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Greenpeace: More trains, less planes, mobility for all

Written By: - Date published: 6:10 am, October 28th, 2021 - 57 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags: ,

Take note New Zealand. The logistics and geographies in the Greenpeace International article below are different, but the principles are the same. Flying harms nature. The GHG emissions from flying are not just the flight, but all the additional infrastructure and processes that are used in the trip. Neolib flight economics means that airports and airlines need to keep increasing revenue, which means more airport and more flights, which means more GHGs. The explanations from sustainability and regenerative experts are at Maybe We Shouldn’t Take the Plane.

Sorry people who are aching to get the borders open so they can travel freely again. Mass flight travel is directly against climate action and preventing the ecological crises. Maybe in the future we will have the technology for a lot of flying again, but we don’t currently and right now the imperative is to stop burning fossil fuels.

And tourism sector: give it up and adapt like the rest of us. It’s not the end of the world. Climate change and ecosystem collapse will be. Instead of trying to revive a dinosaur industry, put the energy into developing the New Zealand version of the What Needs to Happen list in the Greenpeace article below.

Just stop mass flying. There are plenty of other exciting and useful things for humans to be getting on with.

Cross posted from Greenpeace International under a CC-BY International licence.

More trains, less planes, mobility for all

What’s happening

Earlier this month, activists from Greenpeace Spain installed a 12 metre long train model in the Barcelona-El Prat airport to protest the impact of the airline sector and the planned expansion of the airport.

The expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport would cause tremendous damage to precious wetlands and cost 1.7 million euros. Businesses and representatives promoting this project would like people to believe that opposing the expansion will hurt the city and its inhabitants. It is not true. No city can prosper based exclusively on a “low cost” tourism model that negatively impacts the population with more expensive rents while devouring public resources.

This train model was designed to highlight the shocking lack of rail connectivity among European countries and across the continent. It will travel across Europe in the coming months.

Activists from Greenpeace Spain hold a banner that reads: "more trains and fewer planes". © Greenpeace / Pablo Blázquez
Greenpeace is demanding that European governments invest in an accessible railway system for all. The campaign got off to a ‘flying’ start with anti-expansion action at El Prat Airport. ©Greenpeace / Pablo Blázquez

Why it matters

With the arrival of summer in Europe, the easing of restrictions means a return to travel throughout the continent. However, of the people who are lucky enough to be able to travel, many folks have no choice but to resort to the car or plane for their vacations due to the lack of trains. We urgently need European governments to invest in a geographically robust and accessible railway system for everyone everywhere, not just those routes with the highest demand.

In Eastern and Northern Europe, for example, distances are big and alternatives still need to be designed and delivered. If Europe truly wants to be united, train travel time between places like Bucharest (Romania) and Sofia (Bulgaria), the capitals of the two largest countries in Eastern Europe, should be 5 hours, not 11 hours with multiple transfers.

Investing in trains is a key to fighting the climate emergency while connecting Europeans and other travelers with their cities and countries in a sustainable way. But diminishing connections has forced people to use more polluting means of transport.

Greenpeace Spain hold a banner that reads: "more trains and fewer planes". © Greenpeace / Pablo Blázquez
Earlier this month, activists from Greenpeace Spain protested the planned expansion of the airport. © Greenpeace / Pablo Blázquez

What needs to happen

The European Commission has declared 2021 the “European Year of Rail”, highlighting the essential role of the train in fighting the climate crisis. Traveling by plane pollutes up to 20 times more than travelling by train. Greenpeace demands that EU institutions and national governments be consistent with their climate objectives and promote a system whereby the train — already climate-friendly, safe — is an affordable alternative to short-haul flights and the car.

With that in mind, Greenpeace Spain produced a video to encourage citizens to sign a petition addressed to European Transport Ministers with five proposals that would allow us to travel better in the future:

  1. Create at least 30 new day and night connections between European countries by 2025
  2. Improve the compatibility of trains between countries so that journeys between different European territories are possible
  3. Make the train easier and more affordable by eliminating subsidies to airlines, e.g. introducing a kerosene tax. End short-haul flights when there is a competitive train alternative in terms of time and price
  4. Ensure train operators have compatible sales systems so that buying a train ticket is as easy as buying a plane ticket
  5. Facilitate access to trains for all people, including those who travel with their bicycle or pet.

