Planet Eaters

January 31st 2023

Daily Newsletter

Today we bring you part two of our in-depth reporting project on LNG and the “green gas” market, featured below. Don’t miss part one here.

Can an economic giant clean up natural gas — and then swap in hydrogen?
by Jeffrey Ball
Special report: South Korea, a top importer of U.S. natural gas, wants to curb its carbon emissions and ultimately shift to cleaner energy. Will its bid work?
How the LNG export boom clashes with climate goals — visualized
by Geoff McGhee, Canary Staff
The U.S. is about to become the global leader in exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG. What does that mean for the climate?
This utility is blending hydrogen into fossil gas. Can it scale?
by Frank Jossi, Energy New Network
Some households in Minnesota have been using a gas blend with 5% hydrogen to cook and heat their homes. Results have been positive so far.
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Today Canary Media is proud to bring you part one of a special reporting project, months in the works, on LNG and the “green gas” market. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.

Inside the high-dollar race to sell natural gas as low-carbon
by Jeffrey Ball
Special report: Rival U.S. firms lob differing, and debatable, climate claims as they market “green” liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to a warming world.
Xcel to install Form’s long-duration batteries at retiring coal plants
by Julian Spector
The utility is testing Form’s 100-hour storage tech to achieve its lofty carbon-reduction goals — and at a scale bigger than nearly any battery plant on earth.
Green steel startup Boston Metal raises $120M for its fossil-free tech
by Maria Gallucci
The MIT spinout said its latest funding round, led by steel giant ArcelorMittal, will allow the company to build its first full-scale green steel plant.
Screen Shot 2023-01-27 at 10.56.55 AM-1
Last week, President Joe Biden took note of our recent story on the growth of clean energy jobs in the U.S. Click here to read that story. You can also stay up-to-date on the latest from Canary by following us on Twitter here.
Follow @CanaryMediaInc

January 30th 2023

Our Stars Are Disappearing From The Night Sky – Here’s Why

A third of the world’s population now can’t see any stars at all. That’s pretty bleak.

Kate Nicholson


Kate Nicholson

20/01/2023 12:13pm GMT

The Milky Way in the dark night sky with the illuminating stars, part of the galaxy that contains our Solar System as seen from a sandy beach in Halkidiki, Greece
The Milky Way in the dark night sky with the illuminating stars, part of the galaxy that contains our Solar System as seen from a sandy beach in Halkidiki, Greece

Star-gazing is becoming increasingly difficult in the modern world – and new research suggests it’s only getting worse.

NOIRLab, a US research centre for astronomy, has found that a child born today may be able to see, for instance, 250 stars in the sky in their particular location. But, by the time they turn 18, this may have fallen to 100.

In fact, now around 30% of the world’s population can no longer see all the stars they should be able to, according to NOIRLab’s citizen science programme called Globe at Night, where crowdsourced results were submitted online.

And we should be able to see several thousands of stars on a clear but dark night, all across the Milky Way, without any telescopes, just through patient sky-watching.

Where are the stars actually going?

Obviously, the stars haven’t actually gone anywhere.

It all comes down to our own light pollution – something we’ve previously measured through the satellites looking at the Earth’s brightness at night – as this obscures our view of the night sky.

The US at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.
The US at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.

But these new findings from Globe at Night show that our stars are actually disappearing from view at a faster rate than satellite measuring previously suggested.

Astronomers have dubbed the phenomenon “sky glow”, where the night sky is lit up by something other than the natural elements like stars and the moon.

Globe at Night suggests an increase in sky brightness (from sky glow) of 9.6% per year over the last decade, compared to the 2% measured by satellites.

Astronomer Connie Walker warned that these findings emphasise “the importance of redoubling our efforts” to reduce “sky glow”.

The crowdsourced research, based 50,000 observations gathered from Europe and North America between 2011 and 2022, provide an estimate of “naked eye limited magnitude” – a measure of how bright something needs to be before it can be seen.

How serious is sky glow?

Sky glow is unnatural and disrupts the natural cycle of day and night, meaning it will affect the wildlife, as many animals’ instincts are driven by their response to daylight.

National Geographic has also emphasised that light pollution affects humans too, lowering melatonin production, triggering sleep deprivation, fatigue, headaches, stress, anxiety and other health problems in humans.

And, while the study was focused on findings from Europe and North America, the increasing use of artificial lighting across the rest of the world means sky glow is likely to occur there too.

There’s also concerns about our previous measures of what is happening to the night sky.

“This shows that existing satellites aren’t sufficient to study how Earth’s night is changing,” the study’s lead author Christopher Kyba, of the German Research Centre for Geosciences, said.

January 29th 2023

Contrails are a problem for aviation – but there could be an easy solution

By Jacopo Prisco, CNN

Published 4:23 AM EST, Thu January 12, 2023

While energy sources are still evolving, UK-based Faradair Aerospace is developing a design to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of whichever fuel prevails.
Faradair's 18-passenger BEHA aircraft, made from lightweight composite and shown here in a rendering, can carry a five-ton payload and has a 1,150-mile range.
Satavia, a company based in Cambridge, England, has developed software and analytics to reduce the formation of contrails, the streaky clouds that have a significant impact on climate.

