We’re conservation scientists, here’s why we haven’t lost hope

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It can be easy to lose hope in the age of what some call the planet’s sixth mass extinction. It is clear that there are no easy solutions to ongoing biodiversity loss, and while there are some inspiring local successes, we have so far failed to change the trajectory of environmental destructionthat has historically accompanied economic expansion. Meanwhile, the main underlying driver of biodiversity loss, our consumption of natural resources, is only projected to increase.

But we are optimistic that things can improve. Though biodiversity in Europe is still declining, three major trends give us hope for our home continent.

Culture is changing

People are increasingly recognising how their lifestyle choices impact the environment, and this is slowly driving a cultural shift towards sustainability. Among those aged 18-35 across the world, climate change and the destruction of nature is already considered the most serious global issue and, as this generation becomes increasingly influential, that mindset might cascade into multiple biodiversity successes. It is already affecting consumption choices, with “green” products and lower-impact diets on the rise to the benefit of both biodiversity and human health.

This rising focus on sustainability is also delivering notable policy successes. One example is last year’s European parliament vote to ban many single-use plastics, following widespread concern about their impacts on wildlife.

Perhaps most importantly, questions are increasingly being asked about how we can deliver societal prosperity on a finite planet, hence the widespread acclaim of alternative narratives that aren’t based on growth, such as Doughnut Economics. There are even small signs that these alternatives might be growing in policy influence, such as members of the European parliament organising last year’s Postgrowth Conference in Brussels.

Meat substitutes are on the rise

Meat consumption is a major threat to biodiversity globally, and in Europe a sixth of all land is devoted to pasture. One exciting driver of the reduced meat consumption outlined above is the emergence of ambitious meat substitutes which could both significantly reduce the amount of land needed for farming, and reduce other pressures on biodiversity such as pollution.

A key strength of meat substitutes is that they don’t rely on people sacrificing the “experience” of meat. This means they can work alongside demand reduction efforts to limit agricultural consumption.

A study by Impossible Foods in the US found that someone replacing half of their beef consumption with one of the company’s plant-based alternatives could lead to a 12% reduction in their total agricultural footprint. On top of that, the company claims its meatless burger scored as highly as actual beef in its own blind taste tests.

Europe can be rewilded

As culture changes, and as tasty meat substitutes becomes more popular, demand for land-intensive red meat might start to dwindle. This in turn could free up areas of land for nature restoration and rewilding.

Around 50m hectares of land has has been abandoned across Europe in the past 40 years. That’s an area the size of Spain. Alongside improved wildlife legislation, this has stimulated the extraordinary comeback of bears, wolves and lynx across the continent.

But abandoning farms and leaving them to nature does have its downsides. Abandonment is a leading driver of the loss of certain components of biodiversity (such as some open-habitat-loving farmland birds) as well as cultures associated with extensive agriculture and traditional farming practices, and so these will of course have to continue to be managed into the future.

There is also a worry that using agricultural land more efficiently could simply cause people to consume more, and thus use more farmland anyway – a so-called rebound effect.

Nevertheless, the benefits of restoring nature to lands freed from farming are potentially vast – it’s also one of the most important pathways through which Europe can meet its international climate change and biodiversity commitments. And then there are enterprises such as the “rewilded” Knepp Estate in West Sussex, England, which are showing how landscape-scale restoration can potentially create economic opportunities through tourism and low impact harvesting. At a time when agricultural subsidies are increasingly uncertain, they offer a compelling alternative to conventional farming.

All-in-all, there is little doubt that biodiversity is still under extreme threat in Europe and globally. However, we remain optimistic that emerging cultural changes, sustainable technological innovations, and an increasing recognition of the benefits of a wilder countryside might leave European biodiversity better off in future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Sophus zu Ermgassen and Natalie Yoh, PhD researchers at Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. Read the original article here.

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  • The Sky has a Limit

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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)

    🎫 How can I get in? We’re offering two ticket levels: Economy (free) and Business Class (for the price of a donation to Cool Earth). Secure your seat now!

    More about The Sky has a Limit

    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

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  • How flying cars could help solve the problem of air pollution

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    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." 

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  • Why the current state of aviation is one of the main threats to our planet

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    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."  

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    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’’.

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    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.

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    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.

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