Mobility For All is working in collaboration with allies to promote the benefits of alternative mobility for improved city life for all city dwellers, whatever their background or socioeconomic status.

57 comments on “Greenpeace: More trains, less planes, mobility for all ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    We're in transitional mode. Folks will have to get their heads around it, but BAU thinking will tempt them into seeking a back to normal route next year.

    By May 2019, the number of known electric aircraft development programmes was closer to 170, with a majority of them aimed at the urban air taxi role. US/UK startup ZeroAvia develops zero-emissions fuel-cell propulsion systems for small aircraft, and tests its HyFlyer in Orkney supported by £2.7 million from the UK government.

    A demonstrator for the German Scylax E10 10-seater should fly in 2022. It should be used by FLN Frisia Luftverkehr to connect East Frisian islands with its 300 km range and 300 m short takeoff and landing distance. On 10 June 2020, the Velis Electro variant of the two-seat Pipistrel Virus was the first electric aircraft to secure type certification, from the EASA. Powered by a 76 hp (58 kW) electric motor developed with Emrax, it offers a payload of 170 kg, a cruise speed of 170 km/h, and a 50 min endurance. Pipistrel plans to deliver over 30 examples in 2020, to be operated as a trainer aircraft.

    On 23 September 2020, Gothenburg-based Heart Aerospace presented its ES-19 design, a 19-seat all-electric commercial aircraft planned to fly by mid-2026. With a conventional aluminium airframe and wing, its planned range is 400 km and expects to operate from runways as short as 800 m. Initially targeting airlines operating in the Nordic countries, Heart has received "expressions of interest" for 147 ES-19 aircraft worth about US $1.3 billion (or $8.8 million each) from at least eight airlines.

    On 22 March 2021, Toulouse-based Aura Aero announced the development of its ERA (Electric Regional Aircraft), a 19 passenger electric aircraft, planned to be certified in 2026.


    So the good news is that transition is here to stay. Bad news is that the political left (current govt here) remains addicted to neoliberalism. I suspect the PM believes too many voters are addicts. Democracy, the numbers game…

    • weka 1.1

      where would NZ get the electricity from to power aircraft?

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        Well, a neoliberal would point to the market, right? So if demand suffices, some entrepreneur will figure out how to supply, and the price will determine who & how many choose to take what's on offer.

        If, on the other hand, folks were to switch to Green socialism, economics would be driven by the common good. Makes electric vehicles & trains more likely.

        The crux is that electricity to power anything comes from the grid as a common good, and private providers of electricity are currently negligible in proportion to that. A social shift via high-tech design could tilt that proportion into balance.

      • RedLogix 1.1.2

        where would NZ get the electricity from to power aircraft?

        In the wider scheme of things air travel does not consume all that much energy. I agree with Dennis – the future of short haul is electric and it's probably going to arrive sooner than imagined.

        I've nothing against trains and public transport generally – but the ability to travel is woven into the modern world. The idea that NZ should return to an era when only the very wealthy could afford the time and cost to leave our shores by sea, is a retro-grade one in my view.

        NZ is in fact one of the most isolated places on earth, pick up a globe and rotate it so that this country is at the polar-centric middle – we're surrounded by ocean. I'd estimate that 95% of humanity lives on the other side of the planet to us. I keep wanting to write a sentence here that includes 'hemit kingdom' – but you get my gist.

        • weka

          Climate science and inaction strongly suggests that the window of green BAU has passed. We'll be lucky if we get trains in a reasonable time frame.

          Wasn't too sure if Denis was saying yaay e-planes, or pointing out that e-planes aren't a serious possibility. We will have some, but I can't see us replacing all the FF planes without increasing emissions in the short term, and doing it in a reasonable time frame (next five years)

          • Dennis Frank

            I wasn't expressing personal approval or disapproval of the tech, merely reporting it. Re your query at, seems that you didn't see my answer as an explanation so I'll try to reframe it.

            Regardless of any current limit on power availability, price rules the supply & demand equation until/unless govt intervenes in the market.

