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Cash cow at the crossroads: LIC@65!

My Op-Ed in TOI Blogs today: November 26, 2020.

Cash cow at the crossroads: LIC@ 65! (indiatimes.com)

Wooing foreign capital in a backdrop of worsening #ClimateCrisis will be truly onerous for the LIC.It cannot be a life/health insurer/ manager of pensions and own big stakes in businesses with adverse environmental, societal impact. Investing in coal, for instance, is bad economics too.

It’s creation was triggered by a serious systemic failure of governance in the life industry. This time around the ambit of governance has widened to Environment, Societal and Governance. Can the LIC transform itself by imbibing ESG and Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI)? The rules of enlightened leadership have changed. Status quo is not an option either.

Ostrich in the regulatory sandbox!

My Op-Ed in TOI Blogs: November 18, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/ostrich-in-the-regulatory-sandbox/: Insurance industry generally prefers to abdicate thought leadership when it comes to climate-risk. Thankfully, we can draw from climate activism leaders Greta Thunberg and Bill McKibben or thinkers like Amitav Ghosh. Here I also speak to our own climate scientist Dr. Chirag Dhara. And Michele Wucker confirms (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6734750265179815936?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6734750265179815936%2C6736621280801419264%29) that heat waves are indeed a #grayrhino.

Transitioning or de-carbonising calls for going back to the drawing-board thereby re-visiting the nuts and bolts of our business.

Insuring biodiversity for posterity: The Salim Ali way!

TOI Blogs: November 12, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/insuring-biodiversity-for-posterity-the-salim-ali-way/

It was a chance interaction with India’s greatest ornithologist some 38 plus years ago. Today marks the 124th birth anniversary of the the ‘Birdman of India’. Through this snapshot of my conversation with him, in 1982, which was published by TOI Ahmedabad edition – I look back at what he shared then and also put in context the urgency to address the threat to biodiversity today.

“A concoction of natural and human-made reasons specific to India make it particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis”.

Dr. Chirag Dhara is a physicist and climate scientist – a rare combination. He is currently working at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune. Chirag started his academic career as a theoretical physicist with a PhD at the Institute of Photonic Sciences, Barcelona, Spain. He subsequently switched his research focus to the climate sciences with a second PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany. His larger concerns are climate impacts, environmental protection, and climate justice.

Chirag is one of the authors of India’s first comprehensive climate assessment report released three months ago, which is the regional analog of the IPCC’s global scale reports. It can be accessed at: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-981-15-4327-2.

The scientific understanding is that both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea will see a greater fraction of cyclones intensifying into the most severe categories.

Praveen Gupta: What are the Climate related vulnerabilities that India faces?

Chirag Dhara: A concoction of natural and human-made reasons specific to India make it particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis. High baseline summer temperatures, its varied geography over a vast area, a heavy dependence of agriculture on stable monsoons and a coastline stretching 7000 km are some.

Runaway pollution, unplanned development, a large informal economy, deforestation, insufficient disaster-preparedness, and a significant proportion of its population living in poverty are other factors adding to India’s unique vulnerability.

PG: What do you expect happening to the Indo-Gangetic belt and the Sunderbans, in particular?

CD: I believe that the Indo-Gangetic belt and the Sundarbans will be among the most affected parts of the country since multiple climate change impacts are playing out in those regions. The Indo-Gangetic plains are hot and humid. Humid heat is much more dangerous than dry heat, and a simultaneous spike in heat and humidity can significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular and neurological conditions. In fact, the deadly heat waves in the summer of 2015 across India and Pakistan, with high fatalities, were a result of the combination of high temperature and humidity that lasted several days.

Humid heat is much more dangerous than dry heat, and a simultaneous spike in heat and humidity can significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular and neurological conditions.

The Indo-Gangetic plains are projected to see higher intensity of ‘humid heat waves’ with global warming. The Sundarbans in particular is seeing a highly accelerated pace of sea level rise relative to the global average (attributed not just to global warming but also to extensive upstream damming of rivers flowing into the Sundarbans and ground water extraction). In addition, there is the propensity for cyclones, which are likely to intensity with warming.

PG: Will higher precipitation lead to both floods and droughts?