Satavia, a company based in Cambridge, England, has developed software and analytics to reduce the formation of contrails, the streaky clouds that have a significant impact on climate.ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Contrails are ice clouds, and form only under particular atmospheric conditions. They look harmless, but one study calculated that they could actually account for <a href=

Etihad's Greenliner program first tested Satavia's software on a commercial flight in October 2021. Along with the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel and several other technologies, the carbon emissions of that particular flight were reduced by 72%, the airline says.
As aviation attempts to decarbonize, a new generation of aircraft that does away with fossil fuels is emerging. Among them is solar-powered Skydweller, which is based off Solar Impulse 2, an aircraft that has set numerous flight records.
Skydweller Aero aims to produce the world's first commercially viable "pseudo-satellite" -- a solar-powered airplane capable of staying in the sky for months at a time. Skydweller is pictured landing after its first flight, in December 2020. The men on bikes are there to stabilize the aircraft by catching the poles protruding from the wing, a necessary step because of its tremendous wingspan.
In 2016, Solar Impulse 2 circumnavigated the Earth without using a drop of fuel. It's pictured here on July 26, 2016, before landing in Abu Dhabi to complete its 26,000-mile (42,000-kilometer) journey.
ZEROe is a <a href=

Airbus plans for three hydrogen-powered, zero-emission aircraft which can carry 100 to 200 passengers. It hopes to launch the first ZEROe aircraft in 2035.
On September 24 2020, ZeroAvia flew the world's largest hydrogen-powered aircraft at Cranfield Airport in England, showing the possibilities of hydrogen fuel for aviation.
While some are exploring hydrogen power, others are testing electric planes. Washington State-based Eviation Aircraft is behind the nine-passenger all-electric Alice aircraft, which produces no carbon emissions.
The aircraft, shown here as a rendering, has a range of 440 miles and is intended for feeder routes. It also comes in a cargo version; DHL Express has ordered 12 slated for service in 2024..
Alice's innovative interior won the "Cabin Concepts" category at the Crystal Cabin Award 2020.
In December 2019, Vancouver-based seaplane company Harbour Air <a href=

MagniX made headlines again in June 2020 when AeroTEC's nine-seater eCaravan  -- powered by the <a href=

On March 25 2022, an Airbus A380, the world's largest commercial passenger airliner, completed a test flight powered entirely by SAF -- sustainable aviation fuel -- composed mainly of cooking oil.
While energy sources are still evolving, UK-based Faradair Aerospace is developing a design to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of whichever fuel prevails.
Faradair's 18-passenger BEHA aircraft, made from lightweight composite and shown here in a rendering, can carry a five-ton payload and has a 1,150-mile range.
Satavia, a company based in Cambridge, England, has developed software and analytics to reduce the formation of contrails, the streaky clouds that have a significant impact on climate.
Contrails are ice clouds, and form only under particular atmospheric conditions. They look harmless, but one study calculated that they could actually account for <a href=

How technology is helping aviation to be more sustainable

1 of 17 CNN  — 

On a clear day, with the right weather conditions, a portion of the sky busy with commercial flights can become riddled with contrails, the wispy ice clouds that form as jet aircraft fly by.

They might look innocuous, but they’re not – contrails are surprisingly bad for the environment. A study that looked at aviation’s contribution to climate change between 2000 and 2018 concluded that contrails create 57% of the sector’s warming impact, significantly more than the CO2 emissions from burning fuel. They do so by trapping heat that would otherwise be released into space.

And yet, the problem may have an apparently straightforward solution. Contrails – short for condensation trails, which form when water vapor condenses into ice crystals around the small particles emitted by jet engines – require cold and humid atmospheric conditions, and don’t always stay around for long. Researchers say that by targeting specific flights that have a high chance of producing contrails, and varying their flight path ever so slightly, much of the damage could be prevented.

Adam Durant, a volcanologist and entrepreneur based in the UK, is aiming to do just that. “We could, in theory, solve this problem for aviation within one or two years,” he says.

Durant has long studied how atmospheric contaminants affect the health of aircraft engines, and after the 2010 eruption of an Icelandic volcano brought aviation to a standstill, he embarked on a project with Airbus and easyJet to research volcanic ash. In 2013 he founded his own company, Satavia, initially focusing on preserving engines from damaging pollutants like dust, ice and volcanic ash. “Then, Covid shifted the priorities of the whole industry towards sustainability,” he says.

Oversized impact

Satavia pivoted to tackling contrails, by developing a weather prediction model that can forecast the conditions that lead to their formation. Of contrails’ climate impact, “80 or 90% is coming from only maybe five to 10% of all flights,” says Durant. “Simply redirecting a small proportion of flights can actually save the majority of the contrail climate impact.”

The approach Satavia is taking is to target those five to 10% of flights on any given day and modify their flight plans before the aircraft have even taken off. That means changing their altitude or route to avoid flying through parts of the atmosphere which are prone to forming persistent contrails.

