Posts Tagged travel
What? I hear you say. Praise for an airline in the Green Review? Am I reading the right blog? Well; yes you are. And I have to say that – praise where praise is due – this is a really good idea.
British Airways, like most other airlines, will be very quick to tell us that they are doing their bit to protect the planet, and none of us will really believe them. Nevertheless, the world’s favourite airline could soon be on its way to becoming the world’s greenest airline if this project is successful.
BA is pioneering the world’s first waste bio jet fuel plant. Now, I’ve already had a pop at bio fuels for airlines, calling it a load of old greenwash, and I don’t agree with biofuels in general. However, I am a firm believer in fuels derived from waste, which is what BA are intending to manufacture.
Of course there is still the issue of carbon emissions from airlines and the fact that they release these emissions directly into a very sensitive part of the atmosphere. This impact will not be cured by a simple swap of fuels. That said, though, some figures say that lifecycle carbon emission reductions of 95% will be possible when compared to traditional jet kerosene, but we’ll see about that eh? (That’s not the sound of me being cynical is it? Never)
These lower emissions will – in part – be down to the fuel being produced in East London, practically next door to London City Airport and only a few miles from London Heathrow Airport. I also like that if this is adopted en-masse, it could potentially reduce our dependency on imported oil and we could see a home-grown fuel industry spring up that has the added bonus of reducing the amount of waste we have to send to landfill.
The biomass plant will use the Fischer-Tropsch process to turn the waste into fuel, and as an added bonus, will power itself and also put 20MW of electricity back into the grid, at the same time. Neat.
According to BA, “The first plant, being built in partnership with US-based green energy specialist Solena Group, is due to enter full production in 2015. Once completed, the London plant – costing £200 million to build – will convert up to 500,000 tonnes of waste a year into 16 million gallons of green jet fuel, enough to power 2 per cent of BA’s operation. The waste will come from food scraps and other household material such as grass and tree cuttings, agricultural and industrial waste.”
Of course 2 per cent sounds measly, which I guess it is in the grand scheme of things, but it is a step in the right direction and this is a pretty major innovation. I mean just imagine if every airline in the world were using the waste of the cities they are serving and producing their own ‘clean’ fuel right on their own doorsteps.
I do not condone the massive expansion of the airline industry, nor the way many of these low cost carriers are run (in particular the accident-waiting-to-happen that is Ryanair) and I do think we are jumping on a plane far too readily. However, air travel is an essential part of our modern lives and I think – if we’re honest – we would all miss it if it were gone. We certainly wouldn’t see the type of climate change and environmental summits that we see today – even if some of them are as useful as a hydroelectricity plant in the Sahara.
So can we envision a world where all of our planes – in fact all of our transport is running on waste? I doubt it. But this is a step toward tackling the increasing emissions from the airline industry while additionally securing our future energy supplies. Well done BA, let’s hope this works as well as you say it will.
In other airline news; The Major of London, Boris Johnson, has seen plans for his Thames Estuary Airport seriously dented, as the area earmarked for the development has just been included on a list of Nature Improvement Areas, throwing a huge green spanner into the planning application process. Oops.
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So then, the Earth is now home to 7 billion people, or to put it another way – 7,000,000,000 people; an awful lot of zeroes don’t you think? Still, this post isn’t really about that; it just happens to coincide rather nicely with what I was going to write anyway, which is the tale of a rather scary drive I went for recently.
So was this scary drive a hair-raising blat in an F1 car? Nope, I should be so lucky. A high-speed burn around roads with vertical drops on either side perhaps? No way. A pillion ride on the back of a motorbike with a one-armed, mentally unstable, blind driver. Definitely not… No, this was the drive from Hong Kong city to the airport.
So why did I find this drive so scary you ask? Well, to begin with it was at night. No, I’m not scared of the dark (much). But the darkness does bring into very stark reality the massive, illuminated high-rise apartments that line this route to the airport. There are literally thousands of homes that stretch across your field of vision, from one periphery to the next, top to bottom and way off into the distance. Each lit window perfectly highlighting the degree to which we are packing ourselves onto this planet and the huge amounts of energy and resources that we are consequently consuming. For someone who lives in the UK and is used quant Victorian terraces, these things are monstrous.