CD: Yes. It is a worldwide phenomenon that rainfall patterns are tending towards shorter intense bouts of rainfall interspersed with lengthening dry spells. The one increases the propensity for floods, and the other for droughts. In addition, higher temperatures tend to dry out soil and vegetation more, making droughts more intense and wildfires more likely.

It is a worldwide phenomenon that rainfall patterns are tending towards shorter intense bouts of rainfall interspersed with lengthening dry spells.

PG: Would the same location be faced with both – hot dry spells and excessive wet?

CD: It may well be for the reasons I’ve outlined above. But regional climate projections are a scientifically complex problem and much more work is necessary. We need more scientific groups around the country working in tandem to arrive at better assessments of regional flood and drought risk.

PG: What do your projections say about storms/hurricanes in Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea?

CD: The scientific understanding is that both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea will see a greater fraction of cyclones intensifying into the most severe categories. While such trends are already seen in the observation record, they are not yet significant enough to be attributable to anthropogenic global warming. We cannot yet discount the possibility that most of the changes seen thus far may have resulted from natural variations in the Earth’s climate. However, the fundamental science is clear and trends in cyclone intensification are expected to strengthen with continued heating.

The fundamental science is clear and trends in cyclone intensification are expected to strengthen with continued heating.

 PG: How much of what manifests here would be a result of our own doing? Is it all about pollution?

CD: Most of India’s industrial era temperature rise has been attributed to rising GHGs from human activity. 

The changing rainfall patterns over India on the other hand is increasingly being understood as a complex interplay between a rising tendency due to GHGs counteracted in part by the radiative (climate) effects of particulate matter pollution (what we perceive as ‘air pollution’). Hence, strong regional variations.

Flood and drought propensity are, of course, a consequence of changing rainfall patterns. In the case of floods, clear increases in the extent and pace of Himalayan glacier melt due to rapid warming will also increasingly play a role. However, an important caveat when it comes to floods is that it is also heavily dependent on the ‘developmental’ paradigm at work. Deforestation and concretisation both increase flood propensity.

As I said, it is not yet clear if the rising cyclone intensity trends seen in the observations can be attributed in part to human activity or if natural variations alone are responsible for them. It is likely that global warming has played a role but we don’t have enough information yet to draw robust conclusions.

Sea levels are rising in line with expectation from theory and models, so are robustly attributed to anthropogenic GHG emissions.

GHGs and particulate matter pollution are the key aggravators for changes in different climate variables. These rise with industrial activity.

PG: A growing population, rising aspirations would have implications for energy, infra, agriculture and livestock – these are the key Climate aggravators?

CD: GHGs and particulate matter pollution are the key aggravators for changes in different climate variables. These rise with industrial activity. There are technologies that may help in rapid reduction in particulate matter pollution. However, there is no proven technological quick fix that can rapidly reduce atmospheric GHGs. Rising industrial activity is being driven more by rising aspirations than by population. This is because population growth is highest among the lowest economic classes, which have very low carbon and resource footprints. 

PG: Would afforestation help? What needs to be done and how quickly?

CD: I quote a paragraph from the last chapter of our recent book “Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region”:

Ambitious afforestation efforts offer myriad benefits. Aside from mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, trees also enhance resilience to flash floods and landslides by improving soil retention, improve resilience to droughts by increasing percolation of surface water into the soil, improve resilience of coastal infrastructure and habitation by reducing coastline erosion due to storm surges and sea-level rise, reduce vulnerability to extreme heat by reducing ambient temperatures, and support native wildlife and biodiversity. In short, forests and urban green spaces will deliver substantial economic benefits to the country by mitigating a wide range of the expected impacts of climate change in India and is the safest, most reliable means of realising several of India’s sustainable development goals.

An ecologist would be better placed to answer how and where to make this happen.

Ambitious afforestation efforts offer myriad benefits... forests and urban green spaces will deliver substantial economic benefits to the country by mitigating a wide range of the expected impacts of climate change in India.

PG: Is there a way to quantify the precise physical risk posed by Climate risk and what kind of resilience does it call for?

