food / travel

Veganism And Climate Change, Quest Of A Curious Meat Eater

Steak or avocado, which is worse for the environment? And other pressing questions for an omnivore flirting with a flip to the vegan life.

Ripe for discussion
Ripe for discussion
Barbara Vorsamer

-Essay-

BERLIN â€" I’m about to eat a beef sandwich. Should I not, I wonder, considering the effect of consuming beef on the environment?

Factory farming is responsible for 15% of carbon emissions, which is more than planes, cars and trains put together. Meat production sucks up 70% of fresh water around the world. The logical conclusion? Meat is evil!

The German agriculture ministry recently advised citizens to abstain from meat for the sake of the environment. The council of experts advocated a “shift toward the consumption of a climate-friendly diet”.

But that’s where things get complicated. What exactly is climate-friendly? Instead of salami, should I put avocado slices on my sandwich? Personally, I’d consider this a delicious alternative. But is it really more eco-friendly? Avocados grow halfway around the world; pine forests are cleared and artificial fertilizers, pesticides and vast quantities of fresh water are used for their cultivation.

Eating eco-friendly is tricky â€" even before ethical concerns come into play, which are also valid concerns. There are many reasons people might avoid meat or animal products. Some people don’t like the taste of it. Others think a vegetarian or vegan diet is healthier, even when there’s no scientific evidence confirming or disproving this theory. Most vegetarians care about animals and think it’s immoral, a crime in fact, to kill other living beings for food. Vegans even renounce livestock that are bred for their milk, eggs, hair or skin.

If scientists consider a vegetarian diet the most effective way to counter climate change, there’s some bad news â€" the wealthier a country gets, the more meat it consumes. But I can do my bit. Each steak I refuse to eat is one steak less that has to be produced. But if I’m trying to forgo animal products, I quickly run out of ideas. Pasta without parmesan? A curry with canned coconut milk that’s imported even though that is problematic in its own way?

Supermarkets in Germany have solutions. Shelves and shelves stocked with tofu, soy, and wheat gluten steaks. But these offerings also raise questions. If you’re consuming a lot of soy-based products, you cannot ignore that its cultivation is responsible for the destruction of certain rainforests. Furthermore, the majority of soy cultivated worldwide is used as feed in factory farms. As for the taste for of my soy Bolognese â€" it’s okay but a bit strange.

Say it with flowers â€" Photo: Helen Alfvegren

In the U.S., it grew harder to go without meat. I was living on carbonated water, pretzels and whole-grain bread.

I think replacing meat is easier when it’s not the main ingredient, just a part of it. Pizza is still good without ham, as is lasagna or kebab with wheat gluten or a curry with tofu and vegetables. But roast venison is not quite the same without venison.

But even with these changes I’ve accepted that it’s impossible to completely avoid carbon emissions from food production. The blogger Felix Olschewski says that factory farming is just as bad as conventional plant production. According to him, the solution is to simply accept that eating involves denying another animal food. “If you eat the blueberry, the bird can’t have it. You take the salad, the bunny has to starve. If you cultivate fields, you destroy the ecosystem and animals’ natural habitat.”

There are different ways of reacting to this dilemma. One is to have an “I don’t give a damn” attitude, eating as many avocados, steaks and environmentally-unfriendly sushi boxes as possible, flushing it all down with coffee that comes from capsules and is for take-away in plastic cups. Or, you can question your own behavior. Do I have to eat steak every single day? Is it the season for strawberries? Where does the milk I buy come from?

There are no clear rules for sustainable consumption because everyone has a different definition. Is it about water consumption, carbon emissions, the wellbeing of animals or chemicals in the food? What’s relatively undisputed is that it makes sense ecologically to eat little meat and to focus on regional and seasonal products.

I still haven’t become a vegan. To be honest, not even a vegetarian. But I try to eat as little meat as possible and to not stuff myself with meat burgers. Nor avocados, by the way.

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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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