A prominent Swiss climate activist who has participated in numerous blockades of major transit routes across the country to save the planet has been vilified after flying from Zurich to Paris and then to Mexico to travel for two months.
Max Voegtli, a member of Renovate Switzerland, was spotted on the short-haul flight to the French capital, which typically takes around one hour and 20 minutes. Renovate is an environmental activist group that has blocked highways across the country and the Gotthard Tunnel, a railway connecting the southern Italian-speaking Ticino region to the south of the Alps with the German-speaking north.
“I flew from Zurich to Paris today. And guess who was on board? Max Voegtli from Renovate,” a passenger on the flight told the Swiss German-language newspaper, Blick.
The 30-year-old activist received widespread criticism for his perceived hypocrisy for what was claimed to be an unnecessary use of a mode of travel that produces significantly more carbon emissions than other more environmentally friendly alternatives such as rail.
“It is not at all coherent as a climate activist,” the passenger added.
As the news emerged on social media, a number of users highlighted the hypocrisy, prompting a response from the climate activist who explained he traveled to Paris to board a connecting flight to Mexico as part of his travels.
“Yes, I am in Mexico to travel for two months in Central America. I am aware of the privileges that entails, and it was not an easy decision,” Voegtli wrote in a statement posted on social media. He claimed to have explored viable travel alternatives to lower his carbon footprint but insisted these were not available.
Direct trains from Zurich to Paris depart every three to four hours and typically take around four hours.
The activist was somewhat defended by the Renovate Switzerland organization, which chose not to address the fact that one of its activists was choosing the convenience of air travel instead of using more environmentally friendly modes of travel, but to instead claim the reporting of Voegtli’s travel plans was a breach of privacy.
“I find it incomprehensible that citizens follow our activists and take photos. It’s about privacy,” wrote Renovate spokesperson Cécile Bessire in a statement. “Why are we asking for justifications from those committed to the climate, and not from the politicians who support the lobbies of oil, gas and coal?” she asked.
“I don’t fly and I have no intention of doing so in the future. I cannot speak on behalf of others,” the spokesperson added.
Other social media users were more damning.
“Ah, Max. While I compost, I take public transport, I recycle, I do my shopping on foot and I haven’t taken a plane for more than ten years, you are going to Mexico,” one Twitter user wrote, while another added, “Real climate activists don’t fly!”
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“Isn’t it embarrassing to point fingers at others and act differently, even in your free time?” asked a third.
Other climate activists have also been left red-faced recently for similar transgressions, including a couple of Last Generation protesters from Germany who missed their court date for blocking traffic in the German city of Stuttgart earlier this year because they had flown to Thailand and the Indonesian resort of Bali for vacation.
They, too, were defended by their organization, with a Last Generation spokesperson commenting at the time, “They booked the flight as private individuals, not as climate protectors. You have to keep that separate.”