Equilibrium/Sustainability — Electric planes could reconnect small US airports

7 months ago 17

United Airlines is betting that it can persuade small-city residents to replace a five-hour car trip with a zippy ride in a compact electric plane. 

If this plan works, it could lead to an electric renaissance for a lost age of regional American air travel, CNBC reported.  

“Go back to the 1990s, there were hundreds of small aircraft serving a lot of communities that have now lost service,” Anders Forslund, chief executive of electric startup Heart Aerospace, told CNBC.

Heart is under contract to supply United with 100 of its short range electric aircraft. United also this year contracted to buy electric planes from Eve, another manufacturer, that will be capable of taking off and landing vertically, similar to a helicopter, according to a statement.

These kinds of aircraft — and the regional connectivity they made possible — mostly went extinct as the weight and expense of newer jet engines restricted flights to more lucrative, higher-capacity flights between major cities, CNBC noted.

But it is now those large planes that could suffer the most from the energy transition, as they are too heavy for any existing electric engine to power, the outlet reported.

Electric motors allow companies like Heart to start building small planes “that have completely different unit economics,” Forslund said.

For residents of smaller cities, that means they either “get service they didn’t have, that they had to drive to an airport, or they’re going to have greater frequency of services,” Mike Leskinen, a United vice president, told CNBC. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin.

Today we’ll see why the British heads of state and government won’t be attending the upcoming United Nations climate summit. Then we’ll turn to a presidential runoff that could dictate the fate of the Amazon. But first: How heat waves have cost the global economy trillions. 


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Heat waves cost the economy trillions: study 

Heat waves driven by climate change have cost the global economy trillions of dollars since the early 1990s, a new study has found.

  • From 1992-2013, countries lost an estimated $16 trillion to the impacts of high temperatures on human health, productivity and agricultural output, according to the study, published in Science Advances on Friday.
  • Those who have suffered the most are the world’s poorest and lowest carbon-emitting nations, the authors observed.

Cost of doing nothing: “Accelerating adaptation measures within the hottest period of each year would deliver economic benefits now,” lead author Christopher Callahan, a doctoral candidate at Dartmouth College, said in a statement.

The money devoted to such measures should be assessed “relative to the cost of doing nothing,” Callahan continued, adding that there is “a substantial price tag to not doing anything.”

Economics meet heat: Callahan and his colleagues said they combed through newly available, in-depth economic data for regions around the world for the 1992-2013 period.

  • They cross-checked this information with the average temperature for the hottest five-day period each year — a metric used by scientists to gauge heat intensity.
  • Economic losses due to extreme heat in wealthy areas averaged 1.5 percent of gross domestic product per capita. In low-income regions, those losses were about 6.7 percent.  

Ripple effects: “Almost no country on Earth has benefitted from the extreme heat that has occurred,” senior author Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth, warned in a statement.  

Low-income countries are home to large numbers of outdoor workers, but these individuals generate materials that are critical to supply chains, according to Mankin.  

“There is absolutely the potential for upward ripple effects,” he added. 

COP-27 set to begin without UK king, prime minister

Neither King Charles III nor U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will attend next week’s United Nations climate summit, with the government opting to focus on domestic issues.

  • Downing Street confirmed on Friday that the monarch would not be partaking in the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP-27), stressing that it is not the “right occasion” for him to do so, according to The Guardian.
  • President Biden is planning to attend the summit, although leaders of some other major economies — including Russia — are not expected to attend, the BBC reported. 

Questioning the climate agenda: Despite Charles’s passion about the climate crisis, it was “unanimously agreed” by Buckingham Palace that the king would not attend the summit, according to The Guardian.

  • Downing Street maintained that the absence of both Charles and Sunak does not mean that climate issues are dropping from the government’s agenda.
  • Three other cabinet ministers will be attending COP-27, which will take place from Nov. 6-18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  

PM defends decision: Sunak told the BBC on Friday that it was the right decision to skip the climate summit due to the country’s need to focus on “pressing domestic challenges.”  

Meanwhile, he hailed the U.K.’s progress in combatting climate change, arguing that the U.K. is “one of the countries that has decarbonized the fastest.”  

Opposition is not pleased: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday described the prime minister’s decision to stay in the U.K. as “Britain not showing up to work,” according to the BBC.

  • Ed Miliband, Labour party Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change, described Sunak’s choice as “a massive failure of leadership.” 
  • Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said that the move “flies in the face of the UK’s proud tradition of leading the world in our response to the climate change,” per the BBC. 