A study found that between 2000 and 2018, contrails accounted for 57% of aviation's warming impact.

A study found that between 2000 and 2018, contrails accounted for 57% of aviation’s warming impact.Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

“The airlines go ahead and make flight plans as they normally do. But in parallel to that, we analyze their schedule and look at a number of flow trajectories for every single flight,” Durant says. “We end up with a long list of flights of which the top 5% or so have these heavy hitter, long-lived warming contrails. And then we work closely with the flight ops department in the airline to target those.”

The challenge is working around limitations on flight time and fuel consumption. “There are obviously very tight limits on flight time: we have to stay within five minutes of the original intended arrival time. That’s non-negotiable,” Durant says.

As for fuel use, Durant aims to either have no impact on consumption, or keep it within tenths of a percent of the regular flight plan. “If a particular flight has a 0.1 or 0.2% fuel penalty to save potentially hundreds of tons of CO2, that’s fairly negligible but the benefits are huge. There’s a big upside to this if it’s done in the correct way.”

A concerted effort

The first commercial flight utilizing Satavia technology took off in October 2021 and was operated by United Arab Emirates carrier Etihad as part of a program called Greenliner, a testbed for sustainability projects. Since then, Etihad and Satavia have completed dozens of flights, and Satavia is about to start another trial with Dutch flagship operator KLM. “We are going to be actively looking for more airlines in 2023 to work with, as we start scaling up the service that we offer,” Durant says.

Etihad's Greenliner program has tested Satavia's software.

Etihad’s Greenliner program has tested Satavia’s software.Etihad

In 2021, scientists calculated that addressing the contrail problem would cost under $1 billion a year, but provide benefits worth more than 1,000 times as much. And a study from Imperial College London showed that diverting just 1.7% of flights could reduce the climate damage of contrails by as much as 59%.

According to Marc Stettler, one of the authors of the Imperial College study, who’s not involved with Satavia, the company is on the right track. “I’m all in favor of conducting trials. There are things that we still need to improve and learn, but the industry has started to rightly take this as a high priority, so there’s a number of airlines who are active in this space, including the ones that are working with Satavia,” he says.

However, he adds, the problem requires a concerted effort. “This needs to be collaborative. Satavia are doing good work by initiating these trials themselves and they have to be able to sustain themselves as a commercial organization, but they’re open for collaboration.”

In late November, the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit energy think tank based in the US, launched a cross sector task force to address the contrail problem. Boeing, Airbus and a half dozen airlines including American and United are currently on board, along with researchers and academics. It aims to develop solutions and establish a roadmap to implement them.

Durant is receptive to the idea of collaboration. “We really need action across the industry, we need the operators to come together and work with us. We could do something tangible. We could seriously reduce, say, 50% of the industry’s contrails impact by 2030. That’s totally attainable, because we can do it with software and analytics,” he says.

The challenges ahead, Durant adds, can’t be solved without the involvement of regulatory bodies. “It’s not just about the science – it’s also about how we do this in practice. The rules will need to be updated to allow greater flexibility for both where aircraft fly and how we organize air traffic. And that’s going to be our biggest problem to solve.”

Japan was the future but it’s stuck in the past

  • Published
  • 20 January
An aerial shot of Tokyo
Image caption, Japan’s economy, the world’s third-largest, has been stagnant for years

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

Tokyo correspondent

In Japan, houses are like cars.

As soon as you move in, your new home is worth less than what you paid for it and after you’ve finished paying off your mortgage in 40 years, it is worth almost nothing.

It bewildered me when I first moved here as a correspondent for the BBC – 10 years on, as I prepared to leave, it was still the same.

This is the world’s third-largest economy. It’s a peaceful, prosperous country with the longest life expectancy in the world, the lowest murder rate, little political conflict, a powerful passport, and the sublime Shinkansen, the world’s best high-speed rail network.

America and Europe once feared the Japanese economic juggernaut much the same way they fear China’s growing economic might today. But the Japan the world expected never arrived. In the late 1980s, Japanese people were richer than Americans. Now they earn less than Britons.

For decades Japan has been struggling with a sluggish economy, held back by a deep resistance to change and a stubborn attachment to the past. Now, its population is both ageing and shrinking.

Japan is stuck.

The old are still in power

“Look there’s something you need to understand about how Japan works,” an eminent academic told me. “In 1868 the Samurai surrendered their swords, cut their hair, put on Western suits and marched into the ministries in Kasumigaseki (the government district of central Tokyo) and they’re still there today.”

In 1868, fearing a repeat of China’s fate at the hands of Western imperialists, reformers overthrew the military dictatorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate and set Japan on a course of high-speed industrialisation.

But the Meiji restoration, as it’s known, was no storming of the Bastille. It was an elite putsch. Even after a second convulsion of 1945, the “great” families survived. This overwhelmingly male ruling class is defined by nationalism and a conviction that Japan is special. They do not believe Japan was the aggressor in the war, but its victim.

