Building China With A Wrecking Ball

People’s rights and the rule of law are being sacrificed on the altar of economic development. By now, the scenes are turning into a collective psychosis: forced from their homes to make way for new development, Chinese increasingly are turning to violenc

A demolition site in China (Sam Sherratt)
A demolition site in China (Sam Sherratt)
Wei Yingjie

Everywhere in China, local development is in full swing – but so are wrecking balls. Economic development fever has spread to every corner of the country, and "GDP growth" now represents the Holy Grail for all local governments. Many government officials are doing everything they can to attract investment, even if it means sidestepping written rules and regulations. Demolition of existing homes and forced relocation are being carried out in the most brutal, and often illegal, fashion -- and compensation for the displaced is almost always inadequate. Outraged and despairing citizens are increasingly willing to defy the government by jeopardizing their own lives, or worse, those of innocent victims.

The list of Chinese people who have committed desperate acts after being treated callously by local authorities is endless. In December 2009, Tang Fuzhen, a woman from the southwestern Sichuan Province, burned herself to death following the forced demolition of her home. In September 2010, three members of the Zhong Rujiu family in southeastern Jiangxi Province poured gasoline over their heads because of a bungled compensation deal. On May 26, a disgruntled farmer set off a series of explosions in Fuzhou, Jiangxi Province, which shook the prosecutor's office, a government office, and the district food and drug administration building.

Over the past few days, micro blogs in China have been buzzing with the story of Chen Feng, a horticultural farm owner in southeastern Guangdong Province who is supposed to have cut off a demolition agent's head and then committed suicide by taking poison. Even though one can read nearly every day about tragedies like this caused by the forced demolitions and expropriations carried out everywhere in China, this story was still shocking to read.

Innocent victim, twice over

After closer verification, however, it appears that the facts are slightly different from those being circulated by micro-bloggers. The incident actually happened in late January, just three days before the Chinese New Year. The victim, Yang Yi, was a ranger working for the local nature reserve, and not a demolition agent. It also appears that Chen Feng had been renting a piece of land from the local reserve for five years and had been told three times by authorities to leave his land and move away. According to the Guangzhou Daily, Chen Feng had requested to move after the Chinese New Year so that he would have enough time to sell most of the unmovable trees and flowers on site, but his request was refused.

This is a double tragedy in which the desperate victim of a forced demolition decided to take revenge for his loss by killing someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the eviction decision.

One cannot but think that, had the decision-making procedure in this case been more humane, or had Chen Feng been more rational, the tragedy could have been avoided. But wondering what might have been, like people often do whenever such tragedies occur, does not bring us any closer to a real solution.

As long as forced demolitions are arbitrarily imposed, and local governments continue to act despotically, violent protests will continue. Authorities must acknowledge that they bear a lot of the responsibility, and that, if governmental officials in Sichuan had not been so barbaric, Tang Fuzhen wouldn't have burned herself to death; if the Jiangxi governmental officials had not been so cold-hearted, the three Zhong Rujiu family members would not have poured gasoline on their heads, etc.

When governmental officers initially said, "Demolish so we can construct a New China," they failed to understand that this New China based on forced relocation would be full of blood and tears.

Those who are forced to leave their land and homes can't be expected to just swallow their sorrow and anger. Confronted with forced demolition, it is normal that people try to negotiate and petition in order to protect their rights. When this fails they turn to anger and vent that anger through desperate or violent acts. Some choose suicide. But there are also those who resort to physical violence against others. And this then triggers general terror.

From protest that causes physical injury to protest that unleashes terror, the proliferation of these kinds of incidents is raising alarm bells in the government. What it means is that the ongoing policies are not just a matter of conflicting benefits or of governmental authority over people's rights, but something that can undermine social stability. If corruption can shake the foundations of the country, conflicts sparked by forced demolition are probably even more lethal – they could spell the end to all legitimate sources of political power. Even if the New China is built with a wrecking ball, surging hatred and indignation can bring it all crumbling down again.

Read the original article in Chinese.

Photo - Sam Sherratt

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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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