I recently finished a five-year European FP7 project that involved meetings in Bilbao, Rome, Potsdam, Antwerp, Copenhagen, Versailles, and Bonn. I managed to do all of it, from Newcastle, by train. It’s pretty easy once you get your head around the connections, and planning in advance means it’s not that much more expensive than flying. The short journeys are even comparable in time! Travelling by train is so much more enjoyable and productive as well.
I work on urban models for climate adaptation planning, and think about the links between increasing resilience and reducing emissions. I have a particular interest in sustainable transport.
Most people I know recognize that using more than our share of humanity’s carbon budget is an unearned privilege but have a hard time imagining an alternative. I try not to fly so that I can credibly raise the possibility of that world so that we might believe in ourselves to advocate for it.
I also love the people I meet. Long-distance trains, busses, and rideshares are rolling communities. In 10 years of trying not to fly, I have countless magical stories of cultural learning in bus depots and the Amtrak dining car.
I write a lot; I dream of boats…
Only a small percent of Earth’s wealthiest fly regularly. I have found that giving it up is one way to desegregate ourselves from our less-privileged neighbors.
I study how ideas end up in policy, especially the relationship between social movements and technocratic policymaking.
I try to fly less by: (i) packaging meetings, workshops, field work activities into fewer and longer trips; (ii) actively seeking out conferences within bus/train distances and; (iii) substituting physical presence with online communication for meetings, theses assessments, and other shorter engagements. I have also pushed my department at University of Copenhagen to create a policy to reduce flying and substituting it with other forms of transport where possible – am happy to share it upon request:)
I am professor of political ecology at the University of Copenhagen with an interest in equity, justice and knowledge production around natural resources governance. I have worked on participatory or decentralized approaches to forestry and wildlife management in Tanzania and Nepal, timber governance in Ghana, and economic and social issues of hunting and other recreational uses of landscape in Denmark.
I decided not to fly for one and half years. I (re)discovered the pleasures of train travel (visiting friends and colleagues on the way, the moving office experience, the feel of doing the right thing). At the end of the project I (provisionally) decided to fly at most once a year. Now I am thinking that I should define a cost/benefit analysis for my flights (still restricted them to one a year).
I also sold my car, became vegan, and have recently completed a winter tour of Europe by bike (sometimes by train) spreading with my body and my bike the message that we need to act boldly to mitigate climate change. Great experience. I visited universities, a PhD workshop, and conferences in five countries. I gave several presentations and worked intensively on two papers with visited colleagues. Cycling oxygenated my brain and cleared my thoughts. The papers made a real jump forward.
#sabbicycle! (sabbatical on the bike)
I work on how institutions affect socio-economic conduct in several areas. Recently I studied processes of denial related to climate change and ethics in the livestock industry. I also study status dynamics and stigmatization in delicate fields such as agriculture and food.
I started my experiment not to fly anymore after the Paris climate conference in late 2015. Some thoughts that were important for my decision to experiment with no-flying:
Credibility: As environmental scientists we can’t call upon the world to stop all CO2 emissions within the coming few decades while we ourselves don’t change our habits. Maintaining credibility of scientific facts, academia, and experts has become a key challenge of the sciences in our time.
Innovation: Inventing flying was an innovation, and inventing non-flying will be as well. Innovation happens only if we try, experiment, and learn by doing.
Opportunity costs: There is a belief in our society that we can have everything together – we can fly as much as we like and have simultaneously all the benefits of non-flying. But there are opportunity costs. My experience is that non-flying brings lots of benefits: more time, learning how to collaborate effectively through virtual means, collaborations at home with other disciplines and practitioners etc. These benefits would be much greater if we would together fly less; it is for instance amazing how poorly developed virtual communication technologies at universities are given that the same universities talk continuously about living in a novel age of the internet, artificial intelligence, and big data.
Reflecting upon the kind of science that is needed nowadays: As an ecologist I have the choice between flying to conference rooms where I discuss how to better analyse more data that shows ever more dramatically how badly affected our ecosystems are, or I can work together with social scientists, artists, urban planers, and practitioners at home to innovate carbon-free cities. Flying affects how we do science.
I wrote two blogs that discuss my experiences with non-flying, here and here.
Christoph’s research focuses on the ecology of the Anthropocene such as climate change impacts on mountain ecosystems or restoring green infrastructure and biodiversity in cities.
Need to combine knowing with doing.
My current research projects are centred around environment, energy and technology with a special focus on ecopreneurship, utopias, expectations, gender and climate.
