You Can Still Go On Holiday, But It's Time To Do It Sustainably

Air travel is booming despite the current climate debate. But vacationers have to rethink their summer breaks — not only for the environment, but also for the sake of people.

Should we go easy on vacations ?
Jochen Temsch


MUNICH — "Urlaub," the German word for holidays, is a term that comes from 8th century High German and means "the permission to leave" and "the possibility to proceed at will" — this is what the Brothers Grimm's dictionary says. To date, this definition has changed little. Anyone who leaves their job for a few days and walks out of the mill of everyday life, wants to do as they please. For most vacationers, this means lying on a beach, relaxing and forgetting about all the problems that plague their everyday life for most of the year. And you can't blame them for wanting to do so. For most, however, the concerns surrounding humanity are waiting back at home along with the cat, a mailbox full of bills and the balcony flowers, that the neighbors should have cared for during the holidays.

This summer, this is particularly clear: The "Fridays for Future" demonstrations that took place over the past months, in which students protested for the climate, were closely followed by the big summer break for schools. Airlines are reporting record numbers of passengers. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), about 0.25 tons of carbon dioxide are generated per trip on a global average. Tourists contribute to 5% of all greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Where is the alleged flying shame, according to which people find it embarrassing to fly and therefore refrain from doing so? It seems not to be the case, since cheap airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet agree with the head of Lufthansa: The "Greta effect" in response to the environmental commitment of Swedish student Greta Thunberg is yet to become a reality.

Meanwhile, the price war in the sky is becoming increasingly absurd. A flight to Mallorca sometimes costs less than a pizza and a beer. Nothing about those trips is romantic anymore. The old traveler's saying "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints" sounds naive today. When we think of footprints now we don't think of erasable tracks in the sand, but of CO2 in the atmosphere. The cheap travel battle cry "Nichts wie weg!" ("Cut and Run!") is ruthless in itself: there comes the claim to leaving, and for most, that's where it stops.

But it is worth it to take a closer look: young adults between the ages of 20 and 29, barely older than those who take to the streets on Fridays, take a plane to their holiday destination much more frequently than individuals over 40. However, the elders can not derive a morally higher claim from it. Theories suggests that older generations fly less because they have already traveled a lot in the past, while young people are still curious. The need to discover the world is more pronounced for many than environmental concerns. It is also desirable that people think outside the box and get to know other foreign cultures. The most dangerous of all worldviews is, as Alexander von Humboldt said, the view of those people who have never looked at the world.

Tourists contribute to 5% of all greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in the world, and many countries depend on it. Sustainability is not just ecological, it also has social components. In addition to environmental friendliness, the world also needs philanthropy. At best, vacationers bring prosperity, an improved infrastructure, maybe even a bit more stability and peace. In the worst cases, they leave behind environmental damage, the disruption of everyday life and social injustice, because not all locals benefit equally from their visit. In any case, global problems are not going to be solved by keeping everyone at home.

"Greta Thunberg is yet to become a reality" — Photo: Markus Spiske

The central question is therefore not: Can I still go on holiday? But: How should I go on vacation? Despite all the political instruments, from the petrol tax to the CO₂ emissions, which are currently being measured, the behavior of the individual remains crucial: vacationers have to rethink how they spend their money, just like supermarket customers.

Similar to the increased demand for organic products or the decline in meat consumption for many, there are also opportunities in tourism. People do not have to take a long-distance trip every year, and rather than flying for a long weekend, it is better to travel for several weeks at a time. Holidaymakers can also compensate for flights and look for socially and environmentally certified homes that save water and pay personnel fairly. For this there are quality seals in travel catalogs, as they exist for chocolate or coffee.

Those traveling in small groups treating their hosts as equals, booking with local organizers and staying in small guesthouses help local families instead of international tourism companies. Then, holiday-goers recover and relax, but the world is also damaged less.

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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