STAR WARS STRIKES BACK
And obviously, stop everything youâ€™re doing, to watch the new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
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.
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.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
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 airportcommons.wikimedia.org
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.
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.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
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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