CD: Certainly, but this has not been done for India to my knowledge. Quantifying risk involves quantifying regional scale impacts, and perhaps also exposure of the population in those regions. Resilience doesn’t necessarily have to be high-tech. Ahmedabad’s excellent heat action plan is an inspiration to draw from. I am certain there must be many examples around the country that deserve replication.

PG: Many thanks Chirag for these compelling insights. Here is wishing you all the very best in all your ongoing endeavours.

Next pandemic: What can insurers do?

TOI blog: October 26, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/next-pandemic-what-can-insurers-do/

While the debate on the possible source of COVID-2019 continues – the pandemic shows no signs of an exit. Yet, scientists are already concerned about what could be the next big one. Howsoever distanced insurers may seem, they do have an important role to play. If only they begin to see the dotted line between the climate crisis and the current pandemic, as well as what possibly lies in store.

Insurance & Ethics: A rare cocktail!

My article in today’s TOI blog: October 19th, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/insurance-ethics-a-rare-cocktail/:

The closest you come to ethics in insurance is a subdued mention of Utmost Good Faith! The ‘Cyberfication’ and digitisation of insurance and the businesses they cover – will make insurance & ethics a truly heady mix…

“The rise of environmental justice struggles throughout the state… slowing down the neoliberal juggernaut, but not stopping it”.

J Devika is a researcher and teacher at Centre for Development studies, Thiruvananthapuram. She is a historian who brings to bear that training to engage with contemporary issues. She writes in both Malayalam and English and translates between the two languages. She offers her commentary on www.kafila.online and collects/translates the writings of/on Malayali feminists on www.swatantryavaadini.in.

J. Devaki: The activist community is under threat in Kerala.

Praveen Gupta: The discourse on Climate Change continues to be deeply Eurocentric? Understand the likes of ‘Swatantryavaadini’ provided Kerala a strong tradition and spread?

J Devaki: Yes, I tend to agree – climate change and the Anthropocene are indeed grand narratives and tend to be Eurocentric. But that does not mean that they are either all-pervasive or impervious to local interpretation. The effects of chaotic climate are felt everywhere in the world for sure, and we draw upon resources from all over to make sense of it. The climate change discourse is only one such. A great strength of environmental activism in India has been that it has refused to take its eyes away from the local and regional context, even as it engages with global discourses, and all this it does with considerable critical acumen.

A great strength of environmental activism in India has been that it has refused to take its eyes away from the local and regional context, even as it engages with global discourses, and all this it does with considerable critical acumen.

Swatantryavaadini is a collection of the writings of early twentieth century feminists – or women whose writings qualify to be called feminist. Again, feminism is a global discourse, and its Eurocentrism has been challenged repeatedly from the margins. If you look at this work, you will notice the complexity of transnational exchanges which do not fit into a simple coloniser/colonised binary.

PG: Have the recent devastating floods led to increased activism?

JD: In Kerala, I cannot really say that it has. It should have led to a wholesale rethinking of our recent development trajectory from an ecological perspective. Given the claims about Kerala’s left traditions, many expected this. But no. The truth is that the very little is left about the Left, and the new economic rightwing orientation of the government can hardly see the importance of ecological stability in capitalist growth.

There is growing fear, however, among more and more sections of people, about rampant destruction of the environment, but there is little commitment among them to heal the damage through changing lifestyles. There is even denial of ecological destruction.

It has been the other way round: for example, rock quarrying, which was identified by scientists of the Kerala Forest Research Institute as contributing heavily to the destruction of the Western Ghats and exacerbating the damages done by the floods, has only been further encouraged in the state. And people protesting rock quarrying – local people, that is – have been handled quite roughly. There is growing fear, however, among more and more sections of people, about rampant destruction of the environment, but there is little commitment among them to heal the damage through changing lifestyles. There is even denial of ecological destruction.

PG: What drives the affected people into a self-denial mode? Does this aspect of climate psychology or sociology mellow down activism?

JD: From our research on the local self-government’s response to heavy, persistent industrial pollution at the island of Eloor in Kochi, it appeared to me that the insights of environmental psychology about denial of environmental destruction are very valuable indeed, especially for those of us who desire to change mindsets. The response of residents to environmental pollution at Eloor closely resembles that which has been called ‘socially-organised denial’ in the literature on climate change denial.

