This ‘slow traveler’ lost his job for refusing to return home

Climate researcher and environmental activist Gianluca Grimalda plans to “slow the journey” to Europe from Bougainville, off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Gianluca Grimalda

Gianluca Grimalda was faced with a dilemma.

His employer, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a think tank based in Germany, ordered him on short notice to complete his fieldwork in Bougainville, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, in the southwest Pacific, and return to his office – or risk losing his job. job.

The ultimatum actually demanded that Grimalda, a climate researcher and so-called “slow traveler,” quickly board a flight back to Europe.

He refused and was fired – but he says he would make the same decision again in a heartbeat.

Speaking to CNBC from Papua New Guinea’s remote East New Britain province, Grimalda said he began “slow traveling” about 13 years ago as part of a attempt to be at peace with himself during the worsening climate crisis.

In practice, this meant taking as few flights as possible when attending international conferences and favoring more sustainable modes of transportation to reduce his environmental footprint.

In the current situation, I think what is really crazy is to continue doing business as usual because it really is an abnormal situation.

Gianluca Grimalda

Climatology researcher

Air travel emissions contribute significantly to climate change and aviation is known to be one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize. Indeed, researchers have estimated that air travel is responsible for around 4% of human-caused global warming.

“Even arriving here seven months ago, I managed to slow down my journey to Singapore and then get on a plane because it was simply impossible – as I know now – to find a way transport different from the plane,” Grimalda said.

“I was really determined to return entirely flight-free, partly for my own moral commitment… but I also wanted to send a strong signal that in the current situation of progressive climate breakdown it is very important that what we consider to be Extraordinary actions become more and more normal.”

Grimalda said Tuesday he has been stuck on a cargo ship at a resort in eastern New Britain for the past 10 days.

However, he hoped to be able to resume his epic 15,000-mile (24,140 kilometer) journey via land routes from Friday. He plans to finally return to Europe around the second week of December.

Grimalda spent several months conducting fieldwork on the social impact of climate change on the island of Bougainville.

Gianluca Grimalda

When he returns to Germany later this year, Grimalda said he intends to file a complaint against his former employer for illegal dismissal.

A spokesperson for the Kiel Institute for the World Economy told CNBC that the institute does not comment publicly on internal personnel matters.

“What is public and obvious: Dr. Grimalda planned his trip to Papua with our support. We have already supported a previous ‘slow travel’ trip to Papua by him,” the spokesperson said, adding that the The institute always supports its employees traveling in a climate-friendly way during your business trips.

“We are committed to avoiding air transport in Germany and other EU countries as much as possible. If air transport is necessary, we provide CO₂ compensation. We pay Atmosfair to offset emissions through projects climate protection”, they added.

“I think it was the right decision”

Grimalda’s slow journey home comes after several months of fieldwork on the social impact of climate change on the island of Bougainville. He said the completion of his research project had been delayed by a series of unpredictable incidents, ranging from “major security threats” to a volcanic eruption.

When asked how he felt about losing his job due to his refusal to fly, Grimalda replied: “I think it was a prize worth taking paid for it and it’s something I would do again for at least three reasons.”

“First of all, I perceived this request from my institute as a kind of moral and psychological blackmail and I thought that if I had given in to such blackmail, I would have lost my dignity. So, I really didn’t want to Don’t give in on this.”

“The second was that I promised the 1,800 participants in my research that I would do everything possible to alleviate their suffering. These are people who experience climate change every day,” he added, emphasizing that coastal communities who he had interacted with had been forced to move inland due to rising sea levels.

“And ultimately, I thought, ultimately, this is an opportunity that maybe I should take, because as a concerned climate scientist and a concerned citizen about climate breakdown, I really try anything that is possible.”

Grimalda said losing your job wasn’t the end of the world and suggested it might instead be a “sign of destiny” to do something else.

“So, I said, I’m going to take this gamble. Maybe this is my opportunity to really convince as many people as I can talk to that we really need to change our course of action too urgently as possible. possible,” he said.

“In the current situation, I think what’s really crazy is to continue doing business as usual because it’s really an abnormal situation. I have to do what I can to sound this alarm as loud as possible possible, that’s why I “I made this decision. I think it was the right decision. “

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