Slain former prime minister Shinzo Abe, for instance, was the son of a foreign minister, and grandson of another prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi. Grandpa Kishi was a member of the wartime junta and was arrested by the Americans as a suspected war criminal. But he escaped the hangman and in the mid-1950s helped found the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan ever since.

Some people joke Japan is a one-party state. It isn’t. But it’s reasonable to ask why Japan continues to re-elect a party run by an entitled elite, which yearns to scrap American-imposed pacifism, but has failed to improve living standards for 30 years.

During a recent election I drove up a narrow river valley cut into the mountains two hours west of Tokyo – LDP country. The local economy depends on cement making and hydropower. In a tiny town I met an elderly couple walking to the polling station.

“We’ll be voting LDP,” the husband said. “We trust them, they will take care of us.”

“I agree with my husband,” his wife said.

The couple pointed across the valley to a recently-completed tunnel and bridge they hope will bring more weekend tourists from Tokyo. But it’s often said the LDP’s support base is made of concrete. This form of pork-barrel politics is one reason so much of Japan’s coastline is blighted by tetra pods, its rivers walled with grey concrete. It’s essential to keep the concrete pumping.

Read More

January 20th 2023

What are the most pressing world problems?

Published August 2018 · Last updated September 2022

Our list of the most pressing world problems

These areas are ranked roughly by our guess at the expected impact of an additional person working on them, assuming your ability to contribute to solving each is similar. But there’s a lot of variation within each issue, so it could easily be better to pursue a path that’s a great fit or a great opportunity in one ranked lower down.

  • 1. Risks from artificial intelligenceThe development of AI is likely to greatly influence the course we take as a society. We think that if it goes badly, however, it could pose an existential threat.Read more
  • 2. Catastrophic pandemicsBiotechnological developments threaten to make much deadlier pandemics possible, due to accidental leaks or malicious use of engineered pathogens.Read more
  • 3. Building effective altruismWe are part of effective altruism, so we might be biased — but we think growing and improving this network of people working on solving the world’s most pressing problems is one way to do a lot of good.Read more
  • 4. Global priorities researchRigorously investigating how to prioritise global problems and best address them will make the efforts of people aiming to do good more effective.Read more
  • 5. Nuclear warNuclear weapons were the first genuine man-made existential threat. Despite some progress, we have not reduced the threat of nuclear war enough.Read more
  • 6. Epistemics and institutional decision-makingCan the decision-making processes of the most powerful institutions be improved to make important decisions better in a range of areas?Read more
  • 7. Climate changeBeyond the suffering it’s already causing, worse climate change could increase existential risks from other causes and affect standards of living far into the future.Read more
  • 8. Great power conflictWe haven’t yet fully reviewed this issue, but it seems like one of the biggest risk factors for existential catastrophe. We don’t yet know what individuals can do to help, but plan to investigate.Read more

We think these issues present many opportunities to have a big positive impact. If you want to help tackle them, check out our page on high-impact careers.

Similarly pressing but less developed areas

We’d be equally excited to see some of our readers (say, 10–20%) pursue some of the issues below — both because you could do a lot of good, and because many of them are especially neglected or under-explored, so you might discover they are even more pressing than the issues in our top list.

There are fewer high-impact opportunities working on these issues — so you need to have especially good personal fit and be more entrepreneurial to make progress.

  • Decorative post preview Civilisation resilienceIf we make it more likely that the world’s population could eventually recover from a catastrophic collapse, we could save the possibility of a flourishing future even if a catastrophe does occur.Read more
  • Decorative post preview ‘S-risks’Worse than extinction would be a long future of great suffering. The study of these suffering risks (‘s-risks’) aims to specifically minimise the chance of a terrible outcome.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Artificial sentienceWe may soon create machines capable of experiencing happiness and suffering, whose wellbeing will matter just like our own. But our understanding of consciousness is so incomplete, we might not even realise when this becomes possible.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Promoting positive valuesIf we could effectively spread positive values — like (we think!) caring about the wellbeing of all sentient beings impartially — that could be one of the broadest ways to help with a range of problems.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Risks of stable totalitarianismIf a totalitarian regime ever becomes technologically advanced enough and gains enough global control, might it persist more or less indefinitely?Read more
  • Decorative post preview Space governanceEven as investment in space increases, we have very little plan for how nations, companies, and individuals will interact fairly and peacefully there.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Improving incentives and governance for global public goodsThere are many ‘public goods’ problems, where no one is incentivised to do what would be best for everyone. Can we design mechanisms and institutions to mitigate this issue?Read more
  • Decorative post preview Risks from atomically precise manufacturingThe ability to manipulate the creation of molecules would plausibly have large impacts and could be crucial in many of the worst — and best — case scenarios for advanced AI.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Risks from malevolent actorsSome of the worst possible futures might be less likely if we better understood why some people intentionally cause great harm (and how that harm could be limited).Read more
  • Decorative post preview Improving individual reasoning and cognitionThe world’s most pressing problems pose immense intellectual challenges. Better reasoning by researchers and decision-makers could give us a better shot at solving them.Read more

January 18th 2023

As leaders fly to Davos, how do private jets affect the climate?

