Somewhere, a little swamped by the coverage of the (finally) capped oil leak, have been two other environmental stories in the last couple of days, one dry but important, one inspirational.

On the one hand, a UN-backed report tells us that renewable energy has grown steadily. To lift directly from the BBC:

The authors said the year was “unprecedented in the history of renewable energy, despite the headwinds posed by the global financial crisis, lower oil prices and slow progress with climate policy”.

One of the forces propelling the sector’s strong showing, they added, was the “potential to create new industries and millions of new jobs”. (BBC Website)

A different, Swiss-made manned solar-powered plane. Ok, the aesthetics could use a bit of work...

Good to know, and good context to the second story, that a small, solar-powered sports plane has completed a 7-day flight. Now perhaps I’m getting too excited about this, but, a solar-powered plane! I’m not normally one to get excited about technology or new machines, but this one I can get on the wavelength of. At this point we’re just talking about a tiny, unmanned plane (although there have also been short, manned flights) and no doubt we have years, probably decades, to wait before this becomes a commercial technology carrying the masses through the skies, but its potential as a symbol seems to me to be huge. Wind farms carry a lot of baggage with them, solar panels on the ground are very rarely glamorous or beautiful, but the idea of a solar has a kind of excitement factor to it. It’s easy to imagine fleets of beautiful, silent solar planes with huge wings flying through the sky. It’s futuristic, and not in a kitsch way. I highly recommend a google image search for solar-powered planes: this latest story is, of course just one of many developments of this kind, and the machines are mostly a good-looking bunch.

Somewhere in the last fifty years flying has turned from a glamorous pursuit, a symbol of the future and living at a fast pace, to something morally dubious and done by the packed-in masses with Ryanair or EasyJet. Surely there is something left in that original fantasy of taking to the skies to give this idea the kind of thrill that most renewable energy innovations or energy efficiency drives just don’t have. I would be sorry if this happened in a vacuum, but coupled with the UN report which places this story in an optimistic big picture, this feels like a good omen. I hope there are artists, writers, songwriters out there taking note.

For many of us, flying less is one of the most difficult behaviour changes to envision in a world with, say, high carbon taxes. Some of those most concerned about global warming also believe strongly in the value of a smaller world, myself included. This theme is excellently covered in the song ‘Flying’ by highly political folk-pop group Seize The Day, who I think it’s fair to say are slightly to the left of Gandhi reading the communist manifesto while on crack. This was written by a member of the group to show that she, while having stopped flying herself, understands the positions of their friends who still do. Climate change is not an easy subject to write songs about, but they manage it by making it highly personal (and, indeed, slipping in some fantastic vocal harmonies).

“I discovered so much of who I am

Sitting in deserts in the sand

Nothing and no-one to get in the way

No bills to pay

I love lying in the sun and swimming in warm sea

I don’t want to think about all the places I may never see

Living is hard but flying is easy…”

(from “Flying” by Seize the Day)

Your blogger aged 19, taking advantage of a smaller world by learning the facts of Mongolian nomadic life in the Gobi desert

And this from climate change activists! For anyone who has gained a lot from international travel, (or, indeed, from high quality international imports), the appeal is obvious. For now, many of us are ready and willing to push for local products and cut down our travelling. But hope is a powerful thing.

The PR angle seems to me to be this. “While personal efforts to reduce our carbon footprint are still essential, and the questions posed about our society by the environmental issues it causes remain, it’s looking like technology could make everyone’s lives a whole lot easier. We’re seeing more innovation, more jobs, and some outright excitement, including the possibility of flying up towards the sun, powered by the sun.”

With my dissertation due to be finished in a month on Monday I promised myself less blogging. But some blogs just write themselves…

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