Someone wanting to protect the climate must not close their eyes to the ecological consequences of air travel. But getting around without the plane is no loss if we just rethink our relationship to travel.
Travelling is great - whether you want to get to know foreign cultures, be inspired by the atmosphere of another place, learn a new language, enjoy nature or simply relax in a quiet place far away from your everyday life. There is a negative side though: from an ecological point of view, mobility is always associated with emissions, and air travel is particularly problematic. In figures, this means that in order to achieve the two-degree target, i.e. to limit global warming to less than two degrees compared to before industrialisation, each German citizen would have to consume not more than one ton of CO2 per year. On average, every German citizen currently consumes 11 tons of CO2 per year though. A flight to New York already emits almost four tons of CO2 per passenger. A summer holiday in Spain produces about 700 kilograms, a home holiday during the semester break (Berlin-Cologne route) about 300 kilograms of CO2 per passenger. By way of comparison, the journey from Berlin to Cologne by train consumes 27.6 kilograms of CO2, which is less than a tenth of the CO2 emitted by a flight. Flying as a form of travel is unacceptable from an ecological point of view.
Sure, it sometimes is cheaper to fly than to travel by train. But this argument is not convincing, especially for domestic connections: if you are under 27, you can buy a Bahncard 50 for around 60 euro a year, with which tickets for long-distance trains of the Deutsche Bahn are up to 50 percent cheaper. The dense network of long-distance buses is also a good and cheap alternative to the plane.
Basically, however, the awareness of having to do something about climate change seems to be widespread. If you look around Viadrina campus, you will see many jute bags and practically no plastic bags, many reusable coffee cups; waste avoidance is rightly emphasised. But if you ask the students how often they go on holiday and where they go, a discrepancy is revealed: Flying to Thailand, Bali or Chile for two weeks, that's fine. You are buying a lot of organic products and are never using plastic bags for fruit and vegetables anyway. As well as the latter sound, anyone who believes that individually reduced plastic consumption will make up for air travel is deluding themselves. There is a glaring disproportion between ecological benefit and harm.
It is true that major social change cannot be brought about by individual consumption decisions alone, because not all people will voluntarily take the necessary steps. It requires political pressure that leads to political decisions that alone are capable of enforcing ecological measures in a binding and universal way. But this fact does not absolve responsible citizens from the responsibility to repair the damage caused by their own behaviour as far as possible and reasonable. Anyone who knows how harmful air travel is cannot point the finger at politicians and say: "Then ban it!”
So do we have to give up travelling in the future for the sake of the environment? No, but we should question our relationship to it in various ways. This applies to our inner attitude towards travelling, our destinations and to the means of transport we use for travelling.
If you really want to travel - that is, not just consume places in fast-food mode in order to take pictures of yourself in front of a few sights for Instagram - you confront the foreign, which is an exciting but also challenging and sometimes exhausting experience. The stranger the place you travel to, the more challenging the experience. Therefore, it only makes sense to bring along a lot of time for long journeys, i.e. to travel less frequently but for a longer time. When travelling to Morocco, isn't it much more exciting to first take the train via France to Spain, make a stopover there, observe how the landscape, language and culture are changing on the way to the destination and then cross over to Morocco by ferry rather than to jet from Berlin to Marrakech in four hours on a Ryanair flight? During such a slow journey, what the sociologist Hartmut Rosa calls resonance can occur - a relationship to the world in which one lets oneself be called and responds, in which one is also prepared to develop with an open mind. The prerequisite for this is not to encounter the world in the mode of making it available, by going to Paris, for example, because one must have been there at some point, then going for one sight after the other, snapping a few photos everywhere and in the end realising with disappointment that after the original trip, life is even more stressful than before.
But we should think about Rosa's unavailability in ecological terms even further: contrary to what the tourism industry makes us believe, we should accept that not every place is available at all times. As a result, even the places we might have previously considered boring begin to speak to us and interest us. There is no good reason to think we would only be happy on a city trip to Los Angeles and not Amsterdam, that we could only relax completely on a yoga retreat in India and not on a bike tour through Brandenburg or a hike in Saxon Switzerland. When choosing a travel destination, you should ask yourself whether it is really the place you find so exciting, or whether status and recognition also play a role when you are telling astonished listeners about the exciting backpacking experiences from Georgia.
Finally, the good news is that many incredibly exciting destinations can be reached easily, cheaply and in a relaxed manner by train from Frankfurt without changing trains. These include Gdansk, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Bratislava, Vienna, Budapest - there are even direct train connections to Moscow and Paris. From Berlin, there are numerous other destinations that can be reached without changing trains: Amsterdam, Hamburg, Munich, Basel and Prague, to name just a few. So, no one not flying needs to get bored. But individual CO2 emissions can possibly be reduced by a few tons a year.