Jack Graham profile picture

Jack Graham

Published: January 13, 2023

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a climate strike protest during the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2020

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a climate strike protest during the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

What’s the context?

From Elon Musk to Rishi Sunak, the travel habits of the super-rich and political leaders are increasingly provoking public outrage

  • Greenpeace highlights private jet emissions at the summit
  • Private planes are 50 times more polluting than trains
  • Countries exploring taxes and bans to reduce short flights

LONDON – Political and business leaders will meet at the Swiss resort of Davos next week for the World Economic Forum, where issues from geopolitical instability to climate change are on the agenda.

Yet as they seek consensus and solutions for global challenges, environmental campaigners argue that their travel arrangements may prove more significant – as hundreds of attendees are set to arrive by high-polluting private jets.

During last year’s week-long event, 1,040 private planes flew in and out of airports serving the resort of Davos, found a new report commissioned by campaign group Greenpeace.

United Arab Emirates' Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Go DeeperBacklash as UAE oil boss picked to lead COP28 climate summit

The president of the U.N.-backed COP15 biodiversity conference, China's Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu, lowers the gavel to pass the The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in Montreal, Quebec, Canada December 19, 2022

Go DeeperNature can’t wait: Will COP15 biodiversity pact spur fast action?

Residents wade through flood water in Obagi community, Rivers state, Nigeria October 21, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Go DeeperFossil fuels, fairness, finance: Climate fights to watch in 2023

Those flights caused four times more planet-heating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than during an average week – equivalent to the emissions of 350,000 cars, the report found.

“For a forum where people actually claim to solve climate issues … it seems quite hypocritical,” said Klara Maria Schenk, transport campaigner at Greenpeace Europe.

But it’s not just Davos. Private jet use by the super-rich and political leaders is increasingly fuelling public outrage.

Pop star Taylor Swift has faced criticism for her jetsetting habits, while British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently came under fire for taking a 36-minute domestic flight in England.

So what is the impact of private jets on the environment, and what do experts think could be done in response?

How polluting are private jets?

A private jet can emit two tonnes of carbon dioxide in an hour – which is equivalent to a few months of an average person’s greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, according to the European NGO Transport & Environment (T&E).

Private planes are between five and 14 times more polluting than commercial jets per passenger, and 50 times more than high-speed rail, according to T&E data.

“If you break it down by passenger and kilometre, it is actually the most polluting way to travel in existence,” Schenk of Greenpeace said in an interview.

At Davos last year, more than half of the flights travelled less than 750km, and the shortest flight recorded was only 21km, the Greenpeace research found.

“Many of these flights would be replaceable by a few hours of train ride,” Schenk added.

What does that mean for climate change?

The aviation sector accounts for about 2.8% of global CO2 emissions. While that proportion seems relatively minor, experts point to the outsized impact caused by a small number of people.

Just 1% of the global population is responsible for 50% of the CO2 emitted by commercial aviation, according to a 2020 study in the Global Environmental Change journal.

“Frequent flyers and private jet users are by far the worst offenders when it comes to aviation emissions,” said Denise Auclair, corporate travel campaign manager at T&E.

Private jets are “emblematic” of the climate crisis as “people who are not flying, not contributing to the problem are suffering the effects,” like droughts and wildfires, she said.

How popular are private jets?

Despite concerns over their climate impact, private planes have become more and more popular in recent years.

While celebrities from U.S. media personality Kylie Jenner to Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk have made the headlines, with their private flights tracked and published on social media, the trend is also becoming more common in wider business travel.

Private jet travel “started booming” during the COVID-19 pandemic, when most commercial flights were grounded, said Schenk from Greenpeace.

“While we were sitting at home, these people flew in their private jets,” she said.

In the United States, private business jets now account for a quarter of all flights, approximately twice their pre-pandemic share, according to aviation consultancy WINGX.

Can air travel become sustainable?

The airline industry has said sustainable aviation fuels can help it reach net zero by 2050. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says these fuels can reduce emissions by up to 80% during their lifecycle compared to conventional fuel.

Meanwhile, airlines such as Air Canada and U.S. carrier United Airlines have been buying electric planes earmarked for short trips.

Yet environmental groups say that an increase in sustainable fuels could lead to deforestation as vast amounts of lands are cleared to grow bioenergy crops such as palm and soy oils.

There are also concerns about how long it would take for these cleaner fuels to be used at scale – which made up less than 0.1% of aviation fuels in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

“We have to admit to ourselves … sustainable fuels are not going to get us on the decarbonisation path that we need to be on today,” said Auclair of T&E.

She said a combination of measures will be needed to accelerate emissions reductions over the next decade, including a rethink of what kind of flights are really necessary.

What can be done to reduce air travel?

Governments in Europe have started to explore steps to reduce private jet flights, and encourage passengers to take cleaner forms of transport.

In December, France won approval from the European Commission to ban short-haul flight routes of less than two-and-a-half hours for which there are direct rail options.

Belgium, meanwhile, will impose new taxes on private jets and short-haul flights from April.

