“Nations will revert to their natural tendency of hiding behind their borders, of moving towards protectionism, of listening to vested interests, and they’ll forget about transcending those national priorities,” said Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund back in 2013.
The problem is that, nowadays, nation-states can’t even think of solving the world’s problems on their own. The most pressing challenges for the humankind are obviously transnational and so complex that no country has enough resources to tackle them by itself.
But even in the case of issues that apparently affect just a single country, solving them always requires the conjoined effort of many states. Technology entangled the world in a web of relations and there’s no way back.
However, it’s evident that in Europe, and in the Western hemisphere in general, nationalism is making a comeback and there’s an increasing number of people that find it difficult to think beyond the boundaries of their own country. This is literally a quite limited horizon. If we want to deal with global issues such as climate change, we need to start thinking of the Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders
Of course, nation states will not disappear any time soon. But if we start thinking beyond them, we might come up with more effective solutions to the world’s problems. In other words, what we need is a view shift.
However, if changing idea is already a daunting task for our stubborn minds, changing our world’s view (again, quite literally) sounds like a desperately tough endeavor; how can a person that grew up in a world divided by rigid borders, forget all of a sudden about them?
After all, the only people who truly experience the Earth as a single entity are astronauts. From space, astronauts can contemplate the planet as a minuscule dot, lost in the sea of nothingness. From up there —astronauts say — the Earth looks like “a fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.”
Viewing the planet from the space changed many astronauts’ perspective on the planet itself and on other earthly matters. Among the many spacefarers who reported this cognitive shift in awareness — that is known as “overview effect” — there’s the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who said that, while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before. Unfortunately, as of June 2018, only 561 people made it to the space and experienced the Earth as a single environment.
But what if we could make experience the “overview effect” to hundreds of thousands of people? What if we could all have the chance to see the Earth as a fragile ball of life nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere? Even better, what if every child had this chance? After all, a child’s mind has not yet been molded and made rigid by decades of news about wars over borders and similar matters.
A generation of children who experienced the “overview effect” would probably become a generation of adults more prone to see the Earth beyond the narrowness of national boundaries and interests. It would probably be a generation better equipped to front global challenges such as the climate breakdown.
In a way, this is the goal of a newly established Dutch organization called Spacebuzz. Few days ago, while ruminating over these issues, I bumped into their website. Their mission statement is to become “an educational project to inspire children worldwide to become ambassadors of our planet through the experience of viewing Earth from space like an astronaut.”
In particular, they want to visit schools with a custom-made immersive VR experience and make children between the age of nine to 12 experience the overview effect as if they were astronauts hanging on in space. The project, that is encouraged by real-life ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers, is still in its launch phase but it already looks like a promising stride in the right direction. And that direction is up, to the stars, from where the Earth looks like a little fragile ecosystem.
As astronomer Carl Sagan said describing the “Blue Pale Dot”, a photograph of Planet Earth taken by space probe Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”
It is up to us to (try to) stop climate change and find sustainable ways to grow and develop. And it’s up to us to solve these problems cooperating together, beyond outdated national borders. A project like Spacebuzz might definitely help.
This article was originally published on Forbes
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Join us for the second of our Kinder Conversations - the Sky has a Limit.
Following our investigation into the Future of Meat in February, we've turned our attention to the sky. We'll be talking about whether air travel can be more sustainable, and how.
We're delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at TQ, the Amsterdam tech hub where we're based.
📅 When Monday 17 June 18:30 - 20:30
📭 Where TQ, Singel 542, Amsterdam
🎯 Why should I fly Kinder? To hear about the latest research and technology making air travel more sustainable. To find out what you can do to reduce the impact your flights are having. To share a drink with like-minded travelers, and sample some of our vegan snacks (including beloved Professor Grunschnabel ice cream, as seen at the Future of Meat event)
Here at Kinder, we believe that greener travel is one of the key ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis. Travelling green can mean a lot of things, but right now we’re concerned about the aviation industry.
If aviation were a country, it’d be a top 10 polluter - and C02 emissions from air travel are growing many times faster than any other form. We’re already in a very dangerous position, and although there are many potential solutions, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do about it.
That’s where Kinder Conversations comes in.
Kinder Conversations is a series of events which delve into the biggest issues facing the world.
At the Sky has a Limit, we’ll be bringing together representatives from research and technology, the aviation industry and the not-for-profit sector to talk about sustainable air travel. We’ll hear more about the problem, and a lot more about the solutions.
Plus, there’ll be time to get a drink from TQ’s bar (buying a drink helps our friends from TQ support more events like this), try some vegan ice cream, and chat to fellow travellers about the steps you can take to travel greener.
✈️ Are you ready to #flykinder? Then secure your boarding pass here.
I don't have a driving license and when pressed about getting one by friends tired of chauffeuring me around I usually say I will only get one if I can drive something cool, like the Batmobile or a flying car. Unfortunately, I might have to honour that promise as it seems that flying cars are finally taking off (alas, no commercial Batmobiles in sight).
