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People and Mobility.

Let’s start with the good news. Portugal is in 6th place in the global Climate Change Performance Index (1), directly behind Denmark and Sweden and ahead of both Switzerland and Germany. And the bad news? The reduction in greenhouse gases coming from emissions from industry, agriculture and forestry, from power stations, from buildings and households but especially from transport and mobility can mainly be attributed to drastic cuts during the economic and financial crisis.

Important though a balanced national budget may be, savings alone are of little help when major investments in the right ideas and projects are lacking. Political will and an awareness of the need for a new climate policy, combined with financial incentives through new funding models supported by a reduction in bureaucracy, could – were the investments to be made now – bring about ecological and economic change and achieve sustainable growth in Portugal. In this way, hundreds of thousands of new jobs could be created – and new tax revenues as well. While the country’s old political elite wastes valuable energy (and valuable money) in political discord, in this edition ECO123 will be telling you whether savings can be made and if so how, and why ecological growth is possible in Portugal.

More than seven billion people preside over the earth. Portugal’s population is shrinking slightly as a result of emigration and a drop in the birth rate. A stroke of luck? Energy savings, lower CO2 emissions alongside investment in solar, water and wind energy, in sustainable training, in ecological agriculture, in green industries (furniture and fashion, IT, communications, natural plastics, recycling of metal, travel), in socially just mobility that aims to be in harmony with nature – all of these are already working wonders elsewhere: in Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, and even in the biggest polluters the USA, China and Germany.

Investments in E-mobility

Climate Change Performance Inderx 2013
Humans have an effect on the climate, the ecosystem, health, water resources and food production. They have choices, both positive and negative ones. Moving around less, and being at ease with oneself more? We still consume huge amounts of fossil fuels. Our industries produce harmful emissions, buildings and households emit large quantities of CO2, power generation uses up fossil resources and simultaneously emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, among other things. People are gradually sawing their way through the branch on which they’re sitting. It is thanks to humans, their agriculture and nutrition, and especially their mobility – air, road and sea travel – that some 30% of all emissions get into the atmosphere. At the same time, people are deforesting planet earth with breath-taking speed. And it is exactly the opposite which could begin to take shape in Portugal. In every crisis lies an opportunity. Ecologists and economists are agreed: in hard times, Portugal would have a good chance of giving its climate policy a completely new orientation alongside a new ecological economic policy, using solar, wind and water power.

“In every crisis lies an opportunity.”

Cars, shipping and air travel were not regulated by the Kyoto protocol. This means that none of them are obliged in any way to reduce their harmful emissions. But air travel produces such emissions in large quantities. Airlines still pay no tax on aviation fuel – unlike all car drivers. Why not? According to estimates by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, UN Geneva), because they are released at high altitude, aeroplane emissions are about three times as harmful to the climate as comparable emissions at ground level. Calculations by NGOs show that air travel in the course of 2013 will produce the same volume of emissions elsewhere that has so far been saved. In this way, the first and, to date, only international climate initiative would be completely nullified. Against this background, new forms of mobility are the key, not only to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also to steering away from the erroneous path which we have so far been following.

The proposed intention of the Passos-Coelho and Portas government to privatise our traditional rail company CP during the current crisis is like being on the wrong track and then switching to another equally misguided one. During a crisis, services for rail passengers should improve, and be expanded – additional routes should be offered – but not shut down. Why not use the revenue from motorway tolls, the taxes raised from individual car travel, taxes from fossil fuels like petrol, diesel and kerosene to modernise the old railway company, to make it fit for a future in which 80% of a nation will once again travel by environmentally friendly rail? Why not let young people, schoolchildren, students, pensioners and certain other social groups use the rail network for free?

The country needs new entrepreneurs

In a crisis, we have to be open to new ideas, new suggestions, new horizons. We are being called upon to re-establish the basis for trust in a society where nowadays everyone mistrusts everyone else. We have to ask ourselves how we got into the current crisis. Did we make mistakes, and if so what were they? What were the causes of our crisis in Portugal? How did we live, what means did we use to govern the country, how have we used our freedom for the 40 years since the end of the dictatorship? Why chastise the populace time and again with tax increases when the amount of taxed raised doesn’t begin to suffice? Tormenting people with fines, punishment orders and seizures, using methods like those practised on recalcitrant institutionalised children from the Salazar era? Is that our Portugal? Is that the Portugal that we dream of?

What about trying the opposite, rewarding people for punctual tax payments? All taxpayers who declare and pay their taxes punctually would get a free ticket to use the state-owned railway company CP for one month per year. What about a reward for environmentally friendly behaviour? People who emit less than 3,000 kg of CO2 per year would get a tax refund from the state equivalent to the amount saved, or even better, a free, year-long season ticket for the metro, bus and tram. What about rewards for creativity and inventiveness? It would shake our society up a bit, lethargy would turn into productivity, the budget deficit would turn into a surplus. For every sustainable invention in the field of recycling, in the fields of ecological agriculture, natural travel, environmentally friendly building and living, healthy nutrition, and green fashion, for every sustainable invention in the sustainable mobility sector, the inventor would get a reward: assistance with start-up, support, a reward.

From Alfa Romeos to trams.

Healthy mobility starts in our dreams and by telling success stories. Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra and Faro all car free? Why not? Why not give priority to pedestrians, bicycles, buses, trams and electric cars? We really need to ask ourselves seriously why buying a car or an air ticket has got steadily cheaper since 1995 in real terms – while train, bus and tram travel have got more and more expensive. Were our decisions correct that led us to believe that growth could be quick and unlimited, that we had to go along with every fashion, that we could take the path of least resistance? Here, the question arises as to why we should continue to support a short-sighted policy which channels cars nose to tail into Lisbon and Porto in the morning and out again in the evening? Traffic jams every weekday, bad air, unbearable noise. This makes everything sick, and that’s what Portugal is too: sick.

On Sunday, 29th September new town and municipal councils and new mayors will be elected. Why re-elect the old political elite knowing they are incapable of steering a new course and preparing the country for a sound future? Why keep on moaning when there’s actually another way? In Portugal – as in Europe – and globally, we need a paradigm shift. It’s not just something that concerns us and today, but that concerns our children and the basis of life for future generations. Let’s start thinking and acting in a bolder, more creative and more exemplary manner. Portugal can climb at least another five places in the worldwide Climate Change Performance Index.

(1) Using standardised criteria, the Climate Change Performance Index compares and assesses the climate change performance of 58 countries which are together responsible for more than 90% of global energy-related CO2 output.
The ten nations responsible for most pollution and CO2 emissions are China (21.42%), the USA (16.26%), India (4.94%), Russia (4.84%), Brazil (4.19%), Japan (3.52%), Germany (2.34%), Indonesia (2.33%), South Korea (1.73%) and Canada (1.65%).

About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)

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