Enlightened Age: Making The Case For Older Politicians

Longer life expectancy is changing the demographics of our politicians. Wiser and less worried about reelection, the elderly are bound to make better leaders in our fast-moving society.

If she runs in 2016, Clinton would be 69
If she runs in 2016, Clinton would be 69
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS — An Oxford professor who is an expert in life expectancy and demography recently concluded a lecture this way: “By listening to me for 90 minutes, as you just did, you've just earned your lives 22 extra minutes.”

Statistical projections are indeed fascinating — and spectacular. For example, a child born today has a 50% chance of living to be 100 years old, as long as he benefits from an advanced, stable and nourishing environment. The Chinese are evidently right to worry about the rise in illnesses linked to their country’s pollution. But nonetheless, the average life expectancy in China increased by 30 years between 1960 and 2010.

Living to be older and in good health is one of the most positive developments of our time. It has obvious economic and social consequences — on the retirement age, the stages of life, education and careers. Retiring later and continuing to study throughout life are becoming more and more common.

The phrase “silver economy,” in fact, is a reference to all the businesses and even entire industries emerging with the increase of life expectancy — and therefore with the rising percentage of seniors in our society.

But what about the political consequences of increased life expectancy? The media occasionally coin such ideas as “70 is the new 50,” but should these new views about age change the way we view our politicians? Will we soon talk about “silver politics”? Is age now becoming an asset? Will an increasingly senior society choose older leaders? Is it more reasonable to be governed by truly wise politicians prone to putting things into perspective thanks to their age and experience, than by so-called saviors?

Older political figures will be less inclined to consider that they must relentlessly be seen in the media. They will be more thoughtful with what they do as well as what they say, and be wise enough to know that their role includes at least as much thinking as doing. These seniors will also be less tempted to spend too much time considering their future. As Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s former prime minister, said: “We all know what to do. We just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.”

A person in his 70s should be less tempted by a second term than a much younger person. In his latest essay, Le Bel Âge ("The Best Age") Régis Debray denounces the prevailing “youthism” and aims to reinstate the respect for elders that has always existed — for instance, in Asia.

Lee Kuan Yew still influential well into his 80s (wikipedia)

The figure of Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore for more than three decades, embodies this perfectly, even though being a despot is not necessary to be enlightened.

But “senior” and “wise” are not synonymous

Of course, age is no guarantee of wisdom: There are crazy seniors. But age is, a priori, a protection against impulsivity and lack of maturity or experience. In this sense, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, in France, and Barack Obama, in the U.S., may have come to power too early.

To continue this Franco-American comparison, two politicians today may appear to be the most qualified people to be elected to lead their respective countries. And this is not despite their age, but indeed — at least partly — thanks to it.

We are talking, of course, about American Hillary Clinton and France's Alain Juppé. In the former country, international issues must regain priority. Hillary Clinton is not only a great political personality, but she was also a good secretary of state — even though the president didn’t always back her. In 2008, she had the misfortune of competing in the Democrat Party’s primary against an exceptional man, who, once elected president, unfortunately did not keep all of his promises. If her health allows it, Clinton’s turn might come in 2016; she will then be 69 years old.

Alain Juppé will turn 71 during the next French presidential elections in 2017. He too has been a great minister of foreign affairs. “The best among us,” to quote former President Jacques Chirac, has the perfect mix of statehood, experience and gravitas that the tenants of the Elysée presidential palace over the past 20 years have lacked.

Beyond these two figures’ personal futures, there are real political issues. The spectacular increase in life expectancy is changing the way our society views the age of its politicians. Is respect for our “ancestors” about to become fashionable again, as it has always been in Asia?

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!