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28 August 2020

If you want to change the world, do not end with yourself

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To reduce global warming, organizations such as the VU should incentivize people to, for instance, fly less. The corona virus might distract us, but we are still in the middle of a climate crisis. This climate crisis increases the likelihood of extreme weather events such as heat waves, and extreme weather increases mortality. We are not talking about future generations here. This is about us. The earth is almost 1°C warmer than in the pre-industrial era, the economic cost of extreme weather events increased from 1960 to 2000, and the growth of several economies is lower because of variation in the weather that is related to global warming. This variation already exacerbates existing inequalities between men and women, rich and poor, and different ethnicities. The climate crisis is a problem that amplifies other problems.

To minimize global warming, we have to rethink at least our mobility. For the last months, we have been flying less, so let’s stay on this route. But how do we turn this behavior into a habit? What should we do to make sure we don’t go back to normal? On the one hand, some point the finger to individuals to act responsibly. But flying, when allowed, is cheaper, easier and faster than going by train. Not everyone has the resources or motivation to deal with this. On the other hand, we can point the finger to politicians. Clearly though, they have other interests too. This is illustrated by the fact that international aviation emissions are not included in the Paris Agreement.

At least 16% of the invoiced European flight destinations of VU employees can be reached by train in less than 8 hours

Between the individual and political level, we find organizations. Organizations can have a large influence on individuals’ choices. Let’s take a look at the business trips of VU employees, to the extent that data are available. When employees book a flight themselves, and invoice it, at least 16% of the invoiced European flights has a destination that can be reached by train in less than 8 hours. If the VU would discourage this by, for instance, in principle only reimbursing train tickets, employees would tend to make different choices. If we look at the European flights which are booked via the VU’s travel agency, even 28% has a destination which can be reached in less than 8 hours by train. If the VU would order the travel agency to offer a train journey as the default for these trips, it would be easier to choose the train, and even more people would change their mind.

Still other incentives can push us towards trains. Some tenure track criteria count conferences as a proof of an international network. But online networks can also be mentioned explicitly. In addition, employees carbon offset their flights, sometimes. This carbon offsetting can be made a default option, and the VU can provide a list with the most effective carbon offsets.

Yes, we have individual responsibility. But a better world does not end with yourself; real change requires us to work for organizational change.

KATINKA QUINTELIER
OR-lid, docent strategie en ethiek

Katinka Quintelier

 

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