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Our addiction to flying is ruining the climate, but it doesn’t have to

From simply flying planes in straighter lines to sucking fuel from thin air, a raft of new technologies that could help us fly guilt-free are in the offing

The Alpha Electro G2 plane runs entirely on batteries

Pipistrel Alpha Electro

RIGHT now, there are more than half a million people in the sky. Some 11 kilometres up, at the base of the stratosphere, the equivalent of a small city’s population is strapped into seats in pressurised tubes atop gigantic tanks of kerosene. It is an extraordinary thought.

It is also a worrying one. By some estimates, aviation is set to become the single biggest source of carbon dioxide. You may have switched to a green energy supplier, swapped your car for a bike, and maybe even stopped eating meat. But if you’re thinking about taking that holiday in the Mediterranean and don’t want to bust your carbon budget, you’re going to have to paddle there.

Yet we are addicted to flying. Few would willingly give up the freedom and opportunities it gives. So is there any way we can keep that city in the sky aloft without destroying the planet?

One factor that makes it especially tough is the ever-increasing number of us up there. An average return plane ticket in 2017 was about 60 per cent cheaper in real terms than it was in 1995. That has driven an annual 5 per cent rise in passenger numbers. At the moment, 4 billion passenger seats are sold in civilian airliners each year, according to the International Air Transport Association. By 2036, that figure is predicted to almost double to 7.8 billion. That means annual passenger numbers in roughly 20 years will be a shade higher than Earth’s entire population today.

At the same …


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