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.
http://www.shutterstock.com

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.




Read more:
Flight shame: flying less plays a small but positive part in tackling climate change


“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.




Read more:
Get set for take-off in electric aircraft, the next transport disruption


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.
http://www.shutterstock.com

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.




Read more:
Why our carbon emission policies don’t work on air travel


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.
http://www.shutterstock.com

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.




Read more:
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.

Stop shaming and start empowering: advertisers must rethink their plastic waste message



A woman sorts plastic bottles at a workshop in Hanoi. The world is being overwhelmed by plastic waste, and companies should do more to address it.
EPA/LUONG THAI LINH

Sergio Brodsky, RMIT University

Discussion of the environment is embedded in our culture as public awareness over issues such as climate change and plastic pollution has grown. Advertisers are not shy about tapping into this concern for their own benefit.

A Twitter analysis last year revealed that in the UK at least, the environment was a current and growing issue. Between January 2015 and March 2018, discussion on Twitter about single-use plastic, for example, increased by an incredible 5,543%.

Advertisers are already highly skilled at the power of narrative: reducing complexity and helping us make sense of their message. This power is amplified when the narrative taps into culture. A brand message, if successful, then becomes part of people’s conversations rather than interrupting them with ads they don’t care about.




Read more:
Here is a global solution to the plastic waste crisis – and A$443 million to get it started


Advertisers who tell a good story can persuade the public of all sorts of things. Some messages are positive and constructive. But a few are disingenuous and misleading.

The latter is especially true in the case of recycling, where advertisers often imply that consumers, not corporations, are responsible for the huge amounts of plastic waste a product creates.

A CocaCola recycling campaign that ran in the 2019 European summer.
Supplied by author

Plastic pollution is a big deal

Australia’s National Waste Report last year found 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2016-17 – or 103kg for each person. Most of it was only used once, and just 12% was recycled.

Coca-Cola says by the end of 2019, 70% of its plastic bottles in Australia will be made entirely from recycled plastic. The company in August released a video in Australia thanking people for recycling.




Read more:
We organised a conference for 570 people without using plastic. Here’s how it went


It follows a European campaign launched by the company in June with the tagline “Don’t buy Coca-Cola if you’re not going to help us recycle”.

Absolut Vodka this year launched a new limited edition bottle made of 41% recycled glass – like all of its bottles – accompanied by a “Guide to a Circular Living Together”. The company told customers: “Now’s your time to shine on stage – rocking the recycling lifestyle as a true #RecyclingHero!”

Coca-Cola Australia | Thanks For Recycling Campaign, 2019.

On the face of it, such campaigns might seem virtuous, especially following China’s 2018 policy limiting the import of low-quality mixed recyclables. But in fact they continue a long history of framing consumers as the main waste culprits.

The practice began in the US in the 1950s when Keep America Beautiful was formed. The non-profit consortium included Coca-Cola and tobacco manufacturer Phillip Morris, among others. Its campaigns, such as the 1971 “Crying Indian” ad, tapped into a shared cultural guilt for polluting the environment and, in this case, mistreating native people.

Such tactics have been mirrored by Keep Australia Beautiful campaigns.

But guilt is not a good predictor of people’s behaviour. A 2001 study found individuals must feel ethically validated, not guilty, to behave in an environmentally friendly way.

Consumers are not the villains

Manufacturers of consumer products obviously play a major role in the growing plastic problem. This is reflected in the Australian Packaging Covenant, an agreement between government and industry.

It says responsibility for packaging should be shared by companies throughout the supply chain. Consumers, waste service providers, recyclers and governments also have roles to play.




Read more:
Indonesia has sent Australia’s recycling home – it’s time to clean up our act


Researchers have noted that a permissive legal framework has allowed plastic pollution to rise despite the obvious harm it causes to communities and marine life.

As Recycled Plastics Australia general manager Stephen Scherer told the ABC this year:

…the federal government has been absent from the conversation about waste, while Australians are operating in a culture where ‘we don’t do what we’re not forced to do’.

Plastic waste is on the radar of Australian governments. State and federal environment ministers last year set a target that all packaging be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier.

But critics say rather than set targets, the federal government must mandate the use of recycled plastic in packaging to ensure the waste problem is addressed.

Fish swimming along a coral reef near a water bottle label and a plastic bag off the coast of the Red Sea resort town of Naama Bay, Egypt.
Mike Nelson/EPA

Recycling campaigns done right

Companies such as Coca-Cola are embracing the concept of sustainability to some extent. But better still, other brands have sought to fix recycling systems themselves.

In February Unilever “paid” people in Buenos Aires, Argentina for their household recyclables with discount coupons redeemable against its products at selected retailers.

In the UK, Burger King last month announced it was scrapping plastic toys from kids’ meals and invited the public to bring in old plastic toys from any restaurant meal. The plastic will be remade into “interactive play opportunities” for families at their restaurants.

In Australia, superannuation fund Australian Ethical ran its latest campaign on 100% recyclable billboard skins.

Consumers do have a role to play in waste reduction, including by recycling or demanding that companies find alternatives to single-use plastics. But if companies want to respond meaningfully to the plastic crisis, they must accept ultimate responsibility for their packaging and work towards zero-waste.The Conversation

Sergio Brodsky, Sessional Lecturer, Marketing, RMIT University

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