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The climate is changing and we are all going to notice the consequences, all over the world. There are plenty of plans to prepare for this or even to reverse the process. But as an alderman for a medium-sized city in the Netherlands, what can you contribute to that? What is the impact of a climate measure at a local level? Rik Thijs, alderman for climate & energy in Eindhoven, shares his dilemmas, choices and his ambitions with us once every month. 

The world is under the spell of the coronavirus. What can I do now that the country’s more or less locked up? I can at least follow the instructions of RIVM, and work from home, stick to social abstinence and think about how to fit all the measures into my life. This applies to corona, but also to a completely different subject: flying. On social media, I was addressed because of a holiday in Argentina last year. The general message: a Groenlinks (green and leftist) alderman for climate and sustainability shouldn’t fly. One specific tweet caused a lot of commotion, with all kinds of nasty, unsavoury and personal reproaches.

People are rightly worried about global warming. Everyone has to ask themselves what they can do and what they can’t do. That also applies to me. Every day I make conscious decisions in my behaviour. That also applies to air travel.

Where a train is an option, I choose it. For Argentina, it is not an alternative. Yeah, we should fly less. At the same time, I don’t find it very constructive to tell others whether or not they are allowed to go on holiday. But we can all watch how and when we fly. I told my friends that I won’t go to our annual weekend far away if we have to take a plane to get there. But when my mother-in-law invites me for a family holiday to Spain, it doesn’t feel okay to say no to her.

I’m not going to tell people that they shouldn’t fly, but I do urge them to think about our flying behaviour. Thinking about what options are right for me at that moment. Taking the train more often in Europe is a start, but yes, train transport will have to become better and cheaper. Make the train the logical option for journeys of up to 750 km. Improve international train connections between major cities.

Air tickets are becoming cheaper and train tickets more expensive. For about forty euros you can fly from Eindhoven to Prague. A one-way ticket by train is almost 180 euros and you’re eleven hours underway. That’s the world upside down. Of all flights that take off from Schiphol, one-third fly no further than 750 kilometres. What’s more, the aviation sector relies on subsidies and tax breaks. Airlines do not pay tax on kerosene and there is no VAT on airline tickets. If this was to be changed, we could improve train connections. Then trains would become the fastest, easiest and cheapest option. From one city centre to another city centre.

As far as I’m concerned, aviation has reached its limits. For the climate, local residents and nature, more trains and less flying is better and healthier. I am well aware of that.

To set a good example as a green politician in a (European) system that is not designed for that is quite complicated. Sometimes even more for my friends. They didn’t choose this alderman with a climate and energy portfolio. So I’ll keep thinking which way of travelling, whether it’s work or private, is the best option. Sometimes it’s flying, and hopefully more and more often the train.

Fortunately, within Eindhoven, I do almost everything by bike. I don’t have to think about that.