Traces in the sky and distributed responsibility

contrails-jake-melara-6771-unsplash-flacher-1024There are those conspiracy theorists, who attribute the contrails of the aircraft to the spraying of chemicals by power-hungry governments. That’s BS, of course.

Nevertheless, the clouds generated by the aircraft have an unfavorable effect: they increase the atmospheric warming, climate change, because they are unfortunately much more transparent to visible light than to heat radiation.

A recently published study has now quantified this: the additional absorption is approximately doubling the climate-damaging effect of flying. There are also sources that give a tripling, but I stick to the first value.

One can also observe a recent development in the publication of scientific papers, namely the free access for everyone (open access). That is of course very pleasing.

In order to relate the effect, I calculated the emission of two vacation trips (basic information here (in German), all values in metric tonnes)

2 * 2000 km 2 * 5000km
Aircraft: kerosene usage 0,09 0,27
Aircraft: CO2-emission 0,27 0,85
Aircraft: equivalent CO2-emission 0,55 1,71
Car (8l/100km, 3 people) 0,25
Railway 0,2

Average annual emission of a German (including babies and old people): 11 t. For an American, Canadian or Australian: around 20 t.

For railway traffic, there are contradictory values to be found, since the emission depends strongly on the train’s load factor, but a value of 50 kg / 1000 km is appearing more often, e.g. here, for a load factor of 0.4. We would then be at 0.2 t / P for our long-distance journey.

For all means of mass transportation (train, airplane, bus) there is a difference between the average emission caused by the decisions of many and the emission caused by the individual decision. This has a peculiar effect: if I decide to travel as an individual, my emissions are zero, because the train or the aircraft are going anyway – I am only increasing their utilization factor. If it is low, as it is often the case in the railway, this will have little effect on the frequency of the trains, but if it is high, as is often the case in an airplane, my personal influence on flight frequency is much bigger.

The whole thing is an example of distributed responsibility in several dimensions. The influence of the individual is very small, but not zero. Kant back then created (or found, as you like) the categorical imperative to set a rule for situations like these.

Add to that the normative power of the example: when I take the plane, I increase the probability that the people who know me will also fly.

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash


enough is enough

There is a subculture of freelancers in graphic design, web design and programming, copywriting and other areas, that delight in working without a boss. One of them, Paul Jarvis in Canada, is writing a newsletter that represents authenticity, realism and peculiarity (rather than the usual “makemoremoneygetmoreandbetterclients”). He recently wrote a text about the personal “enough” that I find so valuable that I link it here.


make advertizing (a bit) more climate friendly


Imagine, in every car advertizing, the CO2 emissions for the manufacturing (10 – 30 t) and usage (1 – 3 t / 10.000km) were presented in big letters. Wouldn’t that change the mindset of the general society in the right direction?

Last November , I got up a parliamentary petition for a law enforcing exactly this. As I am German, it has been submitted on a special website of the Bundestag. It is currently beeing made public on its petition website, where also discussions may take place. I must admit, that there are only a couple of contributions as of now, which is no wonder, as the website is practically unknown, and there are quite a few other petitions going on.

If you are interested in the text, you find it on above mentioned webpage – Google translate is delivering pretty good translations lately.

Feel free to do something similar in your country.



The life of contexts

I listen to the radio and observe that each sentence by topic choice, verbiage, voice & c. is implicitly spanning a context that you can step into, modify, reject, or break completely. In each conversation, the context evolves from sentence to sentence in one of these four ways.

By context, one can understand the currently active association spectrum.


Respect and Self Interest

Thinking about justifying differences in income. The topic has many aspects; Here I would like to mentally embark on the respect for the higher:

When the lower is respecting the higher, he is giving him a space of movement and the emotional power to fill his role well. This is benefitting himself insofar as the success of his group is promoted. Part of this respect can be, but is not necessarily, that the lower grants the higher a bigger chunk of the cake being baked together. This is creating additional room for movement for the latter.

The good boss is aware that the respect of his / her people deserves to be earned. He / she feels obliged to them and not to his / her sources of money – or only insofar as this is necessary for the success of the group (company, village, state, club…) and its participants.