Indeed, several promising startups around the world are working to deliver the "car of the future" over the next few years. Like the Dutch company PAL-V that showed off a limited edition of its flying car at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland.
The PAL-V is a hybrid between a car and a helicopter (or more precisely, a gyrocopter), able to reach a top speed of 160 km/h on the tarmac but also get airborne in just 5 minutes, hitting airspeeds of 180 km/h over a range of up to 500 km. But since buying a PAL-V will set you back around € 350,000 I might have to pass on this one. Moreover, flying this beauty requires not just a driving license but also (understandably) a license to fly, and that's just too much for me.
Thankfully, other companies are developing vehicles that need no driver at all. Aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter, for example, is working on Nexus, an air taxi capable of taking off and landing in the middle of a city (whereas the PAL-V still needs a runway, albeit short, to get airborne).
Called VTOLs (short for Vertical Take Off and Landing), these aircraft aim to become sort of an Uber of urban air travel, bringing customers to the opposite part of the city or even to a nearby city in a matter of few minutes.
If you're at JFK airport in New York, for example, and have a meeting in Manhattan, instead of embarking on a 1-hour, Cosmopolis-style taxi ride, you could just hail a flying car and be downtown in 5 minutes.
Futuristic as it may sound, concrete plans to make it come true are underway. Earlier this month, German startup Lilium successfully completed the first test of its new five-seater Lilium Jet, an electric vehicle that, according to the company, will have a range of 300 km and a top speed of 300 km/h.
The reason electric flight is such an exciting area of research is not just because flying taxis will allow a handful of high rollers to drastically cut on their commuting time. Electric flying cars might be really good for the environment too.
A recent study published by Nature highlighted that, in some cases, flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.
Moreover, developments in the field of flying cars could also boost the research on electric flight at large, including long haul electric flights, sort of the Holy Grail of aviation. And, as known, the civil aviation industry needs to find effective ways to lower its carbon emissions as soon as possible.
However, as explained by Hugh Hunt in an article on The Conversation that we republished here on Kinder World, "gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars’ promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion."
Let's get this one thing straight: most people prefer flying to other modes of transport, and we seem to do it more and more often. The airline industry is booming and 4.1 billion passengers have been transported last year. Almost every figure one looks at shows the impressive increase in flights over the last two decades.
Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Association for Flight Transport proclaims: “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months. Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure, and education. Aviation is the business of freedom."
However, this ‘business of freedom’ runs on fossil energy carriers as planes still almost exclusively fly on kerosene. Kerosene is a fuel produced by oil refining and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major product of burning kerosene. The 2-5% of all global CO2 emissions the aviation industry emits is caused by its fuel consumption (and choice). And unlike other fuels like diesel or gasoline, airlines don't pay taxes on kerosene in most countries — making cheap air travel possible.
In 2018 Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair became number 9 in the list of Europe’s biggest CO2 emitters and still claims to be the ‘greenest and cleanest airline’. Andrew Murphy – the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment — argues that Ryanair the new coal when it comes to climate pollution. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, dismisses such claims by saying the claims are ‘’complete and utter rubbish’’.
Other airlines, like KLM who partly uses renewable jet-fuel, are acknowledging the problem but they aren't too far behind Ryanair on the list of emitters.
The growth of the industry is not expected to slow down. India and China are the biggest growth markets, the latter alone is building 200 new commercial airports in the next ten years. Moreover, industry forecasts suggest that emissions will rise by 700% until 2050 which amounts to more than 4% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.
If we want to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, every the average earthling has a quota of two tons of CO2 per annum but just a return trip between New York and Amsterdam generates three tons already.
Compared to other modes of transport planes are the biggest CO2 emitters per travelled kilometre followed by cars, buses and finally trains which are the least polluting. The CO2 emissions, however, are only one half of the medal. The impact of flying on global warming is different than most other transport as it happens in the air high above the ground where the processes that cause or reduce global warming happen. These include CO2 and nitrogen oxide emission but also cloud formation, ozone and soot as well as methane reduction.
The climate impact of the emitted greenhouse gases in the stratosphere are three times higher than on the ground. Flying also causes condensation trails and fog clouds in certain weather conditions. Such clouds can have a warming or a cooling effect on the climate. One way to improve the climate effect of flying would be planning better routes where warming clouds are avoided and the formation of cooling clouds is favoured — our current routes have an overall warming effect.
So, hypothetically, some flights with clever flight-route planning might even reduce global warming. However, as we don't have time to hypothesise, we need to find and urgently implement other ways to bring down the impact of flying, like using better fuels or even better planes.
This article was written by Eric Schuler for Kinder World. Schuler is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and works on new industrial sustainable chemistries to turn captured CO2 into useful things such as plastics or fuel. He's also a photojournalist with an interest in climate and land-use change.