The climate crisis has already started for people, far away from most of us readers, many years ago. Every day, people flee their countries, which are ravaged by droughts, wars, politics, uninhabitable and barren land caused by climate change and ownership by big companies. Politicians, instead of mitigating the global crisis and taking extreme measures, divert the attention to fear mongering and xenophobia.
The global movement ‘Fridays for Future’ and ‘Extinction Rebellion’ is gaining popularity – worldwide people are marching together for politicians to act upon the climate crisis.
What about the community of Erasmus+ participants and ECS volunteers and workers? From my experiences over three years, both as participant in an EVS and Erasmus+ project, and acquaintance with other European participants, I – and some others – have made the observations that there seem to be no environmental policies in place that take the current global climate crisis into account.
Short-term Erasmus+ projects are often looking for participants from different European countries, sometimes even looking exclusively for participants from certain countries. It is very often the case that this is only possible due to (ridiculously) cheap air travel. Air travel has become so cheap and ubiquitous that many participants do not even care about what the environmental impacts are in the long-term. I have seen people travelling by plane to attend ECS seminars in the same country, and Erasmus+ participants taking several planes to attend a seminar in their neighbouring country.
And it does not seem to end. In 2017, more than 1000 million people in the EU travelled by air. The number increased by 7.3% compared with 2016. In 2017, 47% of air travel has been within the EU, while domestic air travel accounted for 17%. The top-ten-country pairs within the EU are the following countries:
1. United Kingdom – Spain (9% of Intra-EU flights)
2. Spain – Germany (6%)
3. United Kingdom – Italy (3%)
4. United Kingdom – Germany
5. Italy – Germany
6. Italy – Spain
7. France – Spain
8. United Kingdom – France
9. United Kingdom – Ireland
10. Italy – France
The EUobserver, an independent, not-for-profit online newspaper has also investigated an Erasmus+ funded project called C.L.E.A.N. or Community League for Environmental Action Network, where school students from the EU travelled by air to meet up. Their focus is on environmental education and awareness and concrete sustainable actions. Yet, as it is observed in the report: ‘However, no mention is made anywhere of the fact that by travelling by planes instead of trains, the students and their teachers are contributing to the problem of excess greenhouse gas emissions.’
Why do participants not care as much as they should? Even the EU Aviation, part of the European Commission, celebrates the rise of air travel (see source below). For many participants, desire for exploring a new country and new adventures (often for reasons of gaining knowledge or ‘doing something good’), coupled with the low cost of air travel, overrides any concerns of the environment or ethics. It is unfortunate that often, train travel is hugely expensive as the EU fails to make train travel more affordable and attractive for customers.
What is to be done? It might be hard to convince an individual to change their own actions. Nor is it easy to ‘flight-shame’ a friend. Write to the EU national agencies and the EU commission to limit air travel, for example by putting a prohibition on air travel for distances under 1000km or a prohibition where the seminar/workshop is less than 1 week long, and/or selecting partner countries where train/bus travel is viable (via public transport or FlixBus). Other suggestions are welcomed. The more people who put pressure, the more awareness we create, the more systemic change we can hopefully bring about.
EU national agency contact details: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/contact/national-agencies_en
European commission representation offices (by country): https://ec.europa.eu/info/about-european-commission/contact/local-offices-eu-member-countries_en