The response of residents to environmental pollution at Eloor closely resembles that which has been called ‘socially-organised denial’ in the literature on climate change denial.

It is now widely agreed that the ‘information-deficit’ model of climate change denial which claims that better and more accessible, scientifically grounded, reliable information will convince people is not adequate to make sense of denial – that is, knowledge is necessary, but may not be sufficient. For instance, some sociologists and psychologists now argue that the apparent indifference of people in the face of a veritable flood of information and knowledge of climate change may be a form of grieving. 

Psychologists studying climate change denial point out that the increased perception of death-risk that ‘risk society’ allows may actually activate ‘distal defenses’ which keep death thoughts unconscious – and one form they take is of bolstering the existing world-view even when it is not sustainable in plain view. In our interviews at Eloor, we were struck by the fact that elected members almost never volunteered to broach the topic of pollution until we suggested it explicitly to them; there was much diffidence about speaking of it. From our data, it appears that both the ‘proximal’ and ‘distal’ defenses that Dickinson talks about seem to be at work at Eloor.

I am talking about just one site in Kerala, but this maybe at work on a much larger scale.

PG: What is happening at Eloor and why could the community around the Periyar river not mobilise corrective action?

JD: In Eloor, industrial pollution has been a constant, severe problem since the 1970s at least, and though there was activism there against it, and though this activism caught much attention in Kerala and even reached global forums, it was unable to change local mindsets. In fact, the activists here were even able to be part of the Local Area Action Committee set up under the aegis of the Supreme Court to stop the chemical pollution of the river and for two years, they wielded considerable influence. However, this did not translate into widespread acceptance of the activists’ stance on the environment.

People who grew up there were nostalgic not for Nature but for national public industrial culture. The activists, however, had roots in the earlier farming and fishing livelihood culture which was exactly the opposite!

Part of the reason for this is to be found in the local history of Eloor – it was the hub of nationalist industrialisation from the 1950s, which once embodied the Nehruvian idea of industrialisation. People who grew up there were nostalgic not for Nature but for national public industrial culture. The activists, however, had roots in the earlier farming and fishing livelihood culture which was exactly the opposite! But there were other reasons as well. Civil social activism, especially intervention, in Eloor was (a) made possible from above, through the intervention of the Supreme Court, and (b) technical in nature. The activists were also dogged by the fact that they were fighting both public and private sector chemical industries – and were up against the combined power of all the major trade unions, and not just the large private corporates.

PG: Who are the major defaulters? Are these state-owned industries?

JD: In Eloor, yes. And that is a huge hurdle.

PG: The Silent Valley was one of the early high-profile projects that drew major ire of environmentalists. To what extent did they succeed?

The Silent Valley struggle was perhaps the major success story as far as environmental struggles in Kerala are concerned... on the one hand, ecologists and popular science activists advanced different sorts of scientific and technical arguments, and on the other hand, poets and writers created new metaphors that ignited people’s imagination and gave them the power to ask fundamental ethical questions.

JD: The Silent Valley struggle was perhaps the major success story as far as environmental struggles in Kerala are concerned. This success was the result of the fact that what began as a technical discourse was expanded into a much larger discourse that posed fundamental questions about human beings’ ethical relationship to the non-human. This was done by the poets and writers who joined the movement. So on the one hand, ecologists and popular science activists advanced different sorts of scientific and technical arguments, and on the other hand, poets and writers created new metaphors that ignited people’s imagination and gave them the power to ask fundamental ethical questions.

PG: Kerala has 100% literacy and a communist government; you still witness major environmental breaches? Is activism not community led?

JD: Well, neither literacy nor communism guarantees good sense about the human future, especially our ecological future. The activist community is under threat in Kerala. Ecological activism is increasingly dubbed anti-people, Maoist, a foreign conspiracy and so on, like elsewhere in India. Only that a much larger public sphere – and one with many folds – assures that these threats are not always successful. The government however simply ignores activist voices – and encourages terrible disaster – for instance, Adani’s ongoing ecological misadventure at Vizhinjam which is wiping out Thiruvananthapuram’s beaches and threatening several coastal hamlets. The government was forewarned of this disaster many times by activists and scientists, but it all fell on deaf ears. The meager disaster relief doled out in times of crisis are little relief, they are even a mockery…

The activist community is under threat in Kerala. Ecological activism is increasingly dubbed anti-people, Maoist, a foreign conspiracy and so on, like elsewhere in India.

