Let’s move better! Climate activists justify civil disobedience by our immobility in the face of the climate emergency. While we may disagree with their methods and find some of their targets ill-fitting, it is difficult not to share their exasperation: the speed and determination with which our society is grasping the problem is hopeless!
While we wait for more courageous decisions from our governments that would bring the framework conditions (the incentives and rules that guide the choices of companies and individuals) in line with their commitments, what should each of us do at our level?
The CO2 emissions for which we, as individuals, are most directly responsible come mainly from the way we eat, heat and travel. In all three cases, technology is partly to blame, but there is a residue that requires changes in our behaviour. In broad terms: eat less meat, avoid overheating our flats, and move less and better.
The link between technology and behaviour is most obvious when we consider the issue of mobility. For short distances, technology comes to our rescue. Telecommuting, cycling and electric cars (in addition to walking and public transport) allow us to radically reduce the pollution for which we are responsible without huge changes in our way of life (the imperative is to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels to zero as quickly as possible). The prospects are less encouraging for long-distance travel, where air travel is the only solution. At this stage and for the foreseeable future, technology will be of little help.
Aircraft are becoming more fuel-efficient, but the gains are insufficient and will be outweighed by the growth in demand. If we want to reduce our emissions, in line with the modest commitments of our governments and consistent with the majority support for those commitments, there is no other option than to move less!
This part of the deal is probably the most painful. The Swiss (together with the Norwegians) are the biggest fans of the aircraft. For this reason they are also very big polluters. It is estimated that more than a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions are caused by our air travel, the majority of which is dedicated to leisure*. Our leaders seem to believe that awareness, perhaps helped by an article like this one, will be enough to push us to adapt our behaviour. This is undoubtedly an illusion!
Awareness of the need to travel less should be reinforced by a more tangible signal such as an increase in ticket prices, which are artificially low today because of the free use of a common good, the regenerative capacity of the atmosphere. It is about curbing the growth in demand and encouraging us to be more responsible when choosing our holiday destinations. Part of the solution could be an obligation for companies to offset their emissions at a realistic CO2 price – at least the price set on the European market, but why not the existing tax on heating oil (96 francs per tonne of CO2)? Such a measure would also provide a strong incentive to accelerate the use of innovation, which is the only way to reopen our travel horizons in the long run.
By Jean-Pierre Danthine,
Co-Managing Director of E4S
This article was originally published in French in Le Matin Dimanche