For mile after mile my view was filled with these towering high-rises. They weren’t, however, striking simply because of their height, but additionally because of their mammoth width and depth. These things aren’t just a thin wall of steel concrete and glass – they’re more like a forest, stretching back in numerous layers for as far as the eye can see – literally over the hills and far away. A truly momentous sight to behold.
Without meaning to brag, I’m a pretty well-travelled individual. I’ve been to many of the world’s cities and high-rise building themselves are nothing novel to me. However this wall of windows and balconies really is quite breath taking, due in no small part to the sheer number and density of these buildings.
To see these types of constructions and trying to picture the masses of people that they allow to be crammed into such a small area is staggering. As I mentioned earlier, it really brings home the resource and energy consumption required to feed this relentless expansion of humanity and the pressure we’re placing on our planet.
Keep reading – it’s not all doom and gloom
I did, strangely enough, find myself in two frames of mind on this journey. First, as you know, I was agog at what I was seeing and fearing for the future. Simultaneously though, I caught myself admiring mankind’s ingenuity and far from fearing for the future, rather bizarrely, I actually felt quite optimistic. Surely any animal that can design, build and sustain this kind of… colony… has the capacity to go much, much further.
Ours is a culture that has given birth to War and Peace, The Beatles, Salvidor Dali, IVF, space exploration, and Santa Claus. Surely we must also be able to save ourselves from self-destruction?
Conversely though – and swinging back to the fear for the future once again – ability isn’t the problem is it? It’s not that we are unable to build and power ourselves toward a clean, sustainable future. That’s the easy part. It’s whether or not we have the inclination to; whether or not our Humanity will come and rescue us from our Human affliction.
These high-rises went up not because somebody wanted them, but because they needed them. When is mankind finally going to feel the same about stopping our destruction of Planet Earth – the very thing that allows us to thrive like this? Do we have to witness ever more destructive natural events and wait for something really disastrous to happen before we – universally – feel the same need to tackle it? Will it be too late by then?
Back to the 7 billion…
I’ve always felt that we in the UK are slightly sheltered from this population explosion. Yes we’re overcrowded, yes we have a problem with immigration and yes we all know of someplace where a beautiful piece of green land has been given over to a housing development. However, the population spikes are not happing in our country and it’s very easy to see them as simple statistics.
Seeing this overload of humanity in Hong Kong however, brought into glaring reality the fact that this planet is small, and getting smaller all the time. The growth of humanity is not a bad thing independently; we just have to make sure we put into place all of the necessary mechanisms to keep us alive without completely wrecking the planet and the environment that sustains us – all 7,000,001,111 of us. That’s right, in the few minutes it’s taken you to read this, over 1000 babies have been born.
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I came to a scary realisation the other day: I like traffic wardens. Yes you heard me: I like traffic wardens. And do you know what? I think I can convince you to as well.
Now, first of all I think I should mention that, yes I drive a car, yes I spend a huge amount of money on paying for car parks (and a parking permit), yes I have been given a number of tickets in my time, and no, I am not mad.
My mindset is born of this:
They are here to help: Yes that’s right, traffic wardens are the guardians of our roads, and without them many roadsides would be in a right old mess. For example, how often have you seen a car parked so badly and so illegally it beggars belief that someone could be that much of a selfish ar~~~ole.* Well, if our friendly traffic wardens weren’t around, we could expect a lot more of that. In fact a great number of our urban highways would become virtually impassable if people just parked where they want. To highlight what I am saying; next time you’re out just have a look at how many double yellow lines there are and picture how cramped things could get if these areas we’re filled with cars instead. And come on; admit it – who doesn’t just love seeing a traffic warden slapping a little black and yellow square of misery to someone else’s car windshield, eh? You know you do.