PG: Despite close co-existence with nature unlike why do we still see environmental depredation in Kerala?

JD:  Close co-existence with nature in Kerala was once an integral part of life here; but no more, except among our ecosystem people. Only part of the environmental activism in Kerala could be called that fueled and led by ecosystem people. The rest (including the Silent Valley Campaign) is largely middle-class. In the 1980s, there were two streams: you could perhaps call them the Romantic and the Rationalist. Of these, the Romantic stream urged people to examine ethical questions on their relation to non-human life, created new myths and metaphors that built a new imagination and cosmology, and often relied on a prelapsarian idea of Nature. The Rationalist was more inclined to treat Nature as a resource, and so favoured cost-benefit analysis and technical approaches. Both these were advanced by the middle-class and centred on conservation.

The rise of environmental justice struggles throughout the state – around many issues including sand mining, granite quarrying, waste dumping, water shortages, wetland destruction, chemical poisoning (Endosulfan) and so on – was not accompanied by a reimagination of environmental activism.

In the 1990s and after, with greater consumption and resource predation, questions of environmental justice became equally or more important. But as this was deepening, the official response (evident in Kerala’s experiment with decentralised planning for development) was of ‘resource mapping’, focusing on sustainable use alone.  The rise of environmental justice struggles throughout the state – around many issues including sand mining, granite quarrying, waste dumping, water shortages, wetland destruction, chemical poisoning (Endosulfan) and so on – was not accompanied by a reimagination of environmental activism. So, these continue to be fragmented though numerous throughout the state, slowing down the neoliberal juggernaut, but not stopping it.

PG: Is increasing frequency of wild elephant deaths a manifestation of human animal conflict?

JD: Yes indeed. Such conflict has been discussed since the 1920s at least when plantations expanded in Kerala. Now however, the problem is far more than wild elephant intrusion. The human-animal interface has narrowed alarmingly, and so we see wild animals far away from forests, seeking food in waste dumps and preying on crops. Wild boars, for example, are roaming around towns; wild otters are now all over in thickly populated river sides far away from forests. , and so we see wild animals far away from forests, seeking food in waste dumps and preying on crops. Wild boars, for example, are roaming around towns; wild otters are now all over in thickly populated river sides far away from forests.

The human-animal interface has narrowed alarminglyDiseases like the monkey fever, once localised in the Karnataka Western Ghats, now appear in Wayanad. This affects not just human beings, but also animals. People turn hostile (especially when mechanisms for compensation are sluggish and inadequate) and plant traps or poison animals.

Diseases like the monkey fever, once localised in the Karnataka Western Ghats, now appear in Wayanad. This affects not just human beings, but also animals. People turn hostile (especially when mechanisms for compensation are sluggish and inadequate) and plant traps or poison animals. But poisoning also occurs when wild boar and gaur forage waste dumps near human habitations; such cases have also been reported.

PG: My best wishes for all the amazing work you do!

A case for health insurance mutuals and cooperatives

TOI Blogs: October 9, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/a-case-for-health-insurance-mutuals-and-cooperatives/: There could not be a better timing for self help groups (#SHGs) to design, setup and run own safety network/s for their health insurance needs. A nod for health mutuals/ cooperatives has the potential to revolutionise delivery of health insurance at the #bottomofthepyramid.

“The main reason why we stay grounded is… to be part of a movement that searches for alternatives to just and better ways of living beyond fossil fuels”.

Giulia Fontana grew up in Zurich (Switzerland), where she studied environmental science. Lorenz Keyszer is from Halle Saale (Germany) and moved to Zurich to study environmental science. That is where he met Giulia in one of the many voluntary projects where he is active.

