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Travel’s Future Looks Green, as Cars Go Electric and Airlines Seek Biofuels

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Feb 5, 2021

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

US President Joe Biden’s rapid approach to addressing climate change appears to be spearheading a global reapproach to climate policy – and this is, in turn, infiltrating many aspects of the global economy. This includes travel, beginning with the future of ground transportation and continuing all the way up to 30,000 feet. Let’s dive in.

In his first two weeks in office, Biden signed multiple executive orders on climate, bringing the United States back into the Paris Agreement, halting new oil and gas leases on public land, and making environmental implications a factor in federal decision making, among other things. He also signed an order aiming to electrify the 645,000 vehicles in the federal vehicle fleet, which has drawn near-immediate follow-ups from major auto industry players that, in the long run, will impact travelers both in the US and across the world.

The New York Times reported on January 28 that General Motors will cease production of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. As one of the world’s largest automakers and one whose products span the entirety of the globe, the move is likely to spur similar statements from other major carmakers. Nissan quickly upped the ante, announcing last week that it would electrify its entire fleet by 2030, as reported by Yahoo! News.

The ripple effects of vehicle electrification will seep into other aspects of travel as well. For instance, all of those electric vehicles will need batteries, which will drive innovation and production of battery storage technology. This will make it easier for places like hotels and restaurants to power themselves with renewable energy as battery manufacturers produce more batteries for cars and beyond, and innovation allows those batteries to store more power.

The US hopes to install half a million new public chargers by 2030, the Times also reported. It’s estimated that the US will need 25 percent more power from the grid in order to charge all of those electric cars. Fortunately, solar power will be there to meet the need, which as of last year is officially the cheapest form of power to produce and distribute. Biden’s effort to double offshore wind power capacity by the same 2030 timeframe will only help the cause.

Now, let’s zoom out and look at what this rapid shift to a renewable-energy-powered transportation sector means for travelers. Market forces still largely drive global economics — i.e., what makes money, wins. Biden can sign executive orders every day for four years, but government regulation only goes so far in curbing the private sector, in which the vast majority of tourism dollars are spent, earned, and invested. But since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, global financial policy has already reacted with a heavy shift toward greener living. And this could really help to make your travels greener, even beyond common “green travel practices” like purchasing carbon offsets.

Michael Coren, a climate reporter with Quartz, reported last week that major investment banks and banking regulators in the US and Europe, including BlackRock and the European Central Bank, are beginning to outwardly consider the long-term climate impact of the companies and causes in which they invest. The Paris Agreement ensures these considerations will continue to scale in investment firms around the world as countries work to reduce and eliminate their carbon footprint, and put tougher emissions restrictions in place as a result. This pushes travel industry businesses to think green, as evidenced by United and each of the 13 airlines in the OneWorld partnership that have announced net-zero carbon emissions targets, and to pursue more eco-friendly biofuels made from things like food waste and sugarcane to power their flights. Look for their 2050 net-zero targets to be pushed forward in the coming years.

This all fits in nicely with another, oddly less-publicized announcement from Washington, DC, that came out last week. The executive order issued by Biden on January 27 to halt new oil and gas leases on federal land also contained a commitment to conserve 30 percent of US land and coastal seas by 2030 — in line with the 30 by 30 initiative championed by environmental groups and even many federal lawmakers. If this pans out, by the time we’re all heating our homes with renewable energy and flying on biofuel-powered planes, we’ll have a lot more protected outdoor recreation spaces to drive our electric cars to.

More climate wins

Elon Musk is investing in carbon capture technology. The serial entrepreneur committed $100 million as a “prize” to the best carbon capture technology, giving a very public boost from one of the world’s most renowned business leaders to an idea that many scientists say is a necessity if we hope to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Carbon capture technology pulls carbon from the atmosphere and stores it, often underground, preventing it from trapping heat.

Brazil, traditionally a country with a very meat-heavy diet, is seeing a rise in vegetarian and vegan dining options, Matador’s Noelle Salmi reported. According to the Brazilian Vegetarian Society, 14 percent of Brazilians now consider themselves vegetarian or vegan.

We close this week with a nod to two action sports companies who have for years put sustainability and adventure travel at the core of their business, and both of which happen to have new films out that highlight their connection to the environment. Burton’s OneWorld is available on Amazon Prime and on Burton. Arbor’s Crossing the Grain documentary streams on Arbor Collective. You can stream each one for free this week.

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