Shaming people for flying won’t cut airline emissions. We need a smarter solution



Swedish airport operator Swedavia reported passenger numbers at its ten airports in October 2019 were down 5% on the previous year.
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Duygu Yengin, University of Adelaide and Tracey Dodd, University of Adelaide

“Fake news”, the chief executive of Lufthansa has called it. But his counterpart at Air France calls it the airline industry’s “biggest challenge”. So does the president of Emirates: “It’s got to be dealt with.”

What they’re talking about is “flight shame” – the guilt caused by the environmental impacts of air travel. Specifically, the carbon emissions.

It’s the reason teen climate-change activist Greta Thunberg refused to fly to New York to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, taking a 14-day sea voyage instead.

A publicity photo of Greta Thunberg on her way to New York aboard the yacht Malizia II in August 2019. The phrase ‘skolstrejk för klimatet’ means school strike for climate.
EPA

In Thunberg’s native Sweden, flight shame (“flygskam”) has really taken off, motivating people to not take off. Last year 23% of Swedes reduced their air travel to shrink their carbon footprint, according to a WWF survey. Swedish airport operator Swedavia reported passenger numbers at its ten airports in October were down 5% on the previous year.

The potency of this guilt is what put Lufthansa’s head, Carsten Spohr, on the defensive at an aviation industry conference in Berlin in November.




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“Airlines should not have to be seen as a symbol of climate change. That’s just fake news,” he declared. “Our industry contributes 2.8% of global CO₂ emissions. As I’ve asked before, how about the other 97.2%? Are they contributing to global society with as much good as we do? Are they reducing emissions as much as we do?”

Does he have a point? Let’s consider the evidence.

How bad are aviation CO₂ emissions?

The International Council on Clean Transportation (the same organisation that exposed Volkwagen’s diesel emissions fraud), estimates commercial aviation accounted for 2.4% of all carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use in 2018.

So it’s true many other sectors contribute more.

It is also true airlines are making efforts to reduce the amount of carbon they emit per passenger per kilometre. Australia’s aviation industry, for example, has reduced its “emissions intensity” by 1.4% a year since 2013.

However, the ICCT estimates growth in passenger numbers, and therefore total flights, means total carbon emissions from commercial aviation have ballooned by 32% in five years, way faster than UN predictions. On that trajectory, the sector’s total emissions could triple by 2050.

Alternatives to fossil fuels

A revolution in aircraft design could mitigate that trajectory. The International Air Transport Association suggests the advent of hybrid electric aircraft propulsion (similar to how a hybrid car works, taking off and landing using electric power) by about 2030-35 could reduce fossil fuel consumption by up to 40%. Fully electric propulsion after that could eliminate fossil fuels completely.




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Even with the advent of electric airliners by mid-century, the huge cost and long lifespan of commercial jets means it could still take decades to wean fleets off fossil fuels.

A shorter-term solution might be replacing fossil fuels with “sustainable aviation fuels” such as biofuels made from plant matter. But in 2018 just 15 million litres of aviation biofuel were produced – less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption. The problem is it costs significantly more than standard kerosene-based aviation fuel. Greater use depends on the price coming down, or the price of fossil fuels going up.

Research into biofuels made from algae and other plant matter could prove a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Right now, though, cost is a major hurdle to uptake.
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Pricing carbon

This brings us to the role of economics in decarbonising aviation.

An economist will tell you, for most goods the simplest way to reduce its consumption is to increase its price, or reduce the price of alternatives. This is the basis of all market-based solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

One way is to impose a tax on carbon, the same way taxes are levied on alcohol and tobacco, to deter consumption as well as to raise revenue to pay the costs use imposes on society.

The key problem with this approach is a government must guess at the price needed to achieve the desired reduction in demand. How the tax revenue is spent is also crucial to public acceptance.




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In France, opposition to higher fuel taxes led the government to instead announce an “eco-tax” on flights.

This proposed tax will range from €1.50 (about A$2.40) for economy flights within the European Union to €18 (about A$29.30) for business-class flights out of the EU. Among those who think this price signal is too low to make any real difference is Sam Fankhauser, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London.

Trading and offsets

Greater outcome certainty is the reason many economists champion an emissions trading scheme (also known as “cap and trade”). Whereas a tax seeks to reduce carbon emissions by raising the price of emission, a trading scheme sets a limit on emissions and leaves it to the market to work out the price that achieves it.

One advantage economists see in emissions trading is that it creates both disincentive and incentives. Emitters don’t pay a penalty to the government. They effectively pay other companies to achieve reductions on their behalf through the trade of “carbon credits”.

The European Union already has an emissions trading scheme that covers flights within the European Economic Area, but it has been criticised for limiting incentives for companies to reduce emissions because they can cheaply buy credits, such as from overseas projects such as tree-planting schemes.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport: Swedish data suggests voluntary action motivated by shame is unlikely to lead to any significant reduction in demand for international air travel.
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This led to the paradox of scheme delivering a reported 100 million tonnes of “reductions/offsets” from Europe’s aviation sector between 2012 and 2018 even while the sector’s emissions increased.

A better solution might come from a well-designed international trading scheme. The basis for this may be the global agreement known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. Already 81 countries, representing three-quarters of international aviation activity, have agreed to participate.