Giulia is interested in social change and the role of grassroots movements in it. She is involved in different sustainability projects and as a side job works as a caretaker for children with disabilities. In 2016 she decided to never fly again and did not regret it. Lorenz has not flown since 2015 and has no plans to do so in the future – he prefers to be on his bike anyway. Lorenz is interested in the degrowth / post-growth discourse as well as in plural economics.

The two were invited to a wedding in Sydney. How did they make it there without flying at all – makes a fascinating story? Something they have put together as a book in German! The young couple literally shares a playbook for how ‘to be part of a movement that searches for alternatives to just and better ways of living beyond fossil fuels’.

Giulia and Lorenz: Glimpses into the future of carbon free travel.

Praveen Gupta: Without boarding a single plane, you both travelled from Zurich to Sydney. Why Australia?

Giulia & Lorenz: A friend of ours, Rosa, who is Australian but lived for many years in Zurich, was going to marry in Australia (and moving back to Australia). She not only invited us to the wedding but asked Giulia to be her maid of honour. We had already quit flying well before Rosa invited us to her wedding. An idea came up: maybe we could travel without taking a plane to Australia. First, we thought that travelling to Australia without flying would be impossible, but then we researched a bit and found many good reports from other travellers that it was actually possible. Step by step we organised the journey, all the visa and hostels and just suddenly it started. But it still feels a bit unreal.

PG: What is it that you were trying to achieve in the process?

G&L: We decided to quit flying because it has a highly negative impact on the climate. We became aware of this due to our studies. Flying is one of the most CO2-intensive activities that individuals can do. Flying is also a huge injustice: while only a small minority globally flies, many people are affected by its consequences, mostly in the global south (see Stay Grounded by Ivanova & Wood, 2020). In addition, CO2 offsets are highly uncertain and problematic, because they inhibit social change, and it is unclear whether they will lead to emission reductions at all. Technologically, it still looks very bad as well (electric planes are still a daydream and will remain so for quite a while). Aviation must, therefore, be reduced in order to maintain our livelihoods. Through staying grounded we want not only to directly minimise our share in this climate crisis but also initiate greater cultural, political, and systemic change away from fossil fuels.

Flying is one of the most CO2-intensive activities that individuals can do. Flying is also a huge injustice: while only a small minority globally flies, many people are affected by its consequences, mostly in the global south.

PG: What did it take you to plan this trip? What was the travel like (in terms of time, countries, means of travel, cost, and safety) and what did you finally achieve?

G&L: With the help of the internet, guidebooks, and the knowledge of other people we slowly organized the trip step by step. We organised our journey backwards, since crossing the ocean was the hardest and most uncertain part. As soon as we knew we could go on a cargo ship from Qingdao to Brisbane and would be in Sydney in time for the wedding, we organised our journey to Qingdao via trains through Russia, Mongolia, and China.

Onboarded at the port city of Qingdao, China.

We also had only roughly one and a half month for the way to Australia, since we were still studying and working till mid-June 2018 and knew we need to be in Australia in August 2018. So, for both of our travels (to Australia and back to Europe) we needed around 1.5 months. We made some breaks and definitely got to know a bit of the culture and countries, but of course you could travel all the countries and places much more than we did. In Sydney, Australia, we stayed nearly 11 months and were studying and working (no travelling). Our way back was quite similar to our way to Australia. We went with the train from Sydney to Brisbane. In Brisbane we took a cargo ship, this time to Japan. From Japan we went with a ferry to Vladivostok in Russia. Then we travelled all over Russia with the train again, took the train to Riga (Latvia), a bus to Warschau (Poland) and back to Germany with the train.

Safety was never an issue during our whole travel. But here must be added, that we are in a privileged situation with enough money, the “right” passport, sexual orientation, and skin colour. Cost however were more of a problem since travelling on train and cargo vessel for so long requires a lot of money. Happily, we managed through our savings from previous work (but putting aside money while studying was only possible through the support of our parents). We ended up spending 4000 Euro per person (everything included: food, hostels, visa, train, cargo ship) which is a lot of money.

PG: Did you put yourself through this rigour because you were studying to be environmentalist, thus trying to prove that you practice what you preach?

