This is a subject which kept me busy years ago, but which I’d still like to discuss now. Several years ago the party leader of the local GroenLinks party (the green party of the Netherlands) in The Hague wrote on his weblog that he had been on holiday to Japan. This was and is contrary to the environmentalist political positions espoused by GroenLinks, which include reducing air traffic at Schiphol Airport and not opening Lelystad Airport. No one agrees with every political position of their party, but it’s disturbing when leading GroenLinks politicians make choices which go against the party line regarding this issue. Environmentalism is one of the founding principles of GroenLinks and air traffic contributes disproportionately to climate change. GroenLinks politicians (should) know this.
When I asked this party leader during a meeting how he dealt with this inconsistency, he bluntly replied that he considered this a personal choice. Shortly after a leadership election had been held by GroenLinks The Hague I asked the new party leader what her stance on this issue was in January 2022. Ideally I had asked this question during the debates of the leadership election, but I could not attend these due to my agenda.
This new party leader also thought it was a personal choice and argued that we shouldn’t judge others for using holiday flights. She didn’t say whether she used holiday flights herself. I ascertained that we disagreed on this matter, but that I would still vote for her in the municipal elections. There was more which connected us than what separated us, after all. However, if I had been able to ask the question during the leadership election debate and I didnn’t like the answer, I might have voted for a different candidate than the one who won the election.
I object to the opinion that this is a ‘personal choice’. It may be one in name, but not in substance. It is not personal because the choice will disadvantage others. The kerosene burnt by aircraft engines ends up the air which we all breathe. We all suffer from the dangerous climate change caused by the combustion of kerosene. The local residents around Schiphol Airport live suffer from noise pollution and health risks due to higher concentrations of particulate matter there. If you choose a flight, you choose for others as well.
In a different sense the choice is not personal because it will have electoral effects for GroenLinks. What would happen if the party leader of the orthodox Protestant SGP turned out to be Catholic? Or if the party leader of the Islam-oriented party DENK would not adhere to the rules of the Ramadan? Or if the party leader of the Party for the Animals would eat meat? Outrage would follow and those party leader would probably have to step down or would not be reelected.
Boarding a holiday flight is apparently not considered such a grave error by environmentalist political parties. Even so, when even the national GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver uses a flight, this news is picked up by a Dutch right-wing populist weblog like GeenStijl. Klaver is reported to have taken a flight to Barcelona, particularly a journey which could have been done by train within one day from the Netherlands. It is no surprise that Klaver is accused of hypocrisy and that this is electorally damaging to GroenLinks. Potential voters could be discouraged from voting for GroenLinks after reading such reporting. This is how the party’s interest can be damaged from a ‘personal choice’ by a GroenLinks politician.
Likewise the D66 party leader Rob Jetten, who took pride in being considered a ‘klimaatdrammer’ (climate nagger) by his opponents, was criticized in the House of Representatives over his use of flights by the right-wing PVV party leader Geert Wilders. Jetten acknowledges that he uses flights because he sometimes has no alternatives, plays down his frequency of use and then says that higher taxes on flights could solve the problem. Wilders unsurprisingly counters that Jetten can easily pay the extra taxes while this is harder for the ordinary Dutch citizen. Here many will identify with Wilders’ argument that Jetten is a hypocrite. I’m not convinced at all that Jetten sometimes doesn’t have alternatives: many of his flights were for holidays far away and not for business. Holidays can easily be enjoyed closer to home with the train. And those business flights can easily be replaced by phone or video calls.
I’m not perfect myself. In 2015 I took a holiday flight for the last time, to Turkey. Since then it became clear to me that I could not justify flights any longer due to climate change. Because of this I resolved to never set foor in an aircraft again. This may mean that a holiday to India or Indonesia is practically impossible, but that is something I have to live with. Other holiday destinations in Europe are fine too and can be reached easily by train. We have to learn to be satisfied with less.
I usually don’t criticize others when they tell me they used flight to get to their holiday destination. If they ask me about my choice for holidays with the train I explain them my position, without judging. I don’t think you should expect activism from the average person because flying has become so normal and the government facilitates this by not levying taxes over kerosene.
I hold GroenLinks politicians to higher standards. Especially they should realize they have an exemplary role. Why should the average person fly less when they see that even Jesse Klaver flies? When you have this exemplary role you have to be willing to make sacrifices. You have to able to let the interests of the climate and your party prevail over your personal preferences.
In the future I will continue scrutinizing GroenLinks politicians over this subject in internal elections. I will weigh their position on this issue in my voting behavior. If more GroenLinks members care about this it will possibly bring about change.