This Switch Could Finally Change The Conversation On Climate Change

The psychology of global warming helps explain why we can't solve it. "It triggers nothing in our brain," says one psychologist. "It lets us sleep calmly in a burning bed."

“I don't believe in Global Warming” by Banksy in London
“I don't believe in Global Warming” by Banksy in London
Christopher Schrader

MUNICH â€" "I just poured myself a coffee," says veteran environmentalist George Marshall. "The electricity I used to make that coffee pollutes the air. And you know what? I don’t care."

His remarks highlight the irony in the world of climate change: Even those fighting global warming can’t follow their own moral code in private. Yet, they aren’t hypocrites, Marshall says, only human.

Of course, Marshall’s coffee represents no real danger. And Britons are not known for defending their supposed right to unhesitatingly use up the world’s resources. But Marshall, who has also worked for Greenpeace and co-founded the British organization Climate Outreach, wants to provoke.

"Those who believe in climate change usually do so because it fits them well. The others, too, have good reasons for not believing. They aren’t idiots because they don’t believe in climate change," says Marshall. "It’s about the right way to approach them. In order to solve climate problems, we all have to work together and out of conviction. Preaching abstinence has never solved anything."

Instead of physics, chemistry and oceanography, Marshall believes that social sciences and psychology should be at the center of making people understand climate change. There is a lack of reasoning when it comes to the topic, argues Marshall. The human mind is not prepared for climate change because it finds multiple excuses for ignoring it.

The problem is with this attitude: "Why should I cut back, if others don’t? There is nothing but inconvenience for me, but no measurable advantages for the environment." In other circumstances, people accept sacrifice without hesitation. On the street, they are ready to give way without being asked, and they inform the cashier when they are given too much change. A quiet conscience or the knowledge that they’ve acted as a role model is enough to motivate them in those cases.

Moreover, people align their behavior and opinions according to what is considered normal by the social groups they belong to. That’s why scientists aren’t able to communicate their message in a convincing way. Their strategy makes the wrong assumption. Scientists think that people who are informed can grasp a situation’s severity. That’s not necessarily true as people filter any new information.

"If there’s a conflict between the facts and someone’s moral beliefs, the facts lose," says psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes.

People’s ability to listen also depends on the source of the information. The person’s credibility is taken into account "even before that person opens their mouth," says Stoknes.

A friend, relative, or pastor is more likely to be listened to. "Trust is more important than information," says Marshall.

Scientists also tend to lose credibility with their choice of words: many ideas and concepts provoke associations with other things. For example, if a scientist talks of possible measurement inaccuracies, most laypeople only hear that results are uncertain.

There’s another issue at play, the so-called "spectator effect", that is, people’s readiness to help during an emergency decreases inversely to the number of witnesses at the event. If there are many people present, each one looks to the other to figure out what to do. "The more people know about a problem, the more likely they are to ignore their own judgment and react according to the behavior of others," says Marshall. If nobody takes that first step, nothing will ever happen.

It’s this herd mentality that makes people see climate change as one problem, among many others. This is true for Germany too. Indeed, 55% of Germans are estimated to be worried about climate change. But if they are asked to list global issues in order of importance. climate change comes fifth place, after the Islamic State group, tensions with Russia, a potential Iranian bomb and cyber attacks.

People can worry only about a limited number of problems at a time. That’s why a new fear, like the one of Islamist terror, makes another one, like global warming, appear less threatening. Among top fears â€" real or imagined â€" are losing one’s job, crime and illness. "We still have not found a way to trigger similar emotions when it comes to climate change," says Marshall.

Daniel Gilbert from Harvard describes what stimulates action with the acronym PAIN: Personal, Abrupt, Immoral, Now. People demonstrate strong reactions if perpetrators and victims have known faces, if the circumstances change quickly and unexpectedly, if moral values are hurt, and if it happens right now.

Terrorism pushes each one of those buttons, says Gilbert. Climate change doesn’t. The perpetrator is hard to identify, victims are anonymous and spread all over the world, warnings concerning global warming refer to the year 2100 and change is gradual. "Global warming is really a deadly threat because it triggers nothing in our brain," says Gilbert. "It lets us sleep calmly in a burning bed."

We can only turn things around with a cultural transformation of our society, says Stoknes. There are issues that accelerate after decades of stagnation because of social and political movements. That could be the case with climate change.

In the meantime, the way global warming is framed has to change. "We don’t reach the masses with a narrative of hostility," says Marshall. "We must adopt a narrative of cooperation, mutual interest and humanity." His organization Climate Outreach plans to address climate change discussion with values, not numbers.

"It can only work if in each social group, the most powerful opinion leaders start spreading their version of climate change. That’s how we’ll identify success â€" if they speak about it in a way that totally displeases us," says Marshall.

When it comes to fossil fuels, the seductive roar of a Ford Mustang V8 is something we’ll have to learn to live without.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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