The European moraliser
Think Paris Climate Accord, renewable energy, hybrid cars, Greta Thunberg. All either a product of or very popular in Europe. Environmentalists in the United States are looking up to the courage of European politicians to solve climate change, be it by replicating European rail transportation (which is incomparable and ill-advised), the EU emissions trading scheme (which is nothing more than a tax), or abandoning nuclear energy (which, in Germany, has exploded both electricity prices and its CO2 emissions targets).
In Europe, the key target of the climate change moralisers is aviation. Flying can be an affordable and quick option, especially when your destinations A and B are divided by a sea or large mountains, or if your previous communist form of government spent more money on a massive surveillance state than building any alternative infrastructure. Getting from Athens to Madrid is possible by land, but it would take you longer than getting from New York to San Francisco (yes, I did look that up).
This is despite the fact that aviation (passenger transport and cargo combined) accounts for only 3% of Europe’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and that the continent’s rail network is in no way prepared for intra-European airline travellers to switch to trains. Adding to that, making people fly less isn’t actually good for the environment. Profits fuel R&D, and make innovation possible. Between 1968 and 2014, the average fuel burn of new aircraft fell by approximately 45 percent.
Meanwhile, the European Union is not embracing the message of innovation, but rather follows through with new regulation. More taxes are supposed to be the answer, either through reformed emissions trading schemes, or specific taxes on kerosene and flight tickets. Such taxes already exist in certain member states, and short of reducing emissions, they do raise a considerable amount for national treasuries.
Money well spent, at least if you’re owning a private jet business. The European Commission (the EU’s executive) just increased its budget for “air taxis” (i.e private jets) by 50 per cent.
The European Commission, for full transparency, publicises the cost of every trip of its president online, with a detailed cost analysis. For instance, in November 2018, president Jean-Claude Juncker took a trip to Berlin and Strasbourg, which are each 400 and 200 miles from Brussels (where the European Commission is located). He used a private jet in both cases, yet even though there is a detailed report, it is hard to tell what the actual cost was, since the “travel cost” section only gives an average per travelling staffer (in this case $1,650). The Commission says that “Air taxis are authorised when no commercial alternatives can be found to fit agenda or security constraints.” Uncheckable claims, that aren’t going hand in hand with the idea that there are way too many flights going around in the European Union.
Now of course, the U.S president travels with his own plane. He, on the upside compared to all the economic damage done through the trade war, does not want to tax and legislate the air travel industry out of business.
Picture the temerity
Picture a political class pressured by ill-informed activists, pushing for higher taxes on air travel, when it actually produces the opposite of the desired impact. You might be young, saving up money for a trip to Alaska, or to visit your grandmother living in another state, or catching up with your boy- or girlfriend who got a scholarship for a university far away from yours. Now picture a politician not only pushing to increase taxes on that exact travel you’re saving up for — going against the innovation way of reducing emissions — but also spending that money on more flights with private jets.
The Marie-Antoinette phrase “if they do not have bread, let them eat cake” may very well have been invented by the French revolutionaries in a bid to discredit the ruling monarchy, but it is in effect the silent thought of those nibbling on champagne while giving instruction to their pilots.
If those politicians were to fly to different continents to endorse the use of nuclear energy as well as agricultural intensification through genetically-modified crops, a case might be made in favour of their quest. However, for years governments have enjoyed countless luxuries while achieving nothing. They have resorted to their usual tactics — finding different ways of levying taxes, be it through sales taxes, taxes on energy, or whatever emissions trading scheme they can come up with.
There isn’t only the audacity of flying private while taxing others who only fly occasionally — there is also the lack of belief in innovation. The ambition of those engaged in politics should be to ease innovation that will make all of us fly more, and more comfortably. All others need to be outed as followers of regressivists and malthusians alike.
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