            Consequently those who offer electric plane rides, and those who accept the price of those on offer, will use available energy from the grid if the plane can't generate enough for the flight. Whether the grid supplies terminals for the plane to recharge from depends on service provider & their commercial contract – if that forces up prices for the poor, c'est la vie. Govt will have to ensure the poor can afford electricity somehow – or fake that…

        • weka

          "In the wider scheme of things air travel does not consume all that much energy"

          We don't have enough renewable generation for existing usage and the upcoming EVs. Where will the additional power come from?

          • Ad

            It will come from both Manapouri and the NZ Battery Project in Lake Onslow. That will provide the replacement base load for Huntly, and also enable more wind farms offshore.

            • weka

              other opinions say that freeing up the Tiwai usage won't cover getting our current 20% fossil fuels to renewables alongside the increased demand from converting land transport to EV.

              • Ad

                By the end of 2024, when Tiwai Point is due to close, electric vehicles will make up little more than 2% of our total national fleet. That's functionally nothing.

                Just one windfarm alone – Turitea – will generate enough electricity for over 230,000 cars.

                But let's take it to a logical extreme.

                If all light vehicles in New Zealand were electric (say in 2060 with a running start and dumploads of subsidy), our current total electricity demand would increase by around 20 percent, EECA (Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority) estimates. Enough renewable electricity infrastructure is being built that, added to our existing network, will easily accommodate a larger EV fleet, especially with off-peak charging.

          • Craig Hall

            Personally, I'd call time on the Bluff Smelter. Have seen articles looking at hydrogen fuel cells for planes, not keen on hydrogen sourced via oil industry, but using power overnight when the grid is at a trough to separate water could be promising.

      • Paul Campbell 1.1.3

        Where? Wind, solar, geothermal, the tide that rushes thru Cook Straight lots of sources – but before we deal with aircraft let's start by taking the power from Tiwai and use it to shut down some coal and gas fired generation.

        There are also efficiencies we can't get because of the way power companies 'compete' in the market – imagine we installed extra generation capacity in the Clyde dam and let its lake fill when the wind blows – at the moment those two power sources compete because they are owned by different companies, there's no oppurtunity for efficiency because – profit

        • weka

          also issues of energy returned on investment. There are natural limits to all those techs, and we keep talking about them as if the limits don't exist.

          • weka

            and yes, use the Tiwai freed up energy to get to 100% renewable. Then EV public transport and freight, then personal EVs, increase in population etc. I can't see how we can do green BAU and perpetual growth and decrease GHGs at the same time (we're burning fossil fuels to make most of that infrastructure)

  2. Sabine 2

    To be fair, i would be happy with a steam train, if only we could get someone in government to finally look at trains for heavy goods and passenger transport as a reliable, affordable, and accessible tool to transport masses of people and goods. .

    I would also to be happy if every major road would have a cycle lane tacked on to it, not to cycle on the bloody motorway but on a dedicated line on either side of the motorway.

    And above all i would be really rejoicing if that give a way of taxpayers funds so that a few well to do and rich heeled people can buy themselves and their children some EV were to be cancelled and that money rather be spend on free bus and train tickets for people who need it and who don’t have any other option of transport. They can pay for that shit themselves, after all everyone who does ride a bus, or a train or a bike is not getting any hand outs from the Kitty of the taxpayers. Surely we can do better then that.

    • Adrian 2.1

      Really? Steam trains use coal. Timber does not produce enough heat.

      • Sabine 2.1.1

        As i said. I 'would' be happy with a steam train, if that is the best we could get. Heck, we might run it on frying oil or something.

        Anything would be better then what we have got now for many parts of the country.

        • Ad

          They are about to replace the coal fired engine on the Earnslaw Steamship on Lake Wakatipu.

          Was mighty fun being able to see all that polished brass and steel stoked.

          But if you want to see coal fired systems in action, the Fonterra milk powder dryers are where you really see it operating at scale.

  3. roy cartland 3

    I know it's petty, but I wish they'd said "fewer" planes.

    In fact, I'd happily never fly again – ship and rail should be the transport of the future. Slow down, enjoy the journey.

    • Hunter Thompson II 3.1

      Correct. According to Merriam-Webster:

      "It goes like this: fewer is used to refer to number among things that are counted, as in "fewer choices" and "fewer problems"; less is used to refer to quantity or amount among things that are measured, as in "less time" and "less effort."

      So we need fewer people on this planet, not more.

