Stalled on the runway: why the avian industry is refusing to innovate.

After your diet, which I have previously untangled (link below), the most meaningful environmentally conscious action is to stop flying. In fact, a single return journey across europe can undo all of the emissions saved from a meat free diet in a year.

The huge greenhouse gas release from planes isn’t catastrophic at the moment, as flying is only available to the absolute elite and so only accounts for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, by 2050 this is expected to grow to 25%, for two reasons:

First, as global affluence increases, the demand for flights increases.

Secondly, and most importantly, the rise is due to the expected decarbonisation of other industries, which have recognised the threat of climate change and have started to adapt.

Disappointingly though, the aviation industry is not looking to follow suit. Instead, more and more planes will be bellowing out greenhouse gases thousands of kilometers up, exactly where they can have the biggest warming effect. The reason, is that governments view flying as a means of economic prosperity and a grab for power on the foreign market. As such, the tax on plane journeys are absurdly low (I got a return flight last year from the UK to Italy for £14).

Companies claim to be trying to reduce emissions, but they do this by increasing efficiency. However, efficiency is reaching its peak and only marginal gains are being made. Really, there is no incentive for the aviation industry to innovate because they have almost finished improving efficiency, and there is no economic gain from being environmentally friendly.

Simon blakely, from the University of Sheffield explains that two possible solutions exist: either reduce the number of flights, or replace the fuel with a sustainable alternative. Unfortunately, he explains, fuel replacement technology seems a world away, as biofuels would require huge amounts of deforestation to be viable.

Therefore, the only option is to reduce the number of flights. Considering that 70% of flights are from frequent flyers, changing tax so that it doubles per flight made in a year, rather than staying the same for everybody, could be an option.

Diet impacts:

Car impacts:

The car: a self-necessitating parasite.

There are nearly a billion cars roaming the Earth. These alone will cause more than 2 degrees of global warming.

You drive to work in the morning, groggy from a lack of sleep, coffee in one hand and it seems a relief you can sit in a car, press a couple of pedals, turn a wheel and your there. On the way you are exempt from normal social interactions between others inhabiting the streets, with nothing but the occasional monotonous sound of a horn. You don’t need to look, talk or acknowledge anyone. You are the king.

As Adorno writes in 1942: ‘And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of the engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists?’

Whilst Adorno may be exaggerating, it shows how the car has become a symbol of individuality, power and personal sovereignty. Similar to the mobile phone, the car becomes an extension of the self, a description of your personality.

It is little wonder then, that any policy aiming to disarm the car, promote shared mobility and curb fossil fuel emissions becomes an attack on you, an attempt to take your personaility and do away with your sovereignty and independence.

Therefore, governments are ‘locked in’ to car use, essentially forced to promote cars, despite the knowledge that energy use by cars alone in developed countries would be enough to smash the 2oC global warming threshold. This dependency is also determined by the physical space around us. Houses, towns, cities and entire nations are designed around the use of the car. In fact, a whopping 25% of London is a ‘car only’ space.

It may seem hopeless, but as a consumer, it is imperative you stop driving cars, and stop now. Show the politicians that you want improved public transport rather than improved cars because if they think they’ll win votes, they will do it.

As John Urry from the University of Lancaster says, in the future we will look back and, ‘No-one will comprehend how such a large, wasteful and planet-destroying creature could have ruled the Earth.’ Whether our children think that with relief or contempt is down to us.

How the grim conclusion of your old phones and computers will make you think twice about casually throwing them out, and what you can do about it.

In a world of increasing dependency on technology, the waste of electronic devices, or ewaste, has increased exponentially, reaching a massive 44 million tonnes a year, yet most of us turn a blind eye to what happens next.

Shockingly, only 25% of your ewaste is recycled, with the remaining three quarters exported to poorer countries, where low labour costs and lax health and safety laws make recycling cheaper. Here, metals are battered, burned and bathed in acid (figure below) to extract useful parts, and the rest ignored in landfill. What’s left is a population of working women and children exposed to heavy metals in the drinking water, toxic fumes in the air and land with beds of tangled, twisted metal.

The health effects include increased chance of cancer, decreased lung function, damage to nervous, blood, thyroid and reproductive systems and to kidneys, bones and brain.

What can you do about it?

In a lot of ways, not much. As seen when Ireland refused to accept a £50million fine the EU gave Apple from tax avoidance, huge multinational companies hold the power. Have you noticed that your devices seem to brake faster now? Well you’re right, companies deliberately make phones and computers that last, on average, half as long as they used to, so that you throw the phone out and buy their newest model. Companies also make it harder to fix your phones, so when just a single part is broken you have to buy an entire device, even if the rest works perfectly.

However, some companies are working towards taking responsibility, with Nokia and Lenovo now paying you to send the phone back to them, so the materials can be used again. Even if they don’t offer this service, companies, by law, have to take the product back when you send it and dispose of it according to strict regulation. You can also buy refurbished phones, which go through similar rigorous testing to new phones, yet are cheaper and use recycled materials. Furthermore, some devices are easily fixed with a simple youtube tutorial. Most importantly though, educate your friends and family and raise awareness to hold companies accountable for their waste. Remember, supply = demand.