Auclair said taxes could provide an incentive to reduce air travel while funding the acceleration of sustainable aviation developments.

She also said corporate leaders need to set targets and create clear travel policies as part of their climate plans.

“If you’re saying as a leader that your organisation is taking steps to address climate change, then it just doesn’t really make sense for you to be taking a private jet to Davos,” Auclair said. “We need to get serious.”

(Reporting by Jack Graham; Editing by Kieran Guilbert)

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Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles

More world problems we think are important and underinvested in

We’d also love to see more people working on the following issues, even though given our worldview and our understanding of the individual issues, we’d guess many of our readers could do even more good by focusing on the problems listed above.

Problems many of our readers prioritise

Factory farming and global health are common focuses in the effective altruism community. These are important issues on which we could make a lot more progress.

  • Decorative post preview Factory farmingEvery year, billions of animals suffer on factory farms, where standards of humane treatment generally range from low to nonexistent.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Easily preventable or treatable illnessPreventable diseases like malaria kill hundreds of thousands of people each year. We can improve global healthcare and reduce extreme poverty with more funding and more effective organisations.Read more

Other underrated issues

There are many more issues we think society at large doesn’t prioritise enough, where more initiatives could have a substantial positive impact. But they seem either less neglected and tractable than factory farming or global health, or the expected scale of the impact seems smaller.

  • Decorative post preview Whole brain emulationDigitally running specific human brains — ‘mind uploading’ — might be a safer way to get some of the benefits of artificial intelligence, but might also pose its own risks.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Wild animal sufferingThere is an unfathomable number of wild animals. If many of them suffer in their daily lives and if we can find a (safe) way to help them, that would do a lot of good.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Safeguarding liberal democracyLiberal democracies seem more conducive to innovation, freedom, and possibly peace. There’s a lot of effort already going into this area, but there may be some ways to add more value.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Immigration restrictionsKeeping people from moving to where they would have better lives and careers can have big negative humanitarian, intellectual, cultural, and economic effects.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Spread of false ideas on social mediaThe algorithms that social media companies employ to curate content may be contributing to harmful instability and erosion of trust in many societies.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Science policy and infrastructureIncentives shaped by universities and journals affect scientific progress. Can we improve them, e.g. to speed up development of beneficial technologies (and limit the proliferation of risky ones)?Read more
  • Decorative post preview High-leverage ways to speed up economic growthFaster economic growth could improve global standards of living and cooperation, and might help future generations flourish.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Mental healthDepression, anxiety, and other conditions directly affect people’s wellbeing. Finding effective and scalable ways to improve mental health worldwide could deliver large benefits.Read more
  • Decorative post preview Voting reformFirst-past-the-post voting is common in high-stakes elections like for the US president. Everyone who works on voting theory agrees this is one of the worst systems there is.Read more

January 15th 2023

60 Minutes – Newsmakers

Scientists say planet in midst of sixth mass extinction, Earth’s wildlife running out of places to live

By Scott Pelley

January 1, 2023 / 7:29 PM / CBS News

January 9th 2023

Protests near German village vacated to expand coal mine

January 3, 2023

Activists build barricades and set them on fire while the police make preparations for the planned eviction of the village Luetzerath, western Germany, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The village of Luetzerath has to be demolished to expand the Garzweiler lignite coal mine near the dutch border. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

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Activists build barricades and set them on fire while the police make preparations for the planned eviction of the village Luetzerath, western Germany, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The village of Luetzerath has to be demolished to expand the Garzweiler lignite coal mine near the dutch border. (Henning Kaiser/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Scuffles broke out on Monday outside a village in western Germany that is to be razed to allow the expansion of a coal mine, a plan that is drawing resistance from climate activists.

Activists threw fireworks, bottles and stones at police outside the village of Luetzerath before the situation calmed down and officers pulled back, German news agency dpa reported.

Protesters previously had set up a burning barricade, and one glued his hand to the access road.

The hamlet is to be demolished to expand the Garzweiler lignite mine, despite protests from environmentalists who fear millions more tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

Activists have been living in houses abandoned by former residents.

The Heinsberg county administration has issued an order barring people from Luetzerath and, if they fail to leave, authorizing police to clear the village from Jan. 10 onward. Officials have called for a non-violent end to the activists’ occupation.


Search for victims done, Florida coast aims for Ian recoveryFor climate migrants in Bangladesh, town offers new lifeWith fires raging in Europe, France detains man over blazeAviation faces hurdles to hit goals for cutting emissions

But, amid concerns about Germany’s energy security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the agreement also foresees the life of two power plant units that were supposed to be switched off earlier being extended until at least 2024 and Luetzerath being razed to enable further mining.


Read AP stories on climate issues at

January 4th 2023


Jan 2, 2023 7:00 AM

The Food Chain Should Be a Food Circle

Regenerative farming and upcycled ingredients are both on the menu for a resilient food system that’s better for humans and nature alike.

person grocery with a shopping cart on grass and shelves filled with leaves and upcycled products

In 2020, during the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns around food supply were high. This prompted big changes to the way some food is produced: There was a rise in the use of regenerative farming principles—methods of growing food that also support nature by, for instance, keeping soils healthy and stable, improving water and air quality, and improving local biodiversity—and an expansion of food production in and close to cities, leading to less waste. 


