PARIS — France is at war. At war against a terrorism that is totalitarian, blind and horribly murderous. We've known it since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris in January.
And yet, despite the French population's exceptional show of unity four days after those attacks, despite the shows of solidarity from the leaders of all the world's democracies, President François Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and France's top security officials had warned repeatedly: the threat still exists. It wasn't a matter of whether there'd be more attacks in France, but when.
So it happened this Friday, November 13. More bloodshed in and around Paris. And this tragedy demonstrates that these terrorists who have decided to target France have set no limits to their deadly endeavour.
The result of their massacre — 128 people dead and more than 300 wounded, including 80 in serious condition, at the time of writing — is odious and unprecedented in our country. They triggered what senior police leaders feared more than anything else: several simultaneous attacks in the capital and its surrounding suburbs. Near the Stade de France stadium, where 80,000 people including President Hollande were gathered to watch a friendly soccer game between France and Germany, in front of four cafés and restaurants in central Paris and finally even inside the Bataclan venue, where more than 1,000 people were watching a concert and ended up being taken hostage before the police launched a raid.
For the first time in France, some of these terrorists didn't hesitate to turn themselves into human bombs. They wanted to plunge France into panic and fear. They wanted to break France.
This folly calls for only one response. To show dignity in the face of panic. To show resolution against the sowers of death. To show lucidity in the face of chaos. And as the President of the Republic rightly said during the night, to show sang-froid the "cold blood" of steely calm and determination in the face of terror. And above all, to again show the nation's unity in the face of our ordeal.
Up to the task?
There's no shortage of questions. They are legitimate and they must be answered. The first is this: Is France's general security threatened? It's also the most pressing issue, especially less than three weeks before the COP21 climate conference in Paris, where dozens of international leaders are expected to gather, and before regional elections planned for December.
The government has declared a state of emergency and reinforced border controls. These were essential measures in this war that the jihadists want to wage on us and our country. But maintaining the climate conference and the elections is just as essential. Delaying, postponing or cancelling them would mean giving in to the terrorists.
The day after. Photo: Maya-Anais Yataghene
The second question regards the ability of the government and law enforcement to successfully combat terrorism on our territory. Is our policy up to the challenge of this threat? Is it efficient enough? Over the past two years, France hasn't stopped reinforcing the powers of the justice department and the police. All democracies have done the same, doing their best to preserve the balance between safety and freedom.
We are not without means nor determination. The French police have foiled many planned attacks over the past few weeks and months. What that tragic night of November 13 showed us, alas, is that there isn't one obvious way of preventing such attacks, not without becoming a police state or selling illusions.
The third concerns France's foreign policy and its military interventions in the Middle East and Africa. Are they the cause of this deadly spiral? Should those choices be reconsidered? Of course, France is targeted because it stands on the front line of the fight against jihadism.
A chosen target
In sub-Saharan Africa, it's fighting alongside others to prevent an immense desert area from falling into the hands of criminal networks. France's intervention in Mali in early 2013 probably saved the capital city, Bamako, from an Islamist assault. Without it, the city could have become what Kabul, the Afghan capital, was for al-Qaeda until 2001, namely a crucial supply base for terrorist operations all over the world.
Paris, as well as some 50 other countries, also responded to Baghdad's request, and French warplanes have been taking part in the war there against ISIS. But the international coalition's involvement in the region isn't justified by the sole abomination of this barbaric organization's actions. Again, it's also about defending Europe's and France's strategic interests. The oil fields controlled by ISIS provide it with the means to carry out its attacks in the West. European involvement in Iraq can therefore be seen as a form of self-defense.
Since early this autumn, France has also been carrying out airstrikes in Syria, declaring that it was acting in self-defense as it targeted training camps. Islamist commandos, it said, had been trying for a few months to hit France and were preparing their operations from Syria.
Paris' role in the fight against jihadism puts France at risk. But we shouldn't confuse cause and consequence. The French authorities aren't fighting against armed Islamism because it clearly identified France as one of its main targets. You'd have to be blind or deaf not to understand what ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Islamist movements have said. Their call is clear: to export the "holy war" to Europe, to kill the "infidels," the "Jews," the "Crusaders." This isn't just rhetoric. We have to take their word for what it is.
Who can say with certainty that inaction would guarantee our immunity? This is the very nature of the enemy we are now forced to fight. In our 21st century, religious fanaticism, Islamist in this case, has replaced 20th-century totalitarianism. Le Monde has written it before: the Islamism of absolute radicalism is indeed a totalitarianism.
And this "party of the pure ones," to reuse an expression coined by political thinker Pierre Hassner, prefers to target democracies. It fights us for what we are, at least as much as for what we do or don't do. One of the conditions of our success in this war against fanaticism is simply to remain ourselves.
*Jérôme Fenoglio is Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde
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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