A climate scientist who refuses to travel by plane unless absolutely necessary was dismissed from his post at a German think tank after he briefly refused to fly back to Europe for environmental reasons.
Gianluca Grimalda was until recently a social scientist at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Kiel. He initially went on a research trip about the social impacts of climate change in February while traveling on a combination cargo ship, ferry, train and bus to the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. The trip took 35 days instead of about two by plane, but Grimalda has been avoiding air travel for the past decade when other, lower-carbon methods are available.
(He took two flights when no other options were available.)
He had planned to return to Germany this month in a similar manner known as “slow travel,” leaving the country on a cargo ship. The journey to Grimalda will take around 50 days, but involves significantly lower CO2 costs. The researcher estimates that an airplane would emit about 5.3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per passenger.
His method: Only 420 kilograms, about a twelfth the amount.
But his employer told him on September 27 that he only had five days to return and terminated his research contract this week after he failed to meet that obligation. He had been employed there since 2013.
“The urgency of their request to return meant I had to get on a plane to meet the deadline; But for me that wasn’t an option,” he said wrote in an editorial in the Guardian. “I have conscientiously refused to fly for more than ten years.”
The Kiel Institute rejected commented on personnel matters in a statement to The New York Times, saying it has supported Grimalda’s slow travel plans in the past.
Commercial air travel is responsible for approximately 3% of CO2 emissions worldwide and remains a key driver of climate change. Many nations agreed last year We want to aim for net-zero emissions for industry by 2050, but scientists have long warned that the planet is on a collision course with a host of climate-related diseases, even with current pledges to curb carbon emissions.
“The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is happening – but we are decades behind,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last month, adding that humanity had “opened the gates to hell”.
“We must make up for the time lost to dragging, hubris and the naked greed of entrenched interests that rake in billions from fossil fuels,” he said.
Grimalda told The Guardian he plans to appeal the decision to fire him, pointing out that his employer has recognized his trips as working days in the past. He urged people in rich countries to think about how personal choices could help change the dialogue about the impact of personal carbon emissions.
“Globally, flying remains the prerogative of the elite – including researchers from Western countries, who are likely among the 10% responsible for the majority of emissions,” he wrote this week. “But empirical research shows that it is important to take the path.”
“When I arrive in Europe in about 45 days, I will be unemployed,” he concluded. “If I manage to convince people along the way that our planet is at serious risk and that radical, extraordinary measures are needed, the loss of my job would have been worth paying.”