The thing becomes awkward when the direction of effect is reversed, when the higher is demanding respect, obedience and his extra gain as the duty of the sub. He can force this by his powerful position – and by a “natural” alliance with the other leaders, this forcing becomes almost unassailable; this is Marx’s “class in and of itself”, and has shown itself over the millennia as a class struggle from above. In doing so, an elitist world view is installed in the minds that is obstructing the emergence of movements that can challenge the structure.

In spite of all the Enlightenment, revolutions and democratization, we are still encountering this elitist view of the world at every turn. Within the shelter given by it, the superiors can overdo it with impunity, and that is what the nobility and the upper classes have done since time immemorial. As shown in 1789 and 1917, they did not get away with it always. The countermovement was able to condense into actionable forces and eliminate the elitist order – without, however, finding a wise approach to the phenomenon of leading and let-oneself-beeing-led.

The advantage of electoral democracy is that power is institutionally anchored in the voluntary respect of the led. In a huge area of society however, the economy, this is not the case, although many leaders feel the commitment to the led and seek to act accordingly. The ideology prevailing there is one in which the satisfaction of the participants (i.e.employees) is not a value in itself, but a means of motivation, and this again a means of capital return. The lords of capital are imbued with elite sentiment, sustained by the rules of order, but not by voluntary respect.

What to do? Frankly, I don’t know.


Europe and daily life


For me, at the level of my daily life, Europe means little. At least, this is how it seems. But then I see my Spanish flatmate, and I realize how well the process of growing together is progressing, and how positively the political institution of Europe has affected it.

But on the political level, Europe means something exciting to me. A family with very different members who are nevertheless a family. And I hope that there is a European way of action, that goes beyond the lowest common denominator of the opinions of the 28 Heads of State, who in turn are responsible to several dozen national political parties.

The Guardian has now launched a series of articles on Europe designed to give an overview of many different aspects of the rapprochement process. One of the first articles deals with income inequality: Europe is the world’s least income-differentiated region. 1)

The existence of multinational corporations forces supranational political organs. That is absolutely trivial.

The European political system is not undemocratic, but it is based on the nations and their interests that must be negotiated – not on the European citizen who happens to live in this or that nation. This other thinking is developing slowly and I like that.

A new left-wing European party has recently formed, the DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe – Movement 2025). That is touching for me. They wrote a “Manifesto” which is not accidentally reminding of that other manifesto published in 1848. It had its foundation meeting in the Volksbühne at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin !! Funny, isn’t it? And workshops in rooms of the Technical University, my alma mater.

I am still undecided whether I will get involved there, but I will definitely keep the matter on the screen.

1) Scandinavia is the leader, France and Germany very similar and somewhere in the middle, Spain and Greece the most unequal in Europe. Mexico, USA, Turkey, Chile the most unequal among all OECD countries (source).


“Climate Leadership”

Every now and then somebody writes about “climate leadership” and how this or that country will loose it or take it over. IMHO this is bullshit.

If the term is not linked to the emissions themselves, but to some nice-sounding, but half-hearted, PR boosted measures, that let decrease the very emissions, that the very same country has insanely increased in the past, then it becomes just a joke.

The real climate leaders – if the term has any meaning at all – are the countries with the lowest per capita emissions, i.e. the developing and some of the intermediate countries, especially those, who do everything to not go the high-emissions-then-lower-a-bit path we went. Those are the leaders to follow, and when we look at the emissions spread (yearly, per capita) (source):

  • 20 t in US, Canada, Australia,
  • 7-11 t in Europe and China (with the developed part of China more in the 10 t – region!) ,
  • 3 – 4 t in Africa and Asia without China,
  • 2,5 t as longterm equilibrium emissions,
  • 0 t just to hit the break of the train running much too fast

we see, how much they are in front of us and how much we still have to achieve!

Then, to strive for “climate leadership” means to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. We should decrease our emissions because of our f***ng responsibility for the f***ng world, independently of what the others do or do not!



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