For over thirty years I have advocated for environmental protection as an environmental lawyer and environmental law teacher. As a proud environmentalist, I have always tried to be generally aware of my footprint on the world ecosystem. But about a decade ago it dawned on me that some of the regional ecosystem based environmental battles I have been fighting have spanned decades – these include the battle to limit fish mortality from Hudson River power plant cooling systems and the battle to limit New York City’s discharge of warm turbid water in a fabled trout stream. The impacts of climate change that we will see in coming decades suddenly seemed less remote. I began to worry that as environmental advocates we have all been so focused on individual ecosystems that we ignore the impact of our actions on the global climate system, which will overwhelm the local ecosystems.
Environmental law is a system for internalizing the costs of adverse environmental harms – the polluter pays principle. I routinely teach that it is irresponsible for industrial concerns to harm ecosystems for profit, and that industry excuses such as “everyone does it” or “my pollution just by itself would not cause a problem” is not an excuse for avoiding responsibility. The system of environmental regulation seeks to internalize these collective harms to those responsible.
I believe that those excuses don’t work for individuals either. Everyone should look at their own carbon footprint and decide how it fits into a carbon-limited world. When I looked at my own footprint, the big carbon footprint items were clear – air travel, home heating and electric commuting to work. I set about reducing each of those to a level commensurate with response to the climate crisis. I was already bicycling and kayaking to work regularly; substituting the bus and (eventually) and electric motorcycle and car, together with a RE contract, eliminated that element of my footprint. Setting my thermostat a bit lower and adding a woodstove to my home has reduced my heating footprint.
I found it easy to give up most professional and pleasure air travel. I am lucky to be tenured and have no need to further establish myself professionally. I have been to some great places by plane and by sailboat, with no more than one roundtrip plane flight per year.
I have been blogging about leading a rich and rewarding low-carbon lifestyle at www.livesustainablynow.com.
Karl Coplan is Professor of Law and the Director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.
I had my son four years ago and I’ve been working on lowering our family’s carbon footprint since. Rarely flying, if ever, is the easiest way to not contribute to climate change and forces us to be more creative in how we see the world. The planet does not exist simply for our enjoyment. Often, the best thing we can do, is to let nature persist on its own, independent of us.
I’m a climate activist and mom from southern Ontario.
My thesis was on Climate Change Policy in Local Authorities in the UK, started in 1997 – it was at a fairly early stage in the existence of the discourse of ‘climate change’ as a global policy issue. My research ever since has been on energy-related policy, including transport, renewable energy (and nuclear), buildings, and CCS, focusing on the social aspects and also public engagement. In the 20 years since, I have only flown three times to international conferences – to Sweden, Denmark, and once to Washington DC. The lack of ferries to Scandinavia since cheap flights began is a real impediment to having a flight-free career with European links. The Icelandic volcano Eyafjallajokul erupted when I was in Washington: clearly the Goddess expressing her displeasure. I have managed to get to Barcelona in less than 24 hours by Eurostar. We cannot continue to fly and advocate tackling climate change with our work. This means passing on much work and opportunities.
PhD in Climate Change Policy in UK Local Authorities, research since 1991 on
People visiting this site will typically be like me; privileged high consuming individuals, living in relatively stable parts of the world and having benefitted from years of costly education. We are in the fortunate position to have the information, opportunity and wherewithal to sit back and think about the world in which we live and our role within in it. Moreover, because of the hierarchical structures of our societies and the trusted position academia still occupies, many people listen to what we have to say – inevitably weighing up our conclusions against how they see us and our institutions behaving. In the messy reality of life, the veracity and credibility of our research are intimately entwined, imposing a significant personal burden on those of us working on climate change.
In the late 1990s I became interested in aviation’s exemption from the Kyoto Protocol and its hallowed status within national politics. It was abundantly clear that here was a sector set to become an increasingly large thorn in the side of any meaningful mitigation. The demand for aviation was skyrocketing yet no technical solution was insight within a 2°C timeframe. The aviation industry and governments were in a cosy relationship, subsidies were and remain rife, and the policy agenda was very much “promote and provide”.
I’d moved away from working in the oil industry to try and make a difference – and here I was faced with an early opportunity to put my research into uncomfortable action. Not only did the science and numbers put a growing aviation industry far beyond the 2°C pale, but I also reluctantly recognised the credibility of my conclusions depended, in part, on my acting in accordance with them. Either I treated my research as a pleasant way of paying the bills or I grasped the bull by the horns and added credibility to my conclusions by giving up flying. That was back in 2004, since then the climate and aviation situation has gone from bad to worse – a lot worse.
So here we are in 2017. Virtually no 2°C carbon budget remains and despite almost three decades of empty rhetoric we’ve now upped the ante to 1.5°C. Meanwhile virtually every nation is seeking to expand its airport capacity to facilitate yet more flying by its wealthier citizens, climate scientists and ‘environmentalists’ (though of course we point the finger of blame at ‘humbler’ families taking occasional holidays to Benidorm.).
