Greta Thunberg and Flying

Greta Thunberg and Flying

The recent school climate strike did make news around the world, but in the maelstrom of white supremacist terrorism, the Brexit shambles and probably something insane Trump said, it’s very difficult to make a dent on the global consciousness.

However one figure that started this movement has risen and become globally recognised.

Greta Thunberg, who at the age of 16 gave a staggering Ted Talk late last year said this:

“In the year 2078 I will celebrate my 75th birthday, if I have children or grandchildren, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you, the people who were around back in 2018. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren.”

I am reminding myself as much as anyone that this talk was delivered by a 16-year-old, speaking in faultless English, her second language, in front of a large audience without notes.

She is without question a force to be reckoned with and her arguments and points are damning to the current generation in power.

While I have made significant changes in my own life, only driving electric cars, becoming vegetarian, buying locally produced food as much as possible, cutting right down on single use plastics, installing solar panels and batteries in my house, LED lights, the list goes on and on, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Fully Charged is documenting the transition from burning stuff to do everything, to burning as little as possible to do as much as possible.

Over 60% of the electricity I use at home every year, to run the house and charge cars is from a combination of solar panels and Powerwall battery. There’s no burning required.

The remaining 40% comes from the grid, for which some burning is still required but less and less in the UK as each year passes.

I haven’t bought petrol (gasoline) or diesel for years, I can’t remember the last time I stood waiting while I pumped an expensive fuel into a tank, but it was many years ago.

I don’t even buy liquid fuel to power our lawn mower, that’s a battery electric model too.

That said, I’ve been in taxis, other people’s cars, busses, trains and ferries, plus an old LPG gas central heating system (which we rarely use) that all use fossil fuel so I’m clearly no purist.

And then there’s flying.

It is now obvious that all land-based transport can, and indeed will be electrically powered in the near future. It’s not hard, the technology and know-how exist today, it’s simply a matter of implementation and public awareness. It’s a socio-political and economic challenge, not a technical one.

And then there’s flying.

Clearly, and for very obvious reasons, the electrification of flying is something of a technical challenge. I mentioned this recently on the Twitters, and of course was immediately corrected as there are already battery electric planes operating around the world.

We’ve featured some of them on Fully Charged in the past. Electric planes exist. Okay, they are generally single or two-seater light aircraft and they can fly for an hour and a bit before they need to swap batteries or re-charge.

But a couple of weeks ago when I co-hosted the Nordic EV summit in Oslo, the presentation that has stayed in my mind is the project to introduce 15-20 passenger short haul 100% electric aircraft in Norway, in the next few years

Rolls Royce are developing electric propulsion for aircraft and we’ll be featuring some of that amazing technology on the show this year.

But having just flown from Northern Europe to the Antipodes and back, (not all at once, I was in Australia for 2 months) a total of 46 hours of flying in an Airbus A380, I’ve had plenty of time to think about flying.

The negative aspects of people like me making multiple long-haul flights every year are obvious. It’s unsustainable.

For a 16-year-old, the solution is simple, people like me should not fly.

90% of my flying is in connection with work. In the last couple of years Jonny Smith and I, and members of the Fully Charged production team have clocked up thousands of hours flight time.

It would be easy to argue that we could stay at home and present reports about the new Audio E Tron, or the VW ID and not travel thousands of miles to test drive it.

I think there’s a strong argument for a hands-on experience report about the innovations and developments we see. And I think it’s important to remember one thing.

All civil aviation, that’s the millions of passenger plane flights each year, contribute to around 8% of global CO2 emissions.

The energy sector, in total, that’s oil, gas, coal, for heat and electricity generation and ground transport emissions make up 72%. So the impact of flying is not negligible, but here’s my argument.

We have the technology, know-how and economic ability to reduce that massive figure for our energy needs and ground transport today.

If we reduce that figure by 99%, then our overall greenhouse gas impact on the planet would almost disappear.

We all need to consider our personal impact on the small planet we inhabit, but we also need to keep a balanced eye on where we can make a real difference and where we can do it quickly.

There is an undeniable urgency to make massive changes, thankfully the technology is developing very rapidly, but the sheer inertia of the global energy and transport industry we’ve built up over the last 150 years is very difficult to change.

I know it’s going to happen, but I’m increasingly concerned that it’s going to take too long.

There are a growing number of young people today who won’t accept the slightly lazy compromises my generation are begrudgingly making. They are angry, and vocal, and they are right.

We all need to listen to them and not gripe and make excuses about the rubbish technology we’re still so keen on using. Cleaner technology exists, we should all be pressuring the companies we buy from, the governments we elect to get off their lazy, fossil funded, corrupt arses and implement change.

But that is still only half the problem, as Thunberg so eloquently argues, we really need to change the way we live and we need to do it now.

Now I may be impressed by her because when I was in my teens and early twenties, 40 years ago, I was saying the same thing but for slightly different reasons.

It was blindingly obvious to me that we cannot go on like this, digging stuff up and burning it. At the time of the international oil crisis in the early 70’s, we all became aware of the frailty of the international oil business, the destruction, wars and corruption that it spread around the world.

But we got over it and carried on as normal, and when I say ‘we’ I include myself.

Now things are really changing, and the fight back is ugly and dirty.

Whatever the moronic politicians in the UK, Australia and USA say, coal is not clean and it’s not cheap. Neither is ‘natural gas’ cheap and most importantly, and sadly in my opinion, neither is nuclear.

So flying is the really massive elephant in my room. I want to make one more argument about the positive aspects of flying.

Last night I was waiting for my wife at Heathrow Terminal 3. She has just flown back from Australia via Hong Kong, where she was visiting her brother who lives there.

As the stream of people walked into the arrivals area (Terminal 3 is does not give a good 1st impression of the UK, just saying) it was an endless recreation of the last scenes in the movie Love Actually.

People from all over the world arriving in droves, many being met by family and friends, no matter the race or culture, people were hugging and welcoming and smiling and crying with joy.

Billions of people fly around the world every year, they visit different countries, see how other people live, eat food they wouldn’t normally experience.

And if they’re not holiday makers that only mix with people from their own country in beachside hotels, they might learn that with all the stresses, racism, globalisation, petty border disputes and cruel poverty in the world, we are basically the same.

International travel makes ‘foreign’ people less scary, it has changed the world in the last 50 years as much as the internet and television.

So yes, I have to arrange logistics so I have to fly less, but I want to end with one thing.

The fashion industry.

Unrealistically cheap T shirts, mountains of cheap clothes, the impact of producing 100 times more clothing than any of us can ever wear, the sheer tonnage of clothing that gets tossed out each day and dumped in landfill.

That might be worth thinking about too.

Written by

Robert Llewellyn

May 28, 2019

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