About 5 per cent of the population of the Netherlands travel for work. This group represents 30 per cent of all flights made by the Dutch. Air business passengers include many scientists, says Tion Bussima, professor of epidemiology of tropical infectious diseases at Radbodomic.
The corona period has proven that it can be done differently, so it’s a petition I started. “Before the Corona crisis, it was said that some conferences could not actually take place for technical reasons, for example. Then they just turned to the scientists,” Bussima told EditieNL.
According to the professor, they went too far in this matter. “I was once asked to travel to Japan for a half-hour interview. That was the norm. It really took off. We are more than 7 million scientists worldwide. The ecological footprint is larger than some countries like Iceland and Uganda.”
How many scientists actually fly? As a pointer: In 2019, 5,000 scientists together flew about 45 million kilometers to attend one conference. That’s 58 times for the moon and back.
He finds it even more bad that it’s all about scientists. “The group is exactly what you would expect – because these people have a lot of knowledge about climate change and find the research important – they won’t.”
The petition has now been signed more than 1,100 times. “There is a lot more potential without flying than we thought. Now is the time to start changing, so we have to move forward now. We have to cut flying by at least half.”
Bert van Wei, professor of transportation policy at TU Delft, thinks the timing is right, too. “The corona crisis has taught us that we can keep society going without a lot of flying,” he told EditieNL. “Many conferences can simply be held digitally.”
There are even advantages to it. “People who don’t want or can’t travel can attend as well. It’s also much cheaper, because there are no airfare and accommodation costs. The remaining money can be returned to scientific research.”
But there are also drawbacks to online conferencing. “A lot of people like to go somewhere. People often add a weekend to see the city. They combine it with a special trip. You also miss personal contacts, a presentation, or inspire each other.”
According to Fan Wei, it remains to be seen whether it is actually possible to reduce commercial air traffic. “If employers don’t take action, little will happen. Employees won’t do it alone. They enjoy traveling and seeing others do it again. So the number of business trips will increase again soon.”
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