Set against this “cake and eat it” scam, there is a growing constituency of ex-fliers and less-fliers demonstrating through their research and action that genuine alternatives exist. We don’t have to lie to our children – we can care for their future at the same time as having satisfying lives and successful careers. Certainly this is not without its challenges, but as more academics and others seek substitutes for flying so these challenges morph into a new norm. If we are to make a difference in the politically charged terrain of climate change, diligent and meticulous research is not enough. Credibility is paramount and resides in the integrity of the relationship between the researcher and their research.
The brutal logic of carbon budgets
To meet the Paris 1.5 and 2°C commitments we must hold emissions within a range of carbon budgets. Regardless of the nuances in the science, the remaining budgets are very small and rapidly dwindling.
Within a highly constrained budget, when we decide to fly someone else has to reduce their emissions to compensate for ours. Given that the wealthy in society are the principal drivers of increased aviation, it is poorer communities who are essentially forced to pay this compensation.
Repeated research has demonstrated that increasing energy use by such communities significantly improves their quality of life. In the very near term, this energy will include fossil fuels – and hence a rise in their emissions.
Similarly, research demonstrates no discernable increase in the quality of life of wealthy high-energy users consuming yet more energy. Consequently, and given the whisper of carbon budget remaining for even 2°C, when we decide to fly to another essential climate change conference, undertake fieldwork or visit family, we are telling poorer communities to cut back on the energy they use to provide basic needs. Carbon budgets are brutal in that they reveal the callousness of our actions and no amount of eloquent squirming can mitigate the significant and growing impact of our frequent flights.
Kevin is a Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and currently holds a two-year fellowship in Climate Change Leadership at Uppsala University. He is also deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. His current research focuses on understanding the implications of the Paris Agreement for mitigation rates and strategies at different geographical and sectoral scales. Prior to his academic career Kevin had an industrial background as a marine engineer and later as a design engineer in the oil and gas industry.
I had been working and studying in Uppsala, Sweden, away from my native Newcastle, England, for 18 months. Time had come to pay a visit back to the homeland, but a flight? A flight within Europe? Surely there was a better way.
Research into alternatives ensued and I found that not only was travel over land/sea vastly more inconvenient – it was more than double the price of hopping on a plane. Nevertheless, if we want to demonstrate leadership on climate change we have to display a vote of no confidence in the ever-expanding aviation industry. So, my girlfriend and I embraced the inconvenience and set about our slow travel expedition. A combination of trains, ferries, buses and a heavy amount of walking took us through the streets of Copenhagen, Amsterdam and watching the sunrise over Tynemouth Harbour in the UK as our ferry glided into bay. A 3-day journey that was a mini-adventure across Western Europe and much more rewarding than a high-emitting whizz through the air.
Throughout our research into the best route possible, it became apparent that an efficient train network simply doesn’t exist for extensive journeys. A train from Copenhagen to Amsterdam included at least 4 changes, 3 of which were in the middle of the night and had layovers that ranged from 4 minutes to 4 hours, ending up being the same amount of time as an arduous Flixbus journey that was a fraction of the train ticket prices.
It is clear that alternatives to flying do exist but it requires extensive research, time and financial capital in order to pursue them. The false economy of subsidies and tax breaks props up the aviation industry as our transport/tourism infrastructure caters to their every whim while simultaneously ripping the heart out of the other forms of transport that charge heavily for convoluted trips spanning many borders.
My research focuses on the legitimacy of the use of BECCS in RCP2.6 of the Paris Accord, with particular reference to the disconnection between climate modelling and practical climate policy implementation.
I calculated my personal carbon footprint in 2009 and was ashamed at the result. I work on restoration of peatlands as part of carbon mitigation strategies, so not so good to see your own footprint dominated by flights. I got invited to a meeting to discuss the carbon impacts of peatland drainage, in Italy, the very next day! It made my choices obvious. I have not flown to any conferences since that day. Indeed, I’ve taken only two work-related flights since then (although I do fly to visit family very occasionally). My choice has limited my research exposure, but it’s been a very small price to pay.
Passionate about peat – what else is there to say?
Be the change you wish to see.
Inside my home continent Europe, I just don’t fly – there are excellent train and ferry connections, especially when also enjoying the journey itself. Outside Europe, I am very selective where I am going to. Perhaps, I will go to Australia in 2018. Although it would be a big adventure to travel this over land and sea, such a journey would not fit into my PhD; this will be the first time in 15 years that I fly. I will plant some trees for compensation!
More in general, I wonder if for example Virtual Reality could be a future development that will allow us to take part in scientific conferences (also in the informal interactions) without the need to travel. Let’s use our intelligence and out-of-the-box thinking to be the change we wish to see.
I am an PhD candidate in geostatistics, focusing on model based and Bayesian approaches to soil mapping and crop yield mapping.
