Can you be a Christian and a politician? I'm not talking about a fundamentalist who would seek to apply Biblical precepts across all of society. I'm talking about a "moderate" Christian, one who knows how to distinguish between the moral principles that rule his life and the secular values that rule the life of the wider community.
I'm talking about a Christian who knows the Gospel wisdom: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God" — a crucial distinction for the emergence of liberalism, and one that happens not to exist in Islam. Is there room for such a creature to reconcile private faith and public service?
Machiavelli's response to this question was brutal: No, there isn't. And to cite Isaiah Berlin's interpretation of Machiavelli: Christianity is an estimable religion, admirable even. But works only for private matters.
In the public sphere, certain virtues are demanded of the prince, and these virtues are inevitably bound to collide with the Bible's message. Let's call these "pagan" virtues, even though I've always doubted this part of Berlin's conclusion. Reading Machiavelli, the only way to view the "pagan virtues' of his treatises as being shared by Cicero is in jest. Machiavelli's "virtues' mark a new chapter in the history of politics and are not classical nostalgia. But I diverge.
We're all sinners.
Or rather, I do not. Because the initial question came up recently with the resignation of Tim Farron as leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats. Everything has already been said about the British general election: the collapse of the Conservatives, the spectacular resurrection of the Labour party. But what about Farron's fate?
An evangelical Christian, Farron has conservative views on certain social matters. Like homosexuality, like abortion. Let's start with the first one. Is homosexuality a sin? The question was first put to Farron in 2015 and he answered: "We're all sinners." Such a show of humility wasn't enough. During the recent campaign, the question returned to haunt him and Farron tried to put the controversy to rest. No, homosexuality isn't a sin, he said.
That wasn't enough either. If homosexuality wasn't a sin, why did it take so long for him to acknowledge it?
Not to mention abortion. The Guardian found an interview in which Farron said that "abortion is wrong." This astonishing statement, unprecedented in the history of humankind, provoked a similar storm.
So, are Farron's opinions right or wrong?
This is the question of a fanatic. But it does not make sense as far as politics go. The real question is whether, in Tim Farron's mind, his religious values prevail over the democratically established consensus in the United Kingdom. And Farron himself was clear about that: He said reinstating a ban on abortion would be unfeasible and that banning "gay marriage" was not on the agenda.
Such a quantity of creatures devoid of any interior life.
It did him no good. As Sohrab Ahmari wrote in The Wall Street Journal, it was not enough for abortion or gay marriage to be liberalized. Tim Farron had to applaud both pieces of legislation and do away with his most intimate beliefs. It was the end of a career.
Here you have the supreme perversion of modern liberalism. There have been times when liberalism sought to separate politics and religion. It is not up to the government to legislate on the souls of man, John Locke once wrote. When it comes to conscience, the individual prevails. Similarly, it is not for human souls to determine the destiny of the polis.
Today, Tim Farron's case demonstrates just how modern liberalism has turned into a form of religion. A form of inquisition too: Whoever doesn't sing from the same hymn sheet is a heretic who deserves to burn in the flames of progressive vanity. Politics is not a place for consensus between distinct views of the common good. It is a courthouse where sinners have to confess their crimes (on their knees) and embrace the Truth (with a capital T).
The problem with this medieval view of things does not lie just in the "intolerance" it reveals. It lies also in the quantity of "empty men" it promotes: creatures devoid of any interior life who defer, like robots, to whatever is in vogue.
Those who destroy individual conscience in the name of the "common good" are destroying the last barrier against arbitrary power. A barrier they might one day need if the pendulum of fanaticism changes direction.
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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