Rising air passenger numbers "The CO2 tax is like a toothache"
In disrepute: According to the Federal Environment Agency, an airplane produces six times as many greenhouse gases per person-kilometer as the train does.
The world is afraid of climate change – at the same time, passenger numbers are rising at Lufthansa and Easyjet. Consumer psychologist Hans-Georg Hausel explains how this fits together and why global warming should be more of a tiger.
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Psychologist Hans-Georg Hausel (67) earned his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute with a dissertation on money and consumer behavior, and has published numerous reference books on brain research and the power of the unconscious mind when making purchases. Hausel lectures on financial psychology, teaches at the Hochschule fur Wirtschaft in Zurich and works for the Munich-based retailer consulting firm Gruppe Nymphenburg.
WirtschaftsWoche: Mr. Hausel, according to a survey, humanity is not as afraid of anything these days as it is of climate change. At the same time, Lufthansa and Easyjet expect passenger growth for the current fiscal year. Are we all bigots?
Hausel: Global warming is first of all something extremely abstract and lies somewhere far in the future. A trip, however, is a much more direct reward for our brain, beating the abstract many times over. Man is socially opportune. If he is asked, he says: Yes, climate change is something very bad. There is a good part of social justification in such a response. Almost everyone also agrees with the statement that one should buy more organic food, but then in the average shopping basket there are only six percent organic goods. We say one should not lie. But we lie 20 times a day. That is, our social justification has almost nothing to do with our behavior, because that is extremely strongly reward-oriented. Giving up something that theoretically benefits the whole world, but practically only if everyone does without, is difficult to communicate.
Shortly before the European elections, a survey showed that 55 percent of Germans think that reducing CO2 emissions would be a good idea. According to a survey by the Yougov Institute, around 47 percent of Germans could imagine giving up air travel for environmental reasons. Shouldn’t we be torn inside when we book flights??
Actually yes. But that’s how man is. We don’t want to look like an environmental sow in the social context. The reward character of this ticket and the joy of having made a bargain and some prospect of the concrete, tangible reward are so much stronger.
Consumer psychologist Hausel: "People almost never learn through insight, but only through concrete punishment."
Frequent flying is the trend: the aviation industry expects air traffic to increase by five percent per year. How do people manage to block out their fears, at least for the process of buying tickets??
These fears are not that great and omnipresent. Who gets up in the morning, looks out of the window and thinks: Tomorrow the world will end?? There is not much emotional strength to this fear of climate change. Unlike, say, when a tiger is standing in front of you.
Is there no such thing as the Greta effect, a change in behavior that can be traced back to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg?? Are the Fridays-for-Future protests therefore pointless?
Meaningless they are not, but such behavioral changes are extremely long and difficult. Certainly, a change in acceptance is perceived here and there on a small scale, so that in the longer term, changes in behavior could also be brought about. But this takes time. It would be ideal if the policy would punish the unecological behavior. People almost never learn through insight, but only through concrete punishment.
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Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr has now called for flights for less than ten euros to be banned; but with Eurowings, you can fly to Nice or Mallorca for as little as 25 euros. First politicians call for a ban on domestic flights. Must flying become a luxury again?
This is the big question because it affects social justice: Should those who earn a lot of money be able to destroy the planet while the others stay at home?? In theory, it’s actually quite simple: only the supermarket saleswoman with an income of up to 30.000 euros should be able to fly to Mallorca at a low fare, and the millionaire pays five times as much. That would be the fair way, but of course it is not enforceable.
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Others argue that there should be fewer prohibitions and more incentives instead. What could these incentives look like??
Incentives must be extremely concrete. People must be rewarded for their behavior. So theoretically: You get 500 euros from the federal treasury if you don’t take your planned flight. Such rewards work, as the car scrappage scheme shows for example. But something like that won’t happen here, of course, and if I can’t achieve anything with incentives, I have to ban something. But politicians, above all the Greens, don’t want bans; not because they don’t work, but because they won’t get elected if they do. Bans are not politically opportune.
But they work.
Surely they work, for example, with the light bulb, the seat belt, or the cell phone at the wheel. Incentives, however, are better simply because they are politically more enforceable and thus more realistic. By the way, you don’t need to expect anything from the airline industry. The airlines say we are in competition and the framework is set by politics. But the aviation framework is international, so we’re at the EU level, which doesn’t make it any easier. Companies behave opportunistically as a matter of principle.
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Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in June that he was "disappointed" that less than 1 percent of his customers were participating in the voluntary CO2 compensation scheme. Isn’t that hypocritical? If he wants less pollution, he should sell more expensive airline tickets and let fewer airplanes fly.
He is thus acting rationally from his point of view: after all, consumers have the option of compensation. In this way, he has shifted the responsibility and can continue to offer his tickets at a competitive price. You could say he showed his environmental fig leaf. This is not necessarily a particularly social behavior, but as I said: rational for him. The CO2 tax is a concrete penalty. Money losses like this are processed in the pain center of the brain, in regions similar to toothaches. This is an extremely aversive stimulus. As a rule, we’d rather not do that to ourselves. If it is desired, this levy must be decreed.
In France, an eco-tax will be imposed on airline tickets starting next year: up to 18 euros can be added per airfare.
It is not enough, but more is not politically possible. But it is the right way. Criticism is already being voiced in the sense of paternalism and paternalism, but there’s simply no other way to get it right. As a politician, you do need a thick skin, which is why I admire Emmanuel Macron and his government for it.
Otherwise gives you some hope?
The question is, how virulent, how urgent is it now: Does the Greta effect still pack here? So will we accept that politics has to intervene here, for instance with a CO2 tax? Greta and her supporters create awareness for change here. This should definitely be used to change the political framework and act more ecologically.