“When in a hole, stop digging”. It is obvious that avoiding catastrophic climate change will require a herculean effort by the world community. We need to accept this simple truth and get to work. The first step is to stop wasting fossil fuel on unnecessary activities, such as flying. Given advances in ICT, many flights can be avoided.
Henrik does research in advanced numerical modeling with a focus on industrial applications, such as wind turbines, electrical arcs, and chemical processes. Emphasis on renewable energy.
I don’t suffer cognitive dissonance, because I practice what I preach: I fly as little as possible
I use the best available climate friendly alternative: sustainable electric transport.
I use electric public transport as the most sustainable alternative for intra-European traveling.
Because in Holland, all trains and tubes are powered by 100% sustainable electricity from our own Dutch windmills. Traveling by train, tram and metro takes less mobility space than traveling by electric car, so I don’t contribute to traffic congestion (with all its polluting and harmful emissions).
In this way I also save scarce resources, prevent waste, emissions and climate change that is caused by the production of cars.
I influence my local, national and regional governments by sending emails to aviation spokesmen in parliaments about the climate impact of aviation and the uselessness of the ICAO and IATA CORSIA offsetting approach.
I have seen how bad carbon forestry (as climate mitigation) works on the ground in Africa. How poor pastoralists loose their livelihoods and wildfire risk increases when traditional grazing and burning is excluded. Even though conserving the last remnants of old-growth forests is necessary. The carbon focus and the anticipated large funds for this corrupts conservation. And I saw my own carbon budget, after omitting almost everything, except work flights.
Fire ecology, interactions between livestock and fire regimes, especially in semi-natural wooded pastures in Africa. Relations between nature and traditional land use in subalpine heathlands and forests and wooded savannas in Ethiopia.
I am a huge proponent of human-powered transit, and pretty much any form of transportation other than flying. To this end, as much as possible I carpool, take public transit, ride my bicycle, or take the train to conferences and other academic obligations. For example, in 2014 I rode my bicycle 100 miles from College Station to Austin, Texas to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. In 2017, I have taken the train from Berkeley, CA to Denver, CO for the annual Entomological Society of America meeting. Taking the train also meant I could bring along my bicycle, which was great! These efforts still seem to be very far from the norm in my academic circles, but I hope to lead change by example.
I study metabolic and nutritional physiology in insects, and work primarily with wing-dimorphic crickets and leafcutter ants. I am broadly interested in how changing environmental conditions such as increased nitrogen deposition and atmospheric carbon dioxide impact food nutrient quality, and how this in turn impacts organismal physiology and fitness.
About a decade ago I realized the magnitude of the carbon footprint of flying and have not flown since. I added that to already becoming a vegetarian at an earlier date, when I learned of the carbon footprint of eating meat.
I have been told that I have influenced others. By the same token, I’ve been influenced by others who’ve made deep cuts to their carbon emissions. I’ve met others who’ve quit flying. In knowing each other we recognize that we are not alone on the journey.
Talking about not flying is less of a taboo subject than it used to be, but not always. It’s a lousy time to shut up about this.
I’m involved as a volunteer with CO2.earth. I look after their Facebook page. There’s also a beautiful website created by another citizen-volunteer Michael McGee. CO2.earth is one of the very first websites under the .earth domain.
In addition to softer forms of climate action I’ve been in numerous marches, protests and was arrested on Burnaby Mountain, BC (2014) getting in the way of pipeline work — the Trans-Mountain Piper line (Kinder Morgan) running from the Alberta tar sands to Greater Vancouver.
I’m in this for my children, grandchildren, all people born and unborn, and the biosphere as a whole. I feel the urgency.
I’m 69 and an artist. I’ll be a climate activist until I croak.
I stopped flying 6 years ago. Previously I have also previously tried to reduce flying, both privately and during job. During my years as the head of Centre for international Health, University of Bergen I tried to limit international flights to around twice a year.
Gunnar Kvåle is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care.
With my area of research being related to sustainable development, I’ve decided that the world is far better off if I do online presentations. Flying is one of the most affluent and most unnecessary behaviours of the rich. It’s amazing to me that it’s still so unscrutinized by many who are concerned about climate change.
Alex Baumann’s research is in the area of exploring pre-market or ‘Commons’ approaches to public resident participation; where public land provides the foundation for non-commercial local cooperation and productivity. This approach recognizes that ‘alternative participation spaces’ are critical, as people increasingly find themselves alienated by an ever more competitive and unsustainable market system.
I have not flown since 2012 and I intend not to fly again. Decreasing air travel is a positive step, but only one of many changes necessary to achieve a sustainable planet. As important as they are, only so much can be accomplished through individual actions like these, in comparison to broader systemic changes. The time is long overdue to recognize that global capitalism, with its grow-or-die imperative, is incompatible with sustainability.
