The 2 Degree Life: What You Can Do to Stop Climate Change


Part 4: Berlin Becomes Lab for 'Intermodal Transportation'

Photo Gallery: Putting the Brakes on the Coming Catastrophe Photos

Would this work in Germany? The majority of Germans consider their cars a given and treat them as an expression of their personal freedom. Almost 80 percent of all households have one car, while two cars are the norm among couples without children. A full tank of gas gives people the feeling that they can go any place at any time -- with no concern for schedules and, unfortunately, with no concern for the climate. But better alternatives to the car are already being developed in Germany.

It is a misty fall morning at the Jannowitzbrücke commuter train station in Berlin. After searching briefly, Andreas Knie, a professor at the Social Science Research Center Berlin, finds the blue, white and red plastic plate on the ticket validation machine on the platform. Knie runs his mobile phone across the plate, and a message on the screen reads: "You are logged in. You may leave the Touchpoint." Touchpoint is a pilot program in the city that allows passengers to pay for rides on the local commuter trains using their mobile phones.

In the world of the future, he could also use his mobile phone to open a rental car at his destination station, then remove the key from the glove compartment and drive to a meeting. Later, he might rent a bicycle standing at the next street corner. In Berlin today, however, the system only works on trains.

An Alternative to the Personal Car Fetish

Knie wants more. He wants to expand the territory within the city's commuter rail circle line into a laboratory for "intermodal transportation." An electronic alliance of the rail system, bicycles and rental cars could compete with private cars. Knie believes that the "private ownership of means of transportation" is history, and he sees the future in a highly flexible public transportation system. He hopes that the "metromobile population" of the future will be more interested in quickly getting from point A to point B than in the car as a status symbol.

The German national railway system, Deutsche Bahn, with which Knie has been cooperating, has experimented with rental bicycles and rental cars in big cities for some time. But Knie wants to optimize the system further so that customers can combine the advantages of all means of transportation. "Using without having to think about it" is his mantra.

According to Knie's plans, up to 15,000 rental bikes and 1,500 rental cars are needed to develop an alternative to the car inside the German capital's most populated areas. But the city is still a long way from reaching this goal.

Nevertheless, the Berlin model shows that there are alternatives to the personal car fetish. To ensure their success, the primacy of the private automobile must be called into question. Only then will a market develop that also gives the alternatives a chance.

  • In other words, the decision is largely up to citizens. The internal combustion engine car is a dubious means of transportation. If alternatives exist, people should use them;

  • The government can support this by making driving a car more expensive and using such tools as higher parking fees and tolls. The downtown areas of cities should be free of private cars with internal combustion engines;

  • The industry should invest more heavily in electric engines;

  • Mineral oil should be included in the European emissions trading market. As a result, a climate surcharge would be added to the price of the gasoline once it leaves the port in Rotterdam, home to some of Europe's biggest oil refineries, and heads to customers all across Europe.

Check back tomorrow for more SPIEGEL prescriptions for a Two-Degree Life.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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Graphic: The Green House Gas Emitters Zoom

Graphic: The Green House Gas Emitters

Graphic: Total CO2 Emissions Zoom

Graphic: Total CO2 Emissions

Graphic: German Greenhouse Gas Emissions Zoom

Graphic: German Greenhouse Gas Emissions