This story is from the WIRED World in 2023, our annual trends briefing. Read more stories from the series here—or download or order a copy of the magazine.

In 2021, PepsiCo, Danone, Nestlé, and Unilever—vast, multinational, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies—announced they were adopting regenerative agricultural practices across millions of acres of farmland. This has been complemented by growth in urban farming, with vertical farming business Infarm recently opening the largest urban farm in Europe, covering 10,000 square meters. These are significant steps toward a food system that is resilient and better for people and for nature. 

Today we know that building food systems that are resilient to shocks such as the pandemic is no longer enough. In 2023, we will be redesigning food to also help us solve pressing global challenges including climate change and biodiversity loss.

For that to be possible, the whole system needs to be regenerative by design. This means that rather than bending nature to produce food, food needs to be designed for nature to thrive. In 2023, FMCGs, retailers, and innovators will take up this mantle, working with farmers to begin creating a circular economy for food. 

October 17th 2022

Elon Musk Is Totally Wrong About Population Collapse

Tesla’s outspoken CEO thinks the biggest threat facing the planet is people not having enough babies. Demographers disagree.

elon musk

Early 20th-century France faced an existential threat: Its citizens weren’t having enough babies. In 1900, the average French woman gave birth to three children throughout her lifetime while over the border in Germany women were averaging five. For decades, France’s population had hovered stubbornly at around 40 million while that of its European rivals grew larger. “It is the most significant fact in French life. In no other country in the world is the birth rate so low,” wrote American journalist Walter Weyl in 1912.

French society swung into action to avert the crisis. Pronatalist organizations sprung up, and by 1916 half of all French parliamentarians were part of a lobbying group that pushed policies aimed at raising birth rates. An annual prize was inaugurated, awarding 25,000 francs to 90 French parents who had raised nine or more children. Laws restricting abortion and contraceptives were passed, and mothers of large families were honored with medals according to how many children they had raised.

None of this shifted the trajectory of France’s falling birth rates. “Forty-one million Frenchmen face 67 million Germans and 43 million Italians,” lamented former minister Paul Reynaud in January 1937. “As far as numbers are concerned, we are beaten.” Reynaud was right, of course, but only for so long. In the decades after World War II, the French population swelled—bolstered by a baby boom and strong immigration. This postwar boom has long since worn off, but France still has the highest fertility rate of any EU country: The much-feared population collapse never came to pass.

Anxiety about falling populations, however, never went away. Now the most prominent public worrier is Elon Musk, for whom stagnating birth rates don’t just represent a crisis for specific countries, but an existential threat to the entire planet. “Assuming there is a benevolent future with AI, I think the biggest problem the world will face in 20 years is population collapse,” Musk said at an AI conference in August 2019. The issue is clearly playing on his mind. “Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming,” he tweeted in 2022. “Mark these words.”

Demographers have marked Musk’s words—but they don’t agree with his dire predictions. “With 8 billion people and counting on the earth, we don’t see a collapse happening at present time, and it’s not even projected,” says Tomas Sobotka at the Vienna Institute of Demography. Even the most pessimistic projections put the world population in 2100 at around 8.8 billion. This is far below the UN’s more widely agreed upon estimate of 10.4 billion, but it’s still about 800 million more people than are on the planet today. Most projections agree that the world’s population is going to peak at some point in the second half of the 21st century and then plateau or gradually drop. Framing this as a collapse “is probably too dramatic,” says Patrick Gerland, chief of the United Nations’ Population Estimates and Projections Section.

According to the UN, the only region that will see an overall decline between 2022 and 2050 is eastern and southeastern Asia. Other regions tell a completely different story. The population in sub-Saharan Africa will almost double from 1.2 billion in 2022 to just under 2.1 billion in 2050. In the same period, India’s population will grow by over 250 million to overtake China’s as the largest in the world. For most of the world, population decline just isn’t something to worry about—“either now or in the foreseeable future,” Gerland says.

But what about the very distant future? Japan’s population is already declining, and the country has one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world—Japanese women average 1.3 children across their lifetime. For a population to stay constant, this number would need to be 2.1, assuming there’s no migration and that life expectancy stays roughly constant. If the fertility rate stays below 2.1 for long enough, the population number will start to fall. In Japan, we can see this happening—having peaked at 128.1 million in 2010, the country’s population slowly fell to 125.8 million over the following decade.