Capitalism is waging a war against nature. This war includes exploding mountain tops for the cheapest possible extraction of coal. It includes expanding dead zones in the ocean, poisoning, flooding, and burying vast swaths of the biosphere for the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals, as well as increased air travel. The ever-increasing efficiency in waging this war serves to lower costs, increase consumption, and accelerate global warming and environmental devastation of the planet.
The economic, political, and cultural strands of capitalism are so integrated into our thinking that real intellectual effort is required to recognize it as a threat to survival and to acknowledge the possibility of sustainable alternatives. We need to change this.
David Klein is a mathematical physicist and professor of mathematics at California State University, Northridge, where he is also director of the Climate Science Program, a NASA funded educational program designed to prepare students for careers or graduate work in climate science and related fields. He is the author of the free ebook, “Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming.”
You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions. –Sven Lindqvist (“Exterminate all the brutes”: One man’s odyssey into the heart of darkness and the origins of European genocide. New York: The New Press, 1997: 2)
After learning of aviation’s considerable contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change (largely from the writings of George Monbiot), it took me a few years before I was able to kick the flying habit. I was too enamored with the types of long-distance conference-going and lecture-giving that only flying allows for, and the benefits that they afforded (e.g., visits with friends, trips to places that I enjoyed or had never experienced, a sense of self-importance tied to my airborne mobility) to give it up immediately. In the face of intensifying climate change, the disconnect between what I knew was right and the way I lived–and its implications for climate change and environmental justice–became too palpable for me to continue my jet-setting ways.
The last time I stepped on a plane was in 2007. Since that time, my appreciation for slowing down–not least in terms of how often and the means by which I travel–has only grown. While the decision to forego flying has changed how (and where to a certain extent) I do my research, it has also opened up new areas of interest, forcing (or allowing) me to see more than I previously did the value of engaging what’s nearby. It has also productively pushed me to find new ways of connecting with people and places who are physically distant from where I live and work. Perhaps most importantly, it has facilitated my spending more time with family and friends, and areas close to home.
Joseph Nevins is a geographer at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. His research interests include socioterritorial boundaries and mobility, violence and inequality, and political ecology. Along with Suren Moodliar and Eleni Macrakis, he is currently working on A People’s Guide to Greater Boston (scheduled to be published in 2019 by the University of California Press).
I have given up air travel completely. I made the decision in June 2015 as I was flying home (to Ottawa, Canada) from a workshop in Spain. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years though. I am very disturbed that climate change is literally wrecking the biosphere, and putting millions of peoples’ lives at risk. I found I was becoming increasingly unable to justify the huge carbon emissions associated with flying. I decided the benefit to me was not worth the cost to the climate.
I think we are quite lucky that just when we need to stop flying, the technology for remote meetings and conferences has really taken off, so to speak. I have given several presentations using videoconferencing, even keynote conference presentations. Of course I miss the social aspect of meetings and workshops but I don’t feel I can use that to justify the carbon emissions of a flight. And in any case I’m not missing out on meetings altogether. I have been attending meetings within rail or bus distance, and during my next sabbatical I intend to take a freighter ship to Europe and spend some time catching up with colleagues.
I am a Professor of Biology, and co-Director of the Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Laboratory, at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I study the responses of wildlife, including plants, arthropods, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, to human-altered landscapes. My research combines simulation modelling with field data to evaluate the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation, road density, and the configuration of farmlands and cities, on species distribution, abundance and diversity. I have co-authored over 200 publications, with over 33,000 citations. I was awarded the US-IALE’s Distinguished Landscape Ecologist award, and I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Entering a plane for work has become a paradoxical action. The global exchange and research for resilient food systems becomes increasingly necessary, however, if allowed to grow unrestrained, flying will do more harm than good in the future.
I believe that flying for our research is more permissible than for touristic purposes. However, even for our work flying should be left as last resort, after making use of all the electronic communication there is now, and that insight is fortunately increasingly common in our work area.
For my work I only have had to travel by train, but for my master studies I once resolved to cross the ocean on a container ship, instead of an airplane. While this still has a large environmental impact, it was a great experience and inspired others to consider their impact while traveling.
Since end 2017 I have been working as research assistant for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), hosted by the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. I started working here, while completing my MSc Climate Studies.
Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work, and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I’ll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks, and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn’t get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.
There’s no silver bullet to fixing climate change, but I think scientists and science enthusiasts can start with ourselves. My solution? Replace one flight with a train ride. Repeat every year.
Two years ago, I replaced one flight with a train ride. The next year, I did it again. Only, I ended up taking two train rides instead. This year, I started convincing other people to do it with me. It’s not always cheaper, but I’ve been finding that it’s also not always more expensive, especially if you book way in advance or super last minute.
I’m a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University studying urban climate. My thesis research looks at quantifying urban temperature variability and heat waves, but I’ve been known to dabble in projects on regional hydrology, the climate impacts of aerosols, and North African precipitation. I also run Baltimore Open Air, an urban monitoring network measuring air quality in Baltimore, Maryland.