  4. lprent 4

    Personally I mostly travel overseas when I am working. That means from 1991 to 2013 I didn't bother doing it at all – and had an expired passport for most of that time. From 2015 to 2019, I spent about a quarter of my time offshore in multiple work deployments of between 2 weeks and 6 weeks at a time. It was part of the job that I took in 2014.

    Currently I am not planning on travelling offshore again. It offers little to me personally. I see the things that I expect to see – because I can read and look at video. And being overseas wastes a lot of my limited time. Not just the 30 hour trip of my longest jaunt, but also that travelling causes a lack of hardware and fragile connectivity that limits my real international connectivity.

    Because I live on an international network of people I work with, information that I feeds my mind and helps my creativity, and access to the markets that we provide products and services for. As a geek, that is what I do for a living and for just my own pleasure.

    If I want to relax and have a break – I can do it here without living with hundreds of others in a tube, and thousands in a terminal. For me, getting away from people is a holiday.

    Never really understood the attraction some people have for clustering like sheep on a 'holiday'.

    • Sabine 4.1

      I mapped out my next trip back to europe, it is going to be boat, ferry, train and motorbike. Should take about a year of two, and will be epic.

    • AB 4.2

      Ages ago I heard someone say that contemporary tourists resemble runaway slaves – their gaiety and excitement like a defence against the knowledge of certain re-capture and return to bondage. Probably a nasty and elitist thing to say – but I kind of see the imagined resemblance.

  5. Ngungukai 5

    If you want trains Vote NZF.

    • Ad 5.1

      Was there an improvement in train services under NZF?

      Did train accuracy and speed improve for passengers in Auckland or Wellington? No.

      Did Auckland gain another metre of rail for shifting passengers off roads? No – in fact CRL was started under National.

      Was there a big shift from road to rail in freight? No.

      Was there a big shift from diesel to electric rail freight? No. Not even dual-engine trains for the new South Island replacements.

      They helped regain the Wairoa-Napier line, but the Ohai-Invercargill line is ready to close, the West Coast branch lines are near-dead, the Christchurch-Westport line is close-to-defunct, Northland line remains mothballed, nothing happened to the port in Whangarei.

      The Papakura-Pukekohe electrification is underway, but now they have a daily passenger service to Hamilton with no plans for electrifying the full route.

      Your claim struggles.

      Though the same struggle holds for Labour and the Greens.

      • Sabine 5.1.1

        Was NZ First also the same party that was vilified for anything Labour fucked up?

        Did anyone gave a fuck about what NZ First wanted?

        NZFirst has been quite open about the need for heavy duty rail and passenger rail to some extend.

        At least NZ First is not trying to sell us Tax payer funded give away for EV as an environmentally friendly solution.

        Labour is a full majority government, in its second term and in its second year of that second term.

    • garibaldi 5.2

      If you want a train wreck vote NZF

  6. Ngungukai 6

    Ad our roads are f#$ked from heavy transport, Fay Richwhite were going to sort out NZ Rail however stripped it and ran.

    • Dennis Frank 6.1

      stripped it and ran

      Prebble saved rail, then ran with them. When I was young Chinese politicos referred to such folk as the "running dogs of capitalism". Maybe the only time the communists actually called a spade a spade eh? smiley

      And with all that gold in their pockets weighing them down, would've been easy to catch them on the run with pitchforks, like the Italian peasants did to the fascist overlord running thro the fields in that movie 1941. Kiwis are such nice folk they didn't even bother to discover how much dosh Prebs invested in his sell-off…

      • Ngungukai 6.1.1

        Prebble was a clown should have been starring in the Flintstones with Barney Rubble and Pebbles probably related.

  7. Puckish Rogue 7

    Personally I would like to see the government (whichever) investigate how to make rail for goods more user friendly in NZ

    Invercargill to Dunedin to Timaru to Christchurch to Picton to Nelson plus West Coast to Christchurch with logistics hubs so more freight moved by rail and less trucks on the road, or at least on the main highway

    Smaller unloading facilities at places like Oamaru, Ashburton and Blenheim but it would take talking to a lot of different entities and businesses to even begin this kind of undertaking

    • Sabine 7.1

      Same for the North Island. We can not fix the roads fast enough for the logging trucks to come and fuck them up again.