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Carbon offsets can do more environmental harm than good


What seems clear is that guilt and voluntary action to reduce carbon emissions has its limits. This is suggested by the data from Sweden, the heartland of flight shame.

Behind the 5% reduction in passenger numbers reported by Swedavia is a major difference between domestic passengers (down 10%) and international passengers (down just 2%). That might have something to do with the limited travel alternatives when crossing an ocean.

For most of us to consider emulating Greta Thunberg by taking a sailboat instead, the price of a flight would have to be very high indeed.The Conversation

Duygu Yengin, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Adelaide and Tracey Dodd, Research Fellow, Adelaide Business School, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Car accidents, drownings, violence: hotter temperatures will mean more deaths from injury



New research shows people will be more likely to die from accidents and injuries as the climate gets warmer.
From shutterstock.com

Liz Hanna, Australian National University

What we suspected is now official: 2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record. The country’s average maximum temperature last year (30.69℃) was a scorching 2.09℃ hotter than the 1961-1990 average.

For the whole planet, 2019 is expected to come in second (behind 2016) making the last five years the hottest on record since 1880.

As we brace for increasingly hot summers, we are mindful extreme heat can pose significant health risks for vulnerable groups. But the effects of heat on the incidence of accidents and injury are less clear.

In research published today in Nature Medicine, researchers in the United States looked at the impact warmer temperatures will have on deaths from injury. They found if average temperatures warmed by 1.5℃, we could expect to see 1,600 more deaths each year across the US.

Given Australia is ahead of the global temperature curve, we could see an even greater number of deaths from injury per capita as a result of rising temperatures.




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What the study did and found

The researchers analysed death and temperature data collected from 1980 to 2017 across mainland United States (so their results excluded the states of Alaska and Hawaii).

They looked at records from more than five million injury deaths from this 38-year period. They also identified temperature anomalies by county and by month, to understand how these deaths could relate to spikes in the weather.

Using a method called Bayesian Spatio-temporal modelling, the authors combined this information to estimate the rates at which injury deaths would rise with a 1.5℃ temperature increase.

Hotter temperatures have been associated with spikes in domestic and other violence.
From shutterstock.com

They categorised injury deaths as either unintentional (transport, falls and drownings) or intentional (assaults and suicides), and stratified results further by gender and age group.

They found deaths from drownings would increase by as much as 13.7% in men aged 15-24 years, whereas assaults and suicides would increase by less than 3% across all groups. Transport deaths would rise by 2% for men aged 25-34 years and 0.5% for women in the same age group.

Overall, these increased risks would account for 1,601 additional deaths per year from injury across the US, an annual rise of 0.75% in overall deaths from injury in the population. They indicate 84% of these deaths would occur in males.

Although the primary focus was on 1.5℃ warming, the researchers also looked at a rise of 2℃. The found this would result in 2,135 additional deaths from injury (a 1% increase).

Why do deaths from injury increase in hot weather?

Higher temperatures are associated with irritability, and increases in conflict and interpersonal violence.

Research has shown each degree celsius increase in annual temperatures is linked to nearly a 6% average increase in homicides. Another study showed domestic violence rates increased by 40% when the daily maximum temperature exceeded 34℃.




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How rising temperatures affect our health


Hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature) can also lead to symptoms such as loss of concentration and fatigue. These factors can trigger incidents such as car accidents and faults operating mechanical equipment. So we can expect injuries to increase as we face more hot days.

A South Australian study of workers’ compensation claims found for every degree above 14℃, occupational injuries requiring more than three days off work increased modestly (0.2%).

Increases in drowning might occur due the higher proportions of people seeking relief in the water on hot days.

Being too hot can lead to a loss of concentration or fatigue, which can increase the risk of accidents.
From shutterstock.com

Importantly, climate change is heightening anxiety in rural communities, and more broadly throughout the population.

In Australia, heat is commonly associated with drought. Long droughts are known to be linked to spikes in suicide rates, especially among rural males.

We also know suicide rates rise in affected communities following bushfires, in the face of grief and trauma.




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The reason for the gender disparity was not tested, but likely relates to the higher prevalence of risk-taking behaviour among males.

So what does this mean for Australia?

With global temperatures on course for a 3-5°C rise this century, limiting warming to 1.5℃ is optimistic. The effects are likely to be even greater than what is forecasted in this study.

This study assessed excess injury deaths with a level of warming Australia witnessed in 2019 alone.

Rising heat is possibly Australia’s number one threat from climate change. It leads to the catastrophic bushfires we’re seeing this summer, and pushes us beyond the temperatures our bodies can withstand.

When looking at deaths caused by heat, we need to look beyond those caused by heat-induced illness, and separate the many caused by injury.




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How can we avoid future ‘epidemics’ of heat deaths?


We must strengthen the nation’s climate change and human health research to provide specific details on when, where and how we can best ameliorate heat harm.

We need to ramp up our prevention efforts in this space. All Australians should be made aware of the dangers of a hotter world through a federally funded public education strategy, akin to the successful “Life. Be in it” campaign, which successfully promoted the importance of being active.

Most urgently, we must focus on prevention through climate change mitigation, which will be the best and most far-reaching prevention strategy we can deliver.The Conversation

Liz Hanna, Honorary Senior Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.