Excerpt: In the case of the ban on short-haul flights, it’s easy to see what Macron sees and wants: more people traveling by train. Let’s grant that this effect is good and then look beyond the initial claims about saving aviation fuel.
What about more people traveling by automobile? After all, rail travel isn’t the only alternative to air travel, especially in France where train strikes are a regular occurrence. Denied the much greater speed of air travel, many people will opt to skip the inconvenience of buying a ticket altogether and travel by car.
One undesirable effect is a longer time spent traveling. Because people’s time is valuable and could otherwise be spent working, studying or with family and friends, the cost of traveling what the French government considers to be short distances will rise. Did Monsieur Macron carefully weigh this cost against the ban’s benefits? I’m pretty sure he didn’t. He just assumed that people’s time is of sufficiently low value to justify the flight ban. Tres arrogant!
Looking even further past “that which is seen,” you’ll see why any reduction in the burning of fossil fuels will almost certainly be less than what the French government hopes. Not only do automobiles, like airplanes, burn fossil fuel, but the amount burned by automobiles can be greater per passenger mile.
On average today for commercial aircraft, one gallon of fuel carries each passenger about 67.1 miles. The typical French automobile sold in 2019 gets about 42.8 miles per gallon. These facts means that if someone in France chooses to drive alone in one of these cars—say, from Paris to Nantes—rather than traveling by train, he will burn 57 percent more fuel than he would have while flying. And even if there are two people on this car trip, the amount of fossil fuel burned per person will be only about 22 percent less than if these two travelers had instead flown.
This math may still lead many readers to jump to the conclusion that at the very least, piling three or more people into a car for that same trip will be desirable. But peering one more step beyond that which is seen counsels against this. Here we finally see the most frightening “unseen” consequence of the short-haul flight ban: the likelihood of more roadway deaths.
A recent study out of Harvard University found that, for people traveling within the United States, Europe, and Australia, the chances of being killed while flying are 1 in 11 million, while the chances of being killed while driving are 1 in 5,000. Put differently, you’re 2,200 times more likely to be killed when traveling by car as opposed to by airplane. By diverting some travelers from the air to the roadways, the French government will almost certainly cause more travelers to die.
Political theater, it turns out, can be deadly.