In October, Italian climate scientist Giancula Grimalda refused on environmental grounds to take a plane home after research in Papua New Guinea. Not amused by the extra time that would take for his return to work, his employer sacked him.
Now, after 72 days of low-carbon travel, crossing 27,000 kilometres by land and sea, Grimalda is back in his home country, finishing the trip with only a ripped €10 note in his pocket.
For seven months last year, Grimalda, a social science expert with an emphasis on the environment, was researching the connections between social cohesiveness, climate change and globalisation on the island of Bougainville, off the East coast of Papua New Guinea.
When he refused to take the plane back to Germany, the Kiel Institute for World Economy (IfW) where he worked fired him.
On his travels, Grimalda has passed through Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Laos using ships, trains and buses. He went on to China and Pakistan, through the Karakoram mountain range, continuing via Iran, Turkey, Greece and finally arrived in Italy.
His original itinerary included crossing Myanmar but the conflict between the military junta and the opposition there forced him to make a detour via China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Grimalda told Italian media on his return that he felt, in his capacity as a scientist, not flying “was the right thing to do, for me and the community”.
“According to my calculations, which are constantly updated, by travelling on the surface, I will save about 4.5 tons of CO2 compared to the plane, emitting a total of 500kg.”
Due to a lack of money, he had to rely on help from those he met along the way. He said in total 52 people came to his assistance, while he also took the cheapest travel options available in Asia and Europe.
"After 72 days he is back home […], finishing the trip with just €10". 🙏@ndmlemoine for following the story of my 28000lm #nofly trip from 🇵🇬 to 🇩🇪 to reduce my carbon emissions, and its underlying reasons. Als 🇳🇱👉https://t.co/0vSvZDLgAJ #RefusetoFly https://t.co/ItdlncZnBi pic.twitter.com/eV8HZrRgTc
— dr. gianluca grimalda (@GGrimalda) January 24, 2024
He is currently embroiled in a legal battle with IfW. “I fear that with this lawsuit I will not get my job back, but hopefully I will get compensation for the immediate dismissal,” he told Dutch news group RTL nieuws.
“Applying for public benefits during my trip was not possible either, as you have to physically show up for that.”
Grimalda has managed to secure a €1,000 per month scholarship from a German institution to complete his study. “Fortunately, friends from Scientist Rebellion have set up a crowdfunding for me and I want to set one up myself soon,” he said.
Scientist Rebellion is an international scientists’ environmentalist network that campaigns for “degrowth, climate justice, and more effective climate change mitigation.”
Grimalda plans to return to Papua New Guinea in September to continue his research there. “So that means I have to leave as early as July,” he said.
The scientist had already hit the headlines in October 22 when he and his fellow climate rebels glued themselves to the floor of a Volkswagen showroom to demand the decarbonisation of the German transport industry.
Most of the activist were subsequently arrested by the police and Grimalda was hospitalised with injuries to his glued hand.
Together with 15 other members of @ScientistRebel1 I have occupied the Porsche pavillion at @Autostadt, 9 of us glued to the floor and some of us on hunger strike until our demands to decarbonise the German transport sector are met👉 https://t.co/Y5uo5IicXb @ClimateHuman pic.twitter.com/SUxUy5Q5uq
— dr. gianluca grimalda (@GGrimalda) October 19, 2022