G&L: The main reason why we stay grounded is to not support the aviation industry and fossil fuels derived lifestyle but instead to be part of a movement that searches for alternatives to just and better ways of living beyond fossil fuels. Through this we want to trigger cultural, societal, and political change. Practicing what we stand for, as studies show (see Westlake, 2017),  gives more credibility and affects friends and family but also other people (e.g. through social media).

People are going to think about such practices, discuss them, they see that other ways of living, ways of travelling are possible, normal, interesting, which can lead to ripple effects and is part of a needed cultural change. In the end we are aware and stress this wherever we can that individual changes are far from enough, that we need to agitate, educate and organise if we want to have a chance at achieving the systemic changes beyond our current capitalist growth system. But individual and cultural change plays a part in this.

PG: How to make it possible for everyone to change their travel culture and spark wider societal change towards less, slower, and better travelling?

G&L: During our travel we realised that there are many barriers to reducing flying and travelling more slowly such as: 

  • Price – often times flying is cheaper than travelling without a plane
  • Time – a very rare resource in our societies and travelling without a plane usually requires a lot more time
  • Missing or awfully bad alternatives to flying or simply no connections
  • Massive publicity for flying
  • Incentives for frequent flying such a “miles and more”

If these barriers would not exist, it would be much easier for people to travel less, slower and without a plane. These are points that need to come about through political and systemic changes. That is why in our opinion it is crucial to organise politically and demand e.g. investments in alternatives to flying, incentives that train rides become affordable for everyone and that frequent flying is disincentivised, for instance through banning airline advertising. One could also think of a frequent flyer levy that increases with the number of flights a person takes per year, basically a counter program to frequent flyer discounts. This would be an important step, since also in rich countries the majority of flights is taken by relatively few people that fly multiple times a year. The revenues could go into making train rides better and cheaper or set up a sailing ship passenger line to replace long haul flights.

The main reason why we stay grounded is to not support the aviation industry and fossil fuels derived lifestyle but instead to be part of a movement that searches for alternatives to just and better ways of living beyond fossil fuels... A transition to a post-capitalist de-growth society, where people have more free time and which is not so much driven by competition, speed, profit and global outreach.

One would also need to address the time scarcity many people experience, since train rides usually take longer. A four-day week or longer holidays could be a start for this. Of course there are many more things which would need to be done, such as taxing aviation fuel, stopping airport expansion, bring back night trains and even more fundamental points such as a transition to a post-capitalist de-growth society, where people have more free time and which is not so much driven by competition, speed, profit and global outreach.

Besides these political and structural changes we could try to trigger slow and less travelling by education and showing that one can experience a lot by travelling less and feel the distances – to highlight the benefits of travelling flight free (we guess that’s what we are doing right now). We like the example of bicycle lanes: if there are none, people are not going to bike wherever they need to go. But if there are no people biking on dangerous streets and demanding bike lanes but instead everybody happily using cars, bicycle lanes are not going to be installed. 

PG: Governments are bailing out airlines with tax-payer money. They do not seem to be reconciling with the new normal?

G&L: In our opinion this is the reason why it is so important to think   beyond individual actions and to demand political and systemic changes. States are forced to compete with other countries, to economically grow in order to stabilise employment, stay legitimised, finance military etc. For this growth, the airports and aviation industry are crucial, e.g. for tourism, trade, and skilled labor. (See example of the third runaway in Vienna and the argumentation for it). So, to us it is no surprise that governments are not reconciling with the new normal. Even when the pandemic started, aviation was largely allowed to continue, meaning more spread of the virus. In order to change something, social movements are crucial, which not only start building alternative institutions and adopt different lifestyles but organise collectively to push change.

So, to us it is no surprise that governments are not reconciling with the new normal. Even when the pandemic started, aviation was largely allowed to continue, meaning more spread of the virus. In order to change something, social movements are crucial, which not only start building alternative institutions and adopt different lifestyles but organise collectively to push change.

PG: Do you believe this amazing example has rightfully made you a role model?

G&L: For us it was important to not only do “our thing” but also talk about our travel and to hopefully inspire others, friends, and family. To show that other ways of travelling are wonderful and possible. But every person stands at another point and has other possibilities. We live in a world with many constrains and injustices, some people are forced to travel for work, others need to visit families living far away, others have physical disabilities and again for others it is just not doable to travel at all because of their origin.