As a researcher examining the interface of climate change and livelihood shifts, reducing my carbon footprint is a professional and personal issue for me. I try to do so by walking to work, carpooling, recycling and eating less meat. However, these options are difficult to engage with when the systems and institutions in a country disincentivise them. For example, Indian cities are not particularly known for being walkable or having cycling tracks, making these options perilous (two years ago, noted environmentalist, Sunita Narain was run over while cycling to work in Delhi).
Flying less is often put forth as a positive behavioural change with a large impact on individual emissions. I have consciously started flying less, either clubbing meetings to reduce multiple trips or taking the train if that is an option. However, again, being a researcher based in the global South, there are some challenges that are seldom recognised in narratives around ‘climate researchers must walk the talk’. First, with distances as large as they are in India, train rides can last well over 12-15 hours (and up to 24-36 hours if you are traversing the country). Taking such options might often mean travelling over the weekend, eating into time one reserves for family or self-care. Second, important conferences in my field are often held in America or Europe (e.g. Adaptation Futures 2016 was in Rotterdam, the Cities and Climate Change Conference 2018 is in Edmonton). Getting to these and showcasing one’s work is usually only possible by flying, often at a large financial and physical cost.
An argument I hear often is to not attend these conferences at all, thus eliminating the need to travel completely. Often, such suggestions come well-established researchers, with strong networks and an extensive body of work. To young researchers in my team, many of whom will use conferences to travel abroad for the first time in their life, the pros of presenting their ideas to an international audience, getting feedback on their work, and experiencing a different culture, outweighs concerns of carbon emissions. This is why, while I applaud my European colleagues who choose to take the train instead of flying from say the Netherlands to Sweden or France to the UK, I am unable to provide similar stories of restraint.
I continue to make small amends – offsetting some of the miles, using social media and livestreaming to learn of new advances in my field, and sharing with my team, opportunities to present closer to home. And though I try to fly less, as a researcher based out of South Asia and presenting on international platforms, I find it hard to do.
Chandni is a researcher at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Bangalore. At IIHS, she works on issues of climate change, vulnerability, adaptation, and migration. This includes research on the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-arid Regions (ASSAR) project in South India and coordinating an IIED-funded project ‘Long-term Implications of Short-term Humanitarian Action’ in Chennai. She is also Chapter Scientist on the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 degrees and Book Reviews Editor for Progress in Development Studies. She has previously worked in research and practice-based organisations such as the University of Reading (UK), Bioversity International, Pragya, and WWF India across India, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Her main domains of work have included climate information services, water management, biodiversity conservation, gendered vulnerability, and community-based adaptation, with a thrust on using mixed methods. She holds a PhD in International Development from the University of Reading and an MSc in Natural Resource Management from TERI University. She speaks here on her own behalf.
After attending a talk by Professor Kevin Anderson I was inspired to avoid flying as much as practical. I attend very few meetings outside Europe (Boston in 2014 was the last one) and travel by train in Europe. Using Eurostar and changing in Paris works well. For example, I travelled from Reading to Barcelona in December 2017 and have caught a boat from Harwich to the Netherlands for a meeting. The exceptions are when balancing academic and family commitments. I chose to fly to Toulouse in 2015 for what I considered an important project meeting that fell within a busy period of lecturing although I have successfully travelled here by train on another occasion using the sleeper service from Paris. I have also undertaken occasional short haul holidays, finding it difficult to inflict my decision to avoid flying on my family.
My aim to avoid flying has recently caused me a dilemma. I was recently nominated as a lead author for a forthcoming chapter of the next IPCC assessment report. This is an exciting opportunity but one that commits me to at least two long haul journeys. I have taken the decision to accept this responsibility, which I consider sufficiently important to blemish my record. However, I fully intend to continue using ground-based transport for all other meetings. It is possible to work efficiently on long train journeys and although career opportunities and family commitments may sometimes be compromised, I consider brighter young scientists more worthy of choosing to flying on occasion to build up their networks and strengthen their contribution to science.
Climate Scientist interested in Earth’s energy budget and water cycle
If you study environmental history, it is easy to attend conferences. There is one conference a year in the USA (American Society for Environmental History) and one conference every two years (European Society for Environmental History) somewhere in Europe. During my first holiday-trip by airplane (to Rome), looking at the pollution caused by another airplane when flying over the Alps, my first thought was: what (on earth) am I doing here? So, I decided this would be my last holiday vacation: no New World, no Asia, no Africa. I travel by train (and boat) to my (European) holiday destinations, making traveling part of the holiday.
As for the conferences: two times going to America was enough. Contacts with my colleagues in America are by email and Skype. My recommendation would be to develop Skype meetings much further, including developing ways of informal meetings (over a drink). As for European conferences: I prefer taking the train (and boat). It takes more time, but historically speaking, even going to Finland by train and boat is nowadays easy. It creates the time you need to read books from cover to cover.
