How do I change the technology

Laura Foglia in conversation
Technology won't save us if we don't change our behavior

I am particularly pleased about the following interview with Laura Foglia, who is a researcher, lecturer and speaker on the subject of low-emission mobility policy. The graduate economist has worked for 25 years in engineering offices, in research and in consulting on all aspects of mobility.
Laura advises governments at regional and state level on transport planning and mobility and is responsible for mobility projects in the think tank The Shift Project in Paris. And besides, Laura is so incredibly inspiring that I absolutely had to interview her for you - and for me.

Dear Laura, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your views on mobility. First, can you tell us a little more about yourself and what made you get involved so intensively in the field of mobility?

I studied political economy in Milan, Italy. After graduating, I worked with a professor for regional economics who immediately offered me to deal with transport, in particular with the relationship between transport infrastructure and regional development. I found that exciting! While working with study results, I encountered many prejudices that needed to be addressed, and that was exactly what interested me. This is how my first connection to France came about, because French researchers developed most of the ideas in this area in the 1990s and with the start of the TGV. The interesting thing about the mobility sector is that the problems change over time and go hand in hand with social development. After my time in research, I worked in a large engineering office that oversaw many projects abroad. Mobility is strongly determined by society and the problems in the individual countries are very different. I never got bored.
Poitiers, zone de rencontre | Photo: Laura Foglia
When I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the international ChangeNow summit, you said something very exciting, which immediately made me sit up and take notice. You said the question was whether newly created mobility solutions really reduce the number of cars on the streets or only offer pedestrians an alternative to walking. Could you elaborate on that? What ways have been found to reduce the number of cars? On the other hand, what are the factors that keep people from walking?

If you offer a service - and thus really want to make mobility lower in emissions - you not only have to know how many people use this service, but above all which means of transport they have replaced. Using the example of e-scooters: If users have previously taken the car for the same route, this can actually make mobility lower in emissions; however, when they walked, what is actually being done is the opposite. In the specific case of e-scooters, several studies have shown that they mainly replace walking or cycling in Paris, and considering their lifespan, it can be said that this service even counteracts low-emission mobility - although one might initially assume the opposite. This example also shows that field research is always instructive for politics and should be carried out systematically.

Since we both live in Paris, I would also like to ask you what you think of the status quo of mobility, especially in Paris, but also in France, Germany and Europe in general? I find it a little difficult to understand why there are still so many cars on the streets in a city like Paris, where public transport works pretty well. We, Germans and French, seem to be very attached to cars. Do you think there is any development?
Personally, I am absolutely in favor of including negative externalities in the fees and rewarding positive, sustainable behavior. What do you think of nudging? Should we create incentives to encourage people to choose more sustainable modes of transport?

Clearly, mobility policy must make it possible to use more sustainable means of transport that are as easy to access as possible. These can be “active means of transport” such as walking or cycling, or “shared means of transport” such as public transport and car pooling. The fact that it is becoming easier to use the bike in combination with the train is just one example of dozens!
But it is not enough to offer something. It is also necessary that people become aware of what a car trip costs, both in terms of money - studies have shown that many do not know or extremely underestimate what they are spending on their car - and for the environment. This awareness is still very little widespread and sometimes people need customized solutions.
Of course, the price of fossil fuel would also have to be increased. But the yellow vests movement in France has shown how complex this issue is. The problem is that in the urban development after the Second World War, the car was intended as the only means of transport. This made it very difficult to get along without a car, whether it was due to scheduling difficulties or simply because it was hard to imagine getting around in any other way.
What we consider necessary is often determined by our individual feelings and is therefore not always rational. However, I do not want to judge individual cases and only start from my personal experience. The German mobility expert Michael Adler said something similar in my interview about the role of emotional communication when it comes to changing habits. To what extent do you think well-told stories promote a positive and sustainable change in mobility? Can you give us a few examples?

I totally agree that we need stories for people to voluntarily change their behavior. Stories are deeply meaningful. Unfortunately, we are influenced by the stories that advertising created and, as far as mobility goes, ten percent of the ads in all the media and all sectors in France are dedicated to cars! Of course, walking and cycling, which are not supported by any powerful industry, are virtually non-existent. Let's imagine for a moment what it would be like if we had been bombarded with advertisements for cycling and walking and their measurable effects on health and wellbeing for 50 years and almost never saw a car advert ...
Of course, stories are not only told by advertising, even if it has an important place in our society. Role models also play a big role: seeing politicians or other influential personalities ride bikes or walk has a big impact on people's attitudes.
I think the idea of ​​positive advertising for sustainable behavior change is great! Which trends in mobility do you think are useful and which do you find problematic? Or do you have more differentiated considerations?

In my view, the greatest danger is having a clear conscience (both in individuals and in politics) and blindly believing that technology will save us without us having to change our behavior. That, for example, if we only use electric cars, we will continue to cover ever longer distances, take up more and more space, drive ever heavier, more powerful cars and thus solve the problem.
To come back to positive trends, I find that there is growing interest in the impact of our actions on the environment and the willingness to adopt a more frugal lifestyle, especially among young people. That makes me very optimistic about future generations. I also asked Michael Adler to speak about his ideal of urban and rural mobility.
Laura, I'm very curious what your dream of mobility looks like.

When it comes to mobility, my main wish is a social life in which there is more closeness, human exchange, local products and simply a stronger connection to nature and the seasons. I am really shocked by advertisements that appeal to our (absolutely legitimate) desire for freedom and novelty, in order to sell us plane tickets for a weekend in another city or a week on the other side of the world - or an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) , Editor's note)… What freedom? The freedom to spend hours in various modes of transport and pollute the planet, although there is so much to discover where you live? Perhaps I dream of a society that is more critical of advertising in general ... But now I'm moving a little further away from our subject. And finally: What measures would you like to see at international, national and European level, both from start-ups and companies as well as from us as individuals, to promote mobility that really and optimally meet our human needs and the environment is fair?

I think you are addressing two very important things in order to initiate change: becoming aware and taking responsibility. And on all levels. We need to be aware of the cost of our system in terms of people, the use of rare raw materials and pollution, both locally and globally. Just like the need for everyone, on a personal, national and international level, but of course also within the company, to take on the responsibility to change something.
Merci beaucoup, that you took your time for us, dear Laura!

And you, dear readers, how do you feel about mobility and sustainable development? How are you experiencing ours #GoetheFSEcoChallenge?
We look forward to your experiences! So feel free to post photos on the Facebook page of the Goethe-Institut Paris or link us on Instagram with the hashtags #GoetheFSEcoChallenge and #mobility.
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