For us it was important to not only do “our thing” but also talk about our travel and to hopefully inspire others, friends, and family. To show that other ways of travelling are wonderful and possible.

We address people who due to our unjust world have possibilities to stop flying (at least people who fly often usually have these possibilities). People who can make the decision to stop flying just for fun. There are many other people for whom this decision is not possible and for us it is important to acknowledge that too and also to acknowledge that not every flight is the same (there is a difference between jetting for holiday shopping to New York and visiting family once every two years). So again, these considerations about barriers to slow travel make us stress the need for wider system change and collective organising.

PG: Would you like to share your thumb-rule for measuring carbon footprint?

G&L: Reduce or stop:

  • flying (instead ask yourself: do you really need to go there and if yes are there other possibilities)
  • using cars (instead use public transport, your bicycle or walk – and improve your health)
  • eating meat and dairy (instead discover colorful and yummy vegetarian food)
  • purchasing electricity from fossil fuels (instead change to renewable energy providers)

Also see this article. These are on average the worst activities in terms of carbon pollution. But again, we need these changes alongside systemic, collective change. So not only focus on your footprint, but engage, educate yourself and get organised! See also this wonderful article.

PG: So, where would you wish to head-out next?

G&L: To a just and sustainable world!

Travelling wise: for the moment we get to know the countries we grew up and our neighbor countries. There is so much to discover in front of your door.

The train ride via Russia.

PG: As young people what are your thoughts on having to inherit a sick Planet? What needs to be done to make it sustainable again? 

G&L: We think that we need to build a just society beyond fossil fuels that works for everyone and not just the 1%. Where every human person is having a live-in dignity. From our understanding about how our society is working at the moment and what is hindering this vision, this means that we must overcome capitalism and growth-based economies by changing ourselves, educating others and organising collectively to push for change with prefiguration, with civil disobedience and by establishing new institutions of direct democracy, mutual aid and solidarity.

Without a massive upheaval of many people, who are ready for change, we will not make it. But change is coming, and we believe that it can happen fast if enough people want it enough.

Without a massive upheaval of many people, who are ready for change, we will not make it. But change is coming, and we believe that it can happen fast if enough people want it enough. There are so many books and thinkers who already are thinking about these questions and finding transformation strategies – we would refer to them since we also are fairly new to this topic. See:

1) Alexander & Rutherford (2014). The Deep Green Alternative: https://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/The-Deep-Green-Alternative.pdf

2) Alexander & Gleeson (2019). Degrowth in the Suburbs: https://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/publications/books-and-monographs/degrowth-in-the-suburbs-a-radical-urban-imaginary/degrowth-in-the-suburbs

3) D’Alisa et al. (2015). Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a new Era: https://vocabulary.degrowth.org/

4) Hickel (2020). Less is More – How Degrowth Will Save The World: https://www.jasonhickel.org/less-is-more

Finally arrived in Brisbane, Australia.

PG: Do you see any sense of urgency to restore our only home back to a healthy state? 

G&L: No. We need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to stay below 1.5 degree warming starting right now and better yesterday (see IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degree). There is absolutely no time anymore, in nine years we need to be down by more than 50% of global emissions. Moreover, when taking climate justice seriously (what we do) the global north/rich counties would need to be on an even deeper trajectory path already. Instead we see rising greenhouse gas emissions, discussions over discussions on some minor matters. And still, it will never be too late to do something. But in order to avoid the worst of suffering we better started yesterday, and since we didn’t we should do all we can right now: educate, agitate, organise and start building a different society which can displace the unjust and unsustainable system we are living in (prefiguring)!

We need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to stay below 1.5 degree warming starting right now and better yesterdayInstead we see rising greenhouse gas emissions, discussions over discussions on some minor matters. And still, it will never be too late to do something.

PG: I am sure your amazing adventure will open many eyes and spur lots of people to shed fossil fuel from their passion for travel!


Climate Change and insurance: Oxymoron?

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/climate-change-and-insurance-oxymoron/: The Planet and the entire ecosystem is facing an existential crisis – why must insurers aid and abet? Why can’t they get it?