A flight from Eindhoven to Berlin: 50 euros.
The extra revenue for Berlin’s economy: 300 euros.
Climate change caused by the plane’s emissions [pdf]: 5 euros.
That picture of you, with the Brandenburger Tor: priceless.
Or is it?
Direct emissions from aviation are responsible for roughly 3% of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union. Compared to other forms of public transport [pdf], air travel is one of the most carbon intensive methods of movement. Meanwhile, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the number of flights and the total emissions by the industry are only projected to grow in the near future.
In the light of climate change, this has led some to oppose flying, such as flight shaming. According to a survey by the European Investment Bank, a majority of EU citizens favor a ban on short-distance flights. Dutch politicians prefer a European tax on flying, which will result in higher prices that will reduce demand for flights.
European tax legislation is notoriously hard to pass, requiring unanimous approval by all 28 members. Therefore, the Netherlands are planning to introduce a national flight tax. However, a national flight tax introduces its own unique downsides, with the main concerns regarding capital flight (pun intended) from the aviation and tourism industries.
Academics like William Nordhaus, recipient of the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, argue that we must not “[burn] down the village to save it”. They assert that while the impacts from climate change may be grave, we should also consider the impacts of those measures which we take against it, which can impact the same groups as climate change. According to research by TU Delft, CO2 reductions may not be as large as some proponents boast, but economic damage might also be smaller than opponents fear.
Bottom line: We should not blindly pick one option, but rationally weigh the range of alternatives which we can choose from. This brings about a whole other range of concerns regarding sensitivity to assumptions and decisions on parameters like discount rates, but these fall outside the scope of this blogpost. We may choose to face the full cost of flying to Berlin, and potentially stay home instead, or we may choose a selfie with the Brandenburger Tor. But choose, we must.
* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).