2002. We’re now living with the euro. But are there other things that unite us? After all, since the second Schengen agreement, we’ve been able to travel all over Europe without any controls. Our dreams of mobility appear to be boundless. Icarus and the flying carpet have become normal. But the maiden voyage of the Titanic showed us how vulnerable we humans make ourselves when we continue to strive for new records and ignore the laws of nature. The moon landing in 1969 was a temporary climax. A short time later, we are amazed to discover that things don’t appear to go ever faster and ever more boundlessly. Growth has passed its peak. The earth’s resources are finite. Oil, electricity and water are in shorter supply and are more expensive. Seven billion people are on a high-speed, fossil-fuelled race into climate change. At the end of this one-way street is a cul-de-sac. Cities of concrete and asphalt? The countryside empty and barren? And it could be so different, economically and ecologically sensible. But how?
By night train to Lisbon.
2013. We are living at a time when nothing is any longer as it once was, nor is it yet what it actually should be. Crises wherever you look. Most people have lost their sense of direction, many have lost their jobs. My wife is currently doing a professional training course in France. On the way there, we go by car. The two of us generate 79 grams of C0₂ * per kilometre, or a total of 95kg of carbon dioxide. We set off at 11 am and cover the distance in a Smart in 12 hours. The fuel costs 110 euros and we pay 15 euros for motorway tolls, between us.
I do the return journey to Portugal alone. At the SNCF ticket-office in Tarbes, a French town with a population of some 60,000, I try to buy a ticket to Faro. To cut a long story short, the friendly ticket clerk has to give up. Whatever he tries, the current software is programmed in such a way that it cannot issue a ticket for the leg from Lisbon to Faro. It has no access rights to the Portuguese Alfa Pendular, which sets off from Lisbon. Parochialism on the railways? So, I buy two tickets, one for the French intercity train from Tarbes to Hendaye, the second for the South Express from Irun to Lisbon. The cost: 128 euros, single. I say goodbye to my wife, board the train in the fog and travel past Lourdes, where I get a wonderful view of the snow-covered peaks of the Pyrenees in the wintery sunshine. And so I get to Bayonne. A 20-minute wait. More fog. The engine is uncoupled from the front and recoupled at the back, a complicated business. From there, the train is pushed to Hendaye, which is where it stops.
So there I am standing at the last French station at what was once a border; I ask another ticket clerk which platform the South Express to Lisbon would be leaving from. I’ve got almost four hours till it goes, and my plan is to take a walk as far as the sea. The ticket clerk explains that the train leaves from Irun in Spain. I ask how far it is. Four kilometres is the answer. I could take the fast train that shuttles to and fro between the stations every 30 minutes. The cost: one euro fifty. I walk, past a lot of unemployed men with nowhere to live. On the bridge over the river that forms the border, they’ve lit a fire to keep themselves warm. The path leads up into a town straining under the consumption of the holiday period. Mountains of rubbish bags on the pavements await the rubbish men. After a two hour walk, through fog and concrete and a maze of roads and bridges, I reach Irun station. Spain. RENFE night train to Lisbon. No trip to the beach.
At 50 kph through Europe.
I survive the wait and the subsequent trip in a couchette on the South Express run by the RENFE railway company. We finally set off at 19.00: from Irun via San Sebastian, Vitoria, Burgos, Valadolid, Medina del Campo and Salamanca to Coimbra and Lisbon, where I arrive the next morning at 07.20 at Oriente station. It’s still dark. I turn my watch back an hour and have a cup of coffee and a sandwich. They I buy myself another ticket at the counter of the Portuguese CP, this time for 21 euros 20 to enable me to get to my destination, the Algarve. At 11 am local time, Tunes greets me with sunshine. It’s taken me 24 hours to complete a 1,200 railway journey. And why am I telling you this story?