I am an experimental economist interested in cross-cultural analysis. I am based in Germany and have conducted quite a lot of research in countries as disparate as Colombia or Papua New Guinea. Over the last years I have become committed to avoid catching a plane on at least one of the two legs of the trip. Therefore, I travelled to Colombia on a cargo ship. Although I had to catch a plane to leave Papua, I then returned to Europe by train, travelling on a marvelous route in Central Asia along the ancient Silk Road. I visited China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, then took a ferry to Southern Italy and then came North by train. I did this twice already and plan to do the same this year. I have banned taking a plane to travel within Europe. I frequently travel to Italy to visit my parents, or to attend conferences and in the last years I stopped flying. I use either coaches or trains. I try to avoid to travel to other continents to attend conferences, I just wait for interesting conferences to be held in Europe.
I am senior researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (Germany) and lecturer at the Universitat Jaume I (Castelló de la Plana, Spain). In the past I have held teaching and research positions at Southampton University, Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (Warwick University), IN+ (Instituto Superior Técnico of Lisbon) and Center for Global Cooperation Research (University of Duisburg-Essen).
My research interests delve into the interaction between individual behaviour and socio-economic structures, often adopting an experimental methodology and using a cross-cultural perspective. I have publications in PNAS, Nature Communications, Psychological Science, Experimental Economics, Journal of Evolutionary Economics.
The relationship among globalization, co-operation and trust was explored in a pioneering six-country study which was funded by the US National Science Foundation and that I have founded and co-ordinated with Nancy Buchan (University of South Carolina).
Recently I have also been Principal Investigator in a project on “Fairness, Merit, and Individual Distributive Preferences”. Fieldwork was conducted in various locations in the US, Italy, Norway, and Germany. We aim at understanding the psychological and cultural underpinnings of the broad differences in systems of welfare observed among developed countries. In a recent study, it has been explored how individual distributive preferences react to variations in the fairness with which initial opportunities are assigned within a bargaining problem.
I have also co-ordinated a research project on income inequality in transition developing economies that received a 135k Euros grant from the European Commission. An empirical paper analysing the links between globalisation, regionalisation, and income inequality in transition economies, and a theoretical paper modelling the impact of a technology shock on a developing economy’s income dynamics have been published.
I have also participated in a project assessing the long-term effects on cognitive function of exposure to violence.
I never wanted to use fossil energy. Some compromises were necessary: For my academic career, I decided to take some intercontinental flights. When I bought an old house, it took some years to replace the oil heating by an electric heat pump. With my family, I made a trip to Australia, combining professional and private interests. But I never gave up my goal to avoid using fossil fuels.
In 2017, I decided to completely stop flying, both in my professional and my private life. When invited to an international conference which is not reachable by train and ferry, I offer to provide my talk via videoconferencing. If we as researchers in the field of sustainability don’t reduce our carbon emissions, who will believe us?
I am a computer scientist by education, my research is focused on applications of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for sustainability, sustainability assessment of ICT, methods of modeling and simulation for sustainability research, and methods of ethics and technology assessment in the context of digitalization.
I guess the main challenge for all of us is time. Alternatives to flying simply take longer in many cases. I live in Sweden, a country with an excellent train network and with great connections to other European countries. Still taking the train from my home, Lund, to Berlin takes me about 8 hours. A flight from nearby Copenhagen Airport takes 45 minutes. But that is just half the story. I have to work with an administration and a travel system which is entirely catered towards flying. At my university’s travel agency I often have to explicitly demand alternatives to flying, even if cheap and convenient alternatives are available. One example is the trip to Oslo. There is a direct bus from Lund to Oslo which takes about 8 hours but the default option is the airplane.
I appreciate long train rides because they give me a feeling for the distance I cover on a trip. It is also often a way to travel with way fewer interruptions compared to flying where one has to go through numerous security checks and whatnot before boarding the plane. To my that is significantly less stressful.
Henner Busch wrote his PhD thesis on urban climate governance. He has also done quite a bit of work on community energy projects. Currently he’s working on certification schemes for bioenergy.
I took the decision to stop flying (as far as possible) when I started working in this field (climate science). Since then I have attended numerous meetings around Europe, (I’m based in the UK), always by train. I get in well with sleeper trains!
I’ve only flown once for work – to a project meeting in Reykjavik. I understand the advantages of flying, but suspect that those who fly do not understand the advantages of a slower journey.