      • Dennis Frank 7.1.1

        Yep. Seen it constantly on my main road into New Plymouth from the fringe where I live, during the five years I've been here. Logging trucks around one every few minutes. Similarly-sized other truck & trailer combos, about the same rate. Some are even triads (two trailerloads joined). Sometimes three of them in a row. Most headed for the nearby port. Road gangs doing repairs every few months.

    • Ngungukai 7.2

      Need to get some Japanese Consultants and learn how to do things properly, Jacinda should fly to Japan and take Michael Wood with her and see how a country with a proper rail system works. Labour's idea of a silly little trolley set to Auckland Airport is a joke.

      • Adrian 7.2.1

        Japan has 25+ times the population. I think you will find that makes a huge difference, mainly in the fact that the fares would be 25 times greater here.

    • Adrian 7.3

      They exist already and are used. The Blenheim one is substantial as it needs to service the Nelson province as well.

  8. Reality 8

    I have loved every overseas trip I have made. Even with lost luggage, flight delays and huge airports the size of a city, and teeming crowds of people. To see wonderful sights and scenery (New Zealand is not the only beautiful country), to soak up the ancient history, experience different cultures and people. It opens one up to that big wide world out there which is very different to a rather insular New Zealand.

    Saying all that, New Zealand is the best place to come back home to.

  9. Ngungukai 9

    Japan Rail run a pretty good operation in Japan.

  10. Adrian 10

    A train trip from Auckland to Invercargill would take more than 20 hours.

  11. Having travelled around Europe a bit over recent years, I can highly recommend the train.

    They have the advantage of economies of scale of course, so can make train journeys viable.

    The high speed trains (up to 300kph) are fantastic, and are often faster than planes, especially when check in and waiting around is taken into account for air travel.

    We travelled from Frankfurt to Avignon by train (approx 850km). It took about 7 hours. We had a lot more freedom than on a plane and could enjoy the sights out of the window.

    In contrast, a plane trip was going to require us to fly to London first, stay overnight, then fly to Avignon from there.

  12. Ngungukai 12

    Agree spent quite a bit of time in Japan 20-30 years ago, the trains are great, you get no where in a car unless you have plenty of time and like looking at buildings especially in Tokyo.

  13. garibaldi 13

    Yes rail travel overseas is generally a great experience. Rail is unfortunately a bit of a lost cause in NZ. We built a cheap system (narrow gauge) and we will never be able to upgrade it to a wider one… it's just too expensive to do it (and they knew it from the beginning).That's what happens when you are a small under populated Country at the end of the Earth with no money. We had to settle for cheap and nasty and now we are stuck with it.

    • Scud 13.1

      NZ doesn’t need to change KiwiRails operating gauge of 3ft 6in Cape Gauge. What needs to happen is to increase the loading gauge ie axle weights & the width of the wagons & locomotives.

      Both the WA & QLD Rail Networks used 3ft 6in Cape Gauge & show the way what can be done. To Pax Rail with High Speed Tilt Railcars, Tilt Trains incl Electric Tilt Trains for Inter- Regional Urban Services and if you increase the Axle Weights for Trains. Then this flows onto the Freight Sector with longer Freight & Heavier Trains which would make it even more competitive with Road Freight.

      Heck even Japan uses 3ft 6in Cape Gauge Rail as well.

  14. Worth watching to the end. Trains are the technology of the low carbon future.

  15. Ad 15

    So let's all move to Europe, Tokyo or Shanghai where this is relevant.

  16. Maurice 16

    We live in a country which has abandoned the Billion Dollar pushbike bridge across the Auckland Harbour and has been totally incapable of putting "light rail" into our biggest city. What makes anyone think that our WHOLE rail system can be upgraded?

    There is simply not enough BILLIONS available to even start as we are well behind the eight ball with our enormous "Covid" debt. Anything else at all would require vastly more debt.

    • Sabine 16.1

      Oh we have billions to spend, it is just that for some reason we can't seem to spend them wisely, and with the future in mind. So shitty roads it is.

  17. newsense 17

    A suggestion would be to utilize sail and its wind power in our supply chain somewhere. Rail is nice, but it is slow to get started. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, but it does seem we could be moving freight by wind power before we got rail consented or even funded. Look at the 5 year shemozzle over light rail. And that’s not an ambitious project compared to much of what is being discussed.

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