Samir KC, a demographer at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) near Vienna, has looked at what would happen if the world’s total fertility rate stayed below replacement levels for the next millennium. If that total rate held at 1.84 babies per woman—the UN’s estimate of what it will be in 2100—the population would fall from 10.4 billion in 2100 to 1.97 billion in 2500 and 227 million in the year 3000. As Sobotka wrote over email, “this is not exactly a population collapse, but rather a slow-motion population decline.” And we’re talking about time scales of millennia. Fixating on global population collapse today is like someone in the year 1000 worrying about the Y2K bug.Advertisement

What might happen in the next 1,000 years that could change the path of population growth? Nuclear wars, pandemics, whole new religions and family preferences, the prospect of colonizing other planets or hugely extending the human lifespan. Hilary Greaves, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, says that if we really care about maximizing the number of humans on the planet, our top priority should be avoiding any risks that might wipe out humanity altogether. One thousand years is a long, long time. Assuming current population trends will hold over that period might be a big mistake.The Joy of Smaller, Older Populations

For most of human history, our population grew at a crawl: Between 10,000 BCE and 1700 CE, the world’s population grew at a rate of just 0.04 percent annually. At one point in our prehistory, the human population might have dropped as low as a few thousand people. Even after the advent of agriculture and the rise of cities, populations would fluctuate as infectious diseases and famines came and went. But in the 19th century this trend of extremely slow growth started to reverse as the number of people surviving childhood dramatically increased. It took 124 years for the world’s population to increase from 1 billion to 2 billion between 1803 and 1927. Adding the next billion took 33 years, then 15 and then 12. To people born in the latter 20th century, fast-growing populations seem the norm.

“Our mental views are built around this view that a growing population is natural, that it’s more robust,” says David Weil, an economist at Brown University in Rhode Island. Economically speaking, there is some truth to this. Fertility rates tend to fall as countries grow in wealth and women become more educated. Countries shifting from high to low fertility rates usually go through a period when there are lots of people of working age and proportionally fewer who are very young or very old. This so-called “demographic dividend” is thought to be one of the main reasons the economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore grew so quickly in the second half of the 20th century.

Sooner or later, however, the demographic dividend comes to an end. “Some day the party ends and you’re back to where you are,” says Weil. But he argues that a slowly shrinking population doesn’t spell an economic disaster. He says that with fewer very young people in a population, as well as older people having longer working lives, the ratio of dependents to working-age people will gradually start to even out, and countries with smaller populations will benefit from innovation in countries that are growing. “I’m quite good with the idea that over the next century or so we’re just going to be adding more Einsteins that are born in India or China or Nigeria, so a shrinking number of people in European countries is not going to lead to technological stagnation.”

Falling populations might even be a thing to celebrate. That’s according to Vegard Skirbekk at the Norwegian Centre for Fertility and Health. In his new book, Decline and Prosper! Changing Global Birth Rates and the Advantages of Fewer Children, he argues that a world with low birth rates could be a much nicer place to live. When you have fertility that is somewhat below replacement levels, “we can cope quite well with it,” he says. The percentage of the US workforce working in agriculture has steadily dropped over the past century, but productivity per worker has never been higher. Simply put, we can produce more with fewer working-age people today than at any time in history. With the right policies to redistribute wealth, falling populations could be a boon rather than a curse.More Babies, Please

Many governments don’t see falling populations in such a rosy light. China’s population will probably peak this year, and after decades of restricting family sizes, the central government is encouraging its citizens to make more babies. Some cities are offering parents cash bonuses for second and third children, while others have pledged to build cheaper nurseries or cut rents for larger families.

It’s unlikely that pronatalist policies can completely turn the tide of decreasing populations. Since 1996, the Japanese government has enacted a raft of policies to try to increase family sizes, but the preference for smaller families has stubbornly remained. Samir KC, the IIASA demographer, always starts his course at Shanghai University by asking his students how many children they plan on having in their lifetime. This year, for the first time, some students responded by saying that they didn’t plan on having any at all.

Rather than simply encouraging people without children to start having babies, societies need to adapt to suit a wider range of lifestyles, says Skirbekk. There’s some evidence that societies with stronger social welfare nets and greater gender equality have higher birth rates, which might explain why Nordic women tend to have more babies on average than people in southern Europe. Expensive housing is another reason people limit their family size, even if they want more children. Countries that adopt policies to make their societies more fair and equal may bolster fertility rates while also benefiting those who don’t have children.

Meanwhile, countries like South Korea and Japan that have historically limited immigration are having to rethink their approach by allowing people to settle in areas with a dearth of workers. Immigration is also playing a role at a global level. Between 2000 and 2020, immigration to high-income countries contributed more to population growth than babies being born within their borders. In fact, the biggest population loss today isn’t happening in Asia, but in Eastern Europe, where the UN projects that a combination of high emigration and low birth rates will see populations fall by a fifth in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Serbia.

Perhaps one of the real drivers behind Musk’s fear of population collapse is an unwillingness to imagine a world that looks very different from the one he grew up in. More than half of all the increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania. By that same year, the proportion of the global population over 65 will reach 16 percent—its highest-ever level. Some countries will be struggling to adapt to aging populations, while others will still be growing rapidly. And the world will still not have hit its peak population. If France’s turn-of-the-century population anxiety can teach us anything, it’s that it may be wiser to make a better world today than agonize over birth rates we have little control over.

Updated 10-10-2022 6:00 am ET: A misspelling of Tomas Sobotka’s name was corrected.