Scrutinizing leadership: Asked by the BBC on Friday to address these claims, Sunak said that “the leadership we have shown on the climate is unmatched almost along the world.” 

“We’re an example for others to follow,” he continued. 

The U.K.-based Climate Coalition gave the country a “C” grade on its most recent “report card,” which evaluated government climate action for 2021. 

Keeping the UK’s ban on fracking: Earlier this week, Sunak told lawmakers that he would maintain a ban on fracking, overturning a decision by his predecessor, Liz Truss, The Washington Post reported.

  • Truss had lifted a moratorium on the practice, which involves drilling through underground shale rocks to withdraw oil and gas.
  • Fracking remains common in countries like the U.S., Canada, China and Argentina.  

Passing down a better environment: Sunak’s reinstatement of the fracking ban pleased climate activists and served to distance himself from Truss, according to the Post.

Going forward, the prime minister said he would promote climate-friendly policies that provide “our children an environment in a better state than we found it ourselves,” the Post reported. 

Dirty politics mark pivotal environmental runoff race

The fate of the world’s largest rainforest — and the global climate stability it helps underpin — is at stake in this weekend’s presidential runoff election in Brazil.

The contentious race — in which right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro faces left-leaning former president Luiz Inacio da Silva — has been marked by personal attacks, race-baiting and fake news.

  • “It’s the Americanization of Brazilian politics,” Guilherme Casarões, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, told The Washington Post.
  • “One of the features of this election is that Bolsonaro has been able … to create a permanent state of cultural war.” 

The election pits an incumbent who has overseen a staggering leap in deforestation rates against a challenger who once presided over historic declines, as we reported earlier this month.

Naming the problem: Da Silva pointed to the new political climate in a campaign event last week, the Post reported. 

“I have never seen Brazil taken by such hatred as a part of Brazilian society has today,” he said.

A river of misinformation: Brazilian voters are facing a barrage of misleading stories about the two candidates, according to The Associated Press.

  • As in the U.S., “an individual post might not have that much reach, but cumulatively over time, having this constant drip-drip has negative consequences,” Vicky Wyatt of U.S.-based SumOfUs told the AP.
  • With the Amazon a key campaign issue, the Brazilian right has published widespread false claims about the country’s environmental plight, the Post reported. 

In one campaign video, Bolsonaro, the embattled president, blasts environmentalists who don’t want to let Brazil’s indigenous communities “evolve” or “plant on their land, explore, mine.”

Thousands of indigenous demonstrators had occupied the capital of Brasilia this spring to protest the Bolsonaro government’s expansion of mining. 

Mining for food? Members of the Brazilian right have also falsely claimed that mining indigenous reserves in the Amazon is necessary to secure minerals needed to manufacture fertilizer, the Post reported.  

Doing so, they have argued, would make up for supply disruptions from the war in Ukraine, the Post. 


Bolsonaro is behind Da Silva in the polls, but the race has tightened in the past month. 

Hamstrung courts: Bolsonaro would also get to appoint more judges to the country’s Supreme Court, Americas Quarterly reported.

  • The court’s judges are expected to demand the government renew a billion-dollar international fund aimed at cutting deforestation, according to Reuters.
  • Bolsonaro froze the fund in 2019, Reuters reported. 

A clash: Government-sponsored development in the Amazon is butting up against indigenous communities, local leaders told PBS. 

The government has financed projects like logistics hubs to move grain and soy to international markets from fields cleared from the forest, according to PBS.  

‘Deforestation for good: Farmers and ranchers in the Amazon who back Bolsonaro described the loss of forest as a net positive, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported earlier this week.

  • The continued loss of forest has meant the opening up of new farmland, settlers told CBC.
  • “[Development] is in full swing here. Every day, life is getting better and better,” one rancher said. 

Follow-up Friday

n which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered over the past week. 

Millions of Pakistani children need help following floods: UNICEF 

UNICEF warned earlier this week that almost every child on the planet will face frequent heat waves by 2050 due to climate change. The U.N. agency estimated on Friday that nearly 10 million children in Pakistan need urgent support in the aftermath of “the catastrophic climate disaster” that overtook the nation with floodwaters this summer. 

European officials court African leaders in a bid to find new gas partners 

This week we explored why Europe might now have too much gas as well a an Israel-Lebanon maritime deal that will enable further gas extraction. But with an uncertain future at hand, European leaders have been courting their African counterparts about the possibility of fast-tracking energy projects, The New York Times reported. 

Florida couple’s home insurance canceled as Ian approached 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and explore more newsletters here. We’ll see you next week.

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