* I don’t usually like to swear in my blog as I feel it just demonstrates a lack of vocabulary. However in this instance, I really couldn’t think of a more appropriate word to use. Sorry.
They don’t write the rules: Traffic wardens are just there to enforce the rules (and thank goodness for that). If a local council has put down parking restrictions in a place they really shouldn’t be, don’t blame the traffic wardens; blame the pen pushers and planners. Also, when you get to your car just as the ticket is being issued, don’t have a go at the traffic warden for not rescinding it – he can’t. Just imagine if he could: our towns would be filled with traffic wardens being chased around by irate drivers attempting to get a let off. It would be like football a match where the referee runs around the pitch trying to shake off a clutch of indignant footballers after showing one of them a red card. Chaos. If you do want to be let off a ticket you have to write to the local council. More often than not, it’s those guys who are the ones who don’t have a shred of sympathy in them and will throw out your appeal as soon as look at it.
They just want to be loved: Probably true, but here’s where I must stop generalising. I feel very lucky that I live in a city where the majority of traffic wardens are not only nice, cordial people, but will also overlook a minor parking infringement more often than not. There are, however, traffic wardens out there who like their job just a little too much and will love to write you a ticket. These are the ones who will stick a ticket on you for going over your limit by smaller amount of time that even the Hadron Collider can measure. There are also the ones who will give you a ticket if that stone stuck between the treads of your tyre is within a hair’s width of the edge of the yellow line. Yes, these ones are not included in my musings. Nor are the private wheel clamping firms: they are a different thing altogether.
I think so many of our negative feelings towards these guys come from the fact that we feel we have the right park anywhere so long as “we’ll only be a couple of minutes”. Unfortunately though, if we do break the rules and get caught, we only have ourselves to blame.
You know, there are so many other things to despise in this world – terrorists, crooked politicians, middle-lane drivers – that one less to worry about can only be good for your health.
So there you are. Have I turned you around and allowed you see our humble traffic warden in a new light, or do you still think they are money-grabbing scum who would step over their dying grandmother just to slap a ticket on your car?
I know that at some point(s) in the future I will break the parking rules. If I do though, I’m not going to waste any negative emotions on the traffic warden issuing the fine. I’ll just shrug and think back to what I have written here.
If you’ve stayed in a hotel at any time over the last 20 years or so, you will no doubt have seen a notice in the bathroom that looks something like this:
Although I agree this is a commendable move by the hotels, the cynic in me has always believed that many are simply doing this to lower their laundry bills while scoring some easy ‘green’ points at the same time. My real bugbear however is when, literally a few paces away from a notice such as the one above, you find this:
So what are we looking at here (apart from a hotel coffee maker)? Well, to begin with you may notice that there’s no choice but to use a disposable cup, which is also wrapped in that most despised material: polyethylene. Second, the coffee machine that this (apparently environmentally conscious) hotel has purchased for every room employs a single-use plastic tray to put the coffee in. That’s right folks, each and every individual coffee sachet comes in it own disposable plastic tray. Disgraceful.
So as you can see below, the waste created by just one cup of coffee somewhat makes the whole saving resources thing look like a bit of a scam.
The waste created by one cup of hotel coffee.
Unfortunately, my job requires me to stay in quite a few hotels (not very green I know, but I’m working on that) and this is by no means a one off. This scenario is repeated over and over again; in fact it’s what gave me the original idea for the Great Eco-Lie Outbreak.
In contrast, some hotels do get it right. The picture below, for example, shows reusable china mugs that are not wrapped in plastic, plus the coffee machine uses a plastic tray that can be used repeatedly in the coffee machine. That’s much better, don’t you think?
Professing your care for the planet via the obligatory ‘please reuse your towels and save resources’ notice is fine, but these hotels who then use so many disposable components in their coffee machines are just being hypocritical.
So next time you stay in a hotel and witness an Eco-Lie such as this, do have a word, and let the managers know we are on to them.
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Photos courtesy of me.