An End To Ideology? The Hidden Rise Of Political Pragmatism

From London to Latin America, the extremism featured on the news and political speeches in vogue belie the rise of pragmatism as the new dominant shaper of policy.

New London Mayor Sadiq Khan
New London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Rodolfo Terragno*

BUENOS AIRES - The world is changing so fast that the ideological divisions we've known are getting swept away. It's a reality that at least in our country, Argentina â€" and no doubt, others too â€" is rarely acknowledged.

It's not that ideologies are dead, or that history has ended, as they said after the fall of the Berlin Wall. What the ideologies of the 20th century sought was to establish how to best or most fairly distribute social assets, and that debate will continue for a good while. It is more the all-encompassing theory debate that is moribund; for beyond issues of distribution, fewer aim to give an answer to all social problems which had long provoked ideological confrontation with opponents.

The changes happening in the world today have even seeped into some of the ideologies that claim divine mandates.

In Iran, the ayatollahs who have installed a reactionary and repressive regime practicing misogyny in God's name. Yet in 2013, the country's then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted indignation at home when he was seen embracing, in sympathy, the widow of Hugo Chávez at the late Venezuelan leader's funeral. The clerics reminded him he could not touch any woman who was not his wife or immediate relative, including shaking hands or kissing on the cheek.

Three years later, in last month's general elections, Iranians voted in 14 female parliamentarians. They are young and exude rebelliousness. One of them is envisaging a revolutionary project, to abolish the laws obliging women to wear the hijab headscarves, which God supposedly expects women to wear for decency. The 14 legislators have in fact pledged to fight all discriminatory norms that turn a woman into her husband's or father's property.

In Qatar, another confessional state that follows the arch-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam, a generation of women is already occupying prominent positions in the state and private sectors. One is Ilham al-Qaradawi, a physicist of international standing now enjoying great prestige at home, and another, Aysha al-Mudahka, heads a top business incubation center.

Meanwhile, a man of Pakistani origin Sadiq Khan was just voted mayor of London, the first Muslim to lead a major Western capital.

The rise of Islamic extremism in the world does not contradict, but confirms this tendency. Terrorism is the last resort of those who seek, or have lost, power. ISIS wants to forge an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria because existing Islamic states no longer constitute an international threat amid the swing toward moderation even as the Tehran regime curbing its nuclear plans.

In France, the increasingly popular Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has recently declared that he is both of the Right and the Left. He is conjugating, not dismissing, the ideologies.

Call him an iconoclast, but Macron believes the times of cosmic visions and dogmas are over. Today, conservatives can back pragmatic decisions that include key progressive elements â€" and vice-versa. The trend, says Macron, is in evaluating the merits of decisions taken in power, whatever the political affiliations of those taking them.

French Economy Minister Emanuel Macron â€" Photo: Le Web

In its recent "prehistory," politicians like Tony Blair would describe this trend as "the third way." It is a perspective that denies supremacy to either state or market, promotes a deepening of democratic mechanisms and favors development plans combining interventionist and pro-market components.

The softening of ideologies can turn out to be good or bad, but for now the rules of the game are changing. Macron is not an exception. A recent poll in France for example shows that a third of all Socialist party voters opposed the building of more mosques in France, and more than half favors banning the Islamic veil in public spaces. These are postures usually associated in other countries with the right.

Another poll showed that between 40% and 50% of French under the age of 35 declare they are neither of the Left or the Right, and can evaluate policies from an independent position.

Here in Latin American, our country remains tied today to old ideological prejudices. Its political discussions are a reiteration of those that prevailed 50 or more years ago. For many, raising wages to maintain purchasing power is a "left-wing" argument. Cutting spending, necessarily, to reduce the budget deficit is on the other hand described as "right-wing." Privatizing firms is again described as right-wing, even when the state no longer knows how to run that firm. And so on.

Adopting a mixed economy, with elements of the Right and the Left, is less laborious and risky than facing the ire of fanatics forced to lift the veil of Islamic women. It is about replacing intellectual absolutism with serious thought and common sense. One can dissent over measures that may "fairly" or "unfairly" increase or reduce wealth in a particular sector, but we can already agree on so many measures that are of benefit to all of society. The truth has never been just one side.

*Rodolfo Terragno is a writer and the former Argentine Ambassador to UNESCO

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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.

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