The look of doom from spectator flight seats Image and Words: Brita Staal Climate Activist
The look of doom, from spectator flight seats.
I went to Athens for work, but is of course sharing this plane with hundreds of tourist pouring in from Scandinavia, USA and Northern Europe. They all came for the sun and warmth, but some are now admittedly escaping the heat by moving their departure date. After five days of 40 degrees celcius, many felt they did not get the pleasant Greek holiday experience they were looking for. And wealthy as they are, tickets can be changed and new plans can be made.
A world in crisis, and the way we react to it
Talking to fellow passengers gives me a strange feeling that we are all fleeing. Back to our comfortable homes, in our cold countries. Fleeing on a combustion engine gigamachine throwing out more of the problem that made us all get to this point. Accompanied by jokes referencing to the last days of heat, people are smiling and noting the welling smoke. They are sighing and looking forward to the cold, fresh air of the north. With lightness they move on, happy to “get out in time” as one passenger says. A lightness that is almost unbearable, and definitely disgusting.
People will never change their behaviour, even when fleeing from countries stricken by climate crisis, they just book a new flight to another destination
Those who can’t escape
There are over a million people in central Athens, many of them with nowhere to flee; like the many in housing with poor ventilation and definitely no air-con. The elderly of these. The animals in the burning forests. The over 120 000 Greeks and many of them Athenians living directly in the streets, scolding in direct sunshine with nowhere else to go.
Walking the streets of Athens during a heatwave is a walk of shame. A walk from where the addicts set their first shots in bright daylight, to the wealthy drinking their frozen margaritas before noon is literary 5 minutes long. The path from the cold, damp shopping streets with air welling out of the air-conditioned stores, to the urine-smelling, dusty sidewalks occupied by the many people living in the streets, is lined by careless tourists.
Shame, anger & action
I am struck by shame and anger, being in this situation – being on this flight.With front row seats to another climate disaster, we zip our coffees and move on. Or, should we say driving seats to the disaster? The only refuge I can find for my own shame is that I was there for work. The difficult, delayed, and increasingly digitally distributed train-lines of Europe has been my way of dealing with the shame for many years. The systems that, at least in the nordics, used to be quite good, is sadly slowly becoming worse do to privatisation of the trainlines. When the market economy is driving our developments, the commons never wins. And lines of iron stretched across the distant areas of the north where people actually live, is never going to be profitable. Politicians are our only hope.
But I cannot speak for the others; Would I feel less ashamed if my fellow passengers all noted the welling clouds in the horizon with guilt in their eyes? Would it feel better if we all did not have this lightness? And what can one really do?
Our future is in the hands of politicians
Their current weakness is the inability to tax the behaviours that is driving the climate crisis, and inability to use their powers to make the fossil fuel companies move towards renewables
Give up on advocacy for mobilisation – tax the behaviour
After many years in climate advocacy, climate tech and climate finance, I have given up on mobilisation. People will never change their behaviour, even when fleeing from countries stricken by climate crisis, they just book a new flight to another destination. Our only hope is to push policy changes at the European and national levels, through a just price on carbon and end to fossil fuel subsidies — specifically, an end to the tax exemption on kerosene. The kerosene tax was on the way from the EU right before covid, but placed in a drawer to protect the airline companies from bankruptcy. The current tax exemption on flight fuel is in effect a fossil fuel subsidy that disincentivizes a shift to lower carbon modes of transport, especially rail. And is currently one of the reasons our rail lines are falling behind, while flights are increasing by the hour.
Our future is in the hands of politicians
Their current weakness is the inability to tax the behaviours that is driving the climate crisis, and inability to use their powers to make the fossil fuel companies move towards renewables. Both could be easy if they had followed the polluter-pay principle from the start. Or used the current opportunity for the windfall principle to reallocate funds from record profiting fossil fuel companies in the light of the energy crisis, to the industries that are now struggling to ramp up the immense possibilities of harvesting sun and wind. When people don’t feel shame, even after experiencing the crisis first hand, we have to rely on our politicians to lead us away from the increasing climate chaos. May they be daring, decisive and direct – cause we don’t have time to combat indifference.
About Brita: Experienced climate reality leader, European NGO builder and entrepreneur within climate risk tech and climate impact investment. Published in Forbes and columnist in the Norwegian Technical Weekly Magazine.