Because mobility is the essence of our present-day society. If the petrol tankers from the refineries didn’t supply the petrol stations with petrol and diesel day in day out, the country would be at an effective standstill after five days. There would be no cars on the roads, the supermarkets would all have been emptied, the rubbish would be piled high in the streets. Mobility is the key to the sustainability of our civilisation in Portugal, in Europe, throughout the world. Once you start thinking about the sustainability of Portugal, it appears to be politically and economically sensible to work on the idea of, and new concepts of, renewable mobility, or, put another way: who today is still prepared to take a donkey ride down the one-way street back to the last crossroads?
One week and one weekend later, I visited my wife again. I did a test, turned on my laptop, and searched for the cheapest ticket for a flight from Lisbon to Bordeaux. Easyjet offered me a return ticket for as little as 70 euros. The flight takes an hour and a half, plus the three hours by car from the Algarve to Lisbon, and another three from Bordeaux to Tarbes. My CO₂ calculator tells me that, on my own, I am responsible for emitting exactly 620 kg of CO₂ into the atmosphere on the return journey (1,111 km), plus 144 kg of CO₂ while driving. After seven and a half hours of travelling by car-plane-car, I’m exhausted and must first of all decelerate. And it takes a while until I reach my original speed, i.e. the speed at which my legs carry me through life.
2013. In imprudent cultures, people keep working away at misguided developments, instead of going back to the point where the misguided development began. We should turn round and travel back down the one-way street to the crossroads, from where we can head in the right direction with sustainable techniques for survival. Shared use of goods will be at the heart of this, and will replace the current ownership principle of car, house and smallholding. In all aspects of life, the years from 2014 to 2020 will be characterised by discussions and battles between the old and the new paradigms. It is a tough decade of crisis. So, how will we get around in Portugal and Europe in the year 2030? I am optimistic that we will still be able to travel quickly and efficiently then, but cleanly too. It will be a success story that will replace many decades of complaining. Because with the new government, there will be the first transnational mobility project for railways in a shared Europe.
The night express, which has been leaving Lisbon in the evening since 2021, gets to Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Rome, and other European capitals, the next morning.
As soon as 2018, the Portuguese railway company begins to commission modern, energy-efficient, regional rail connections and thereby creates several thousand new jobs. The double-track regional railway lines are electrified throughout, and trains glide to and fro every 30 minutes. What about funding? No problem: since 2016, the income from motorway tolls and fuel taxes has been going directly to the new railway company CP, a joint-stock company with public participation. Now, young people and pensioners can travel almost for free on the local and long distance network. All adult travellers will only have to pay a symbolic amount for their annual CP ticket.
Portugal experiences a new concept of mobility, where less is saved at the wrong end and, at last, more is properly invested, according to the principles of the circular economy and in renewable, local concepts of mobility. Car sharing with e-cars has started, e-metro, e-buses and e-trams have a renaissance, bikes and e-scooters stand ready at stations. The centres of cities like Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Evora, Setúbal and Faro (and others) will be car-free zones, and therefore much calmer.
2030. Naive, utopian? Anyone still driving their own car with an internal combustion engine is an anachronism, and will have to pay five euros per litre of petrol for their vintage car, because fuel prices went through the roof in 2018. International air travel is in sharp decline because it’s expensive and no longer profitable. Alternative sources of power slowly begin to establish themselves: ships with sky sails and rotors, buses with hybrid motors supported by solar power, taxis with hydrogen and fuel-cell engines, the first planes with solar engines. In Germany, people try to get 8 million unemployed people off the streets after Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Continental and Würth are declared insolvent. In Portugal, in contrast, there is widespread optimism, because the country produces much more energy from the sun, the wind and water than it needs itself.
In the next edition on 21st June, you will be able to read more about Portugal’s traditional farming, which is on the way back to success.
*Carbon dioxide (CO2) is always produced when fossil fuels are burned (coal, gas, oil). The emitted quantity of carbon dioxide depends directly on fuel consumption: per kilogram of kerosene, 3.16 kilograms of CO2 are produced by combustion in the aeroplane engines with the surrounding air. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and, once emitted, it remains in the atmosphere, in simple terms, for about 100 years. As a result, it can spread around the whole planet and drive global warming.