PARIS â€" If you believe mankind has grown decadent and that we should look to nature for an example of modesty and self-control, you would be in for a surprise. Because when it comes to bad behavior â€" be it thievery, infidelity or even drug abuse â€" the animal kingdom knows few bounds.
Take sex, for example. The undisputed champion in this regard is the bonobo. This species of great ape, discovered in 1928, is a cousin of the chimpanzee and our closest animal relative. Unlike gorillas, which are known to have short and violent intercourse, bonobos like to take their time, engaging in sexual encounters that are both delicate and intimate. Sexual partners even go so far as to maintain eye contact. Interestingly, bonobos, particularly females, also engage in same-sex relations.
Sex isn't an obsession for bonobos, but rather the key to their peaceful lifestyles. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos do not make war. They make love. Sex has multiple functions: It strengthens social bonds, can serve as a peace offering, or an invitation to share food.
Frans de Waal, professor in primatology, recalls that in a wildlife natural reserve in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), scientists introduced a new group of bonobos to one previously settled. Chimpanzees would have turned the situation into a bloodbath, he says. But the bonobos turned it into an orgy. Tensions were diffused. Friendships were established.
Bonobos (and humans, if we're being honest here) may take the cake when it comes to sexual appetite. But they're by no means the only animal species whose sexual practices could be described as a bit "risqué."
Bonobo maintaining eye-contact â€" Photo: Martin Fisch
Male marine iguanas from the Galápagos islands, for example, practice masturbation (paradoxically) to reproduce. It is a key strategy to pass on genes because younger individuals are often chased away by older, bigger and fiercer competitors before their task is completed. They therefore masturbate until climax to ensure that they inseminate the female iguana.
Unlike iguanas, sea hares, a type of sea slug, can't masturbate. But they do have a real fondness for group sex. These hermaphrodites can form big clusters when reproducing. It only requires two individuals to attract dozens of others.
Monogamy, in fact, is quite rare in the animal kingdom. So rare that it could be actually considered a "deviant biological behavior," according to British biologist Olivia Judson, author of Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation. â€œIn a great number of species, not only do females mate with many males but they benefit from it," she explains. "The most promiscuous ones give birth to larger and healthier broods."
Then there's the issue of homosexuality, which was long ignored in scientific works and silenced because of prudery or homophobia. The topic remains something of a mystery, but it is known that various bird and mammal species engage in homosexual activity. Researchers speculate that it has a social origin or is practiced simply for pleasure's sake.
As we humans are well aware, sex can also lead to frustration, even bursts of violence â€" especially among males competing for the same partner. Among elephants, violence of this kind can really get out of hand, which may explain why the species, more so than others, is so fond of the aphrodisiacal powers of alcohol.
In one infamous incident, in October 1999, a group of about 15 elephants in northeastern India charged into a village and brought down the gates of a brewery where rice lager was fermenting in a hangar. After partially emptying the silos, the pachyderms continued their rampage, killing four people and wounding six.
Go home elephant, you're drunk â€" Photo: Dennis Jarvis
Substance abuse issues, it turns out, abound in the animal kingdom. Ronald Siegel, UCLA psychiatry department professor and psychopharmacologist, has traveled the world to study drug consumption among animals. His findings are eye opening. â€œIn every country, in almost every class of animal, I found examples of not only accidental but intentional use of drugs," Siegel explains in his 2005 book Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances.
Everything will do: fermented fruit juice, Indian hemp, opium extracted from poppies or cocaine from coca leaves. Certain sexually frustrated flies develop alcoholic tendencies. First and foremost, though, drug and alcohol consumption seems to be motivated by the quest of pleasure.
In Russia, some bears have even developed a habit for inhaling volatile vapors, a practice also known as "huffing." A photographer named Igor Shpilenok made the discovery while shooting pictures of landscapes. He noticed that bears were gathering at a local airfield and later surmised that they were attracted by the prevalent kerosene fumes. Some, he realized, were so addicted that they would steal empty barrels of kerosene and roll them to the forest where they would quietly breathe in the fumes and then collapse, completely intoxicated, in a hole they dug.
But like humans, not all creatures have the same tolerance and taste for alcohol and drugs. In a 2002 experiment to study our genetic predisposition to alcoholism, researchers in the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts conducted an experiment using 1,000 vervet monkeys, with whom we share 96% of our DNA. The primates were provided with large quantities of different beverages. Approximately 15% of them rejected alcohol completely, preferring fruit juice. About two thirds of the animals were occasional drinkers. Another 15% were heavy drinkers. And 5% displayed real alcoholic tendencies.
Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that the monkeys had differing reactions to the effects of alcohol. â€œLike in a party, you will see some individuals become aggressive, some lustful, some over-enthusiastic or sullen,â€ explains Frank Ervin, who directed the study and works as a psychiatry professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
In his 1871 work The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Charles Darwin described an American spider monkey that, after getting drunk on brandy, decided never to drink again. In this way, the monkey proved itself to be "much wiser than most men,â€ the famous evolutionary theorist wrote. Given what we know now, it would seem that Darwin stumbled on an unusually reasonable monkey.
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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