GCM, RCM & Reanalysis datasets
High-resolution gridded datasets
I am a scholar in Rhetoric, at the moment doing a research project on how citizens justify their climate non-action. This of course makes me unable to justify my own flying. In a pilot survey the most frequent situation where the informant report they acted against their own knowledge has to do with flying. The most common way of justifying it was by an idea of an environmental account. A simple example could be the person who bikes to work, meticulously recycles her waste and confesses to sustainable ideals, but goes on long journeys to Asia, and then legitimizes the journey with his biking and recycling. Climate friendly action is seen as “savings” and climate sins as “withdrawals”. The currency is on one side sacrifice and on the other satisfaction. An alternative currency could have been GHG emissions, but that would have cracked the logic, since it would take several years to recycle equivalent to the desired journey. My idea is that such legitimation structures, which we call topoi within Rhetoric, need to be understood, made visible and problematized. They also need to be addressed in climate development work.
My research is in rhetorical argumentation theory and more specifically the aristotelian teaching of topoi. The last year I have focused on how higher education can support the development of critical self-reflection in multifaceted and value-laden issues such as climate development.
My main concern with the issue of flying as an academic is hypocrisy. Most of the projects that I’ve worked on (as a social scientist) have the intention of making the world a better place, or at least mitigating its problems. As I social scientist I spend my time working out how we can change the behaviour of various groups of people. We are highly educated and probably know more than average about environmental issues and other issues of today. And yet, despite being those trying to designing solutions for other people to change their behaviour, and despite being well informed on the earth’s problems, I imagine we fly a lot more than the average citizen. This is hypocrisy. My line manager is sympathetic to my point of view, and my hope is that I will be able to negotiate a career with minimal flying.
PhD was on the psychological benefits of walking in cities and the effects of motor traffic on pedestrian experience.
As an early career researcher I have worked on projects around Green Infrastructure, on demand bus services, the health and happiness of older people and how this can be affected by neighbourhood factors.
Having already been an advocate and practitioner of flying less, I have now become a complete “terrestrian”, both in my personal life and my professional life. This is not just because I recognize the complete unsustainability of flying, but also because I savor the real pleasure of passing through so many places and landscapes on the way to my destination.
My research focuses on community-based initiatives that promote sustainable lifestyles. I worked on TESS, an EU FP7 project comparing such initiatives across Europe. I am now working on an evaluation of the Scottish Government’s “Climate Challenge Fund”, which funds community climate action.
Working on carbon cycling (soils) in relation to climate change has made me aware of the importance to drastically curb emissions. However, preaching is not the same as acting. Therefore, since 2000 I have only flown once and this was for unavoidable field work in the Arctic. Since then I have not taken on any work or conferences/meetings where plane travel is necessary. This has not been easy – I certainly lost out on opportunities and had to make ends meet. It has also resulted in dealing with pressure from above (University) regarding the need to attend overseas conferences in order to apply for promotion (but I successfully defended my position). I think there is an urgent rethink required in the scientific community – air travel needs to be the last option and ideally is to be avoided.
Dr. Heinemeyer has been a soil scientist since 1998 (Diploma in Germany) and started to focus on plant-soil-atmosphere carbon cycling since his PhD (York, UK) in 2002. From then on he worked on various ecosystems, including arable, grassland, forests and peatlands. He routinely measure carbon fluxes and also model carbon sequestration as well as GHG emissions in relation to both climatic and management changes. This clearly highlights the importance of considering soil carbon feedbacks, both in contributing to (decomposition losses) as well as mitigating against (sequestration) rises in atmospheric CO2 and thus global warming. He has published more than 45 papers and contributed to a book on soil carbon dynamics.
Before I estimated my CO2 emissions, I had no idea that flying accounted for almost all of it. In 2010 I made a simple pie chart of my emissions. 50,000 miles of flying, almost all in the name of science, took up 75% of the pie chart! Obviously, no other reductions to my emissions really mattered until I stopped flying.
With a realistic sense of the impact of my flying, it came to feel wrong. I also began to question how necessary it was. In 2011 I flew 20,000 miles, and by 2012 I’d stopped flying. I’ve attended meetings remotely, traveled to them by train (although diesel-powered trains in the US aren’t as low-energy as you might think), and I’ve even traveled on a container ship (which was carrying atmospheric instrumentation such as radars and weather balloons for a field campaign). I drive all over the United States in a 35-year-old car that burns 100% waste vegetable oil from a local sushi joint. I find slow travel to be adventurous, a great way to visit old friends and get in some backpacking, and — if on a train or a ship — a great way to focus and get lots of work done. The old car is a fun thing for me because I enjoy the engineering challenge of keeping it running and out of the landfill! The higher that old odometer rolls, the prouder I feel.
I don’t currently foresee a need to fly. My close relatives live in the United States, and in case of emergencies I can drive or train to be with them.
Once I stopped flying, it did make sense to address my other sources of emissions. I currently emit less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per year, a tenth of the US average. I still look for ways to further reduce my emissions, but now I’m more interested in sharing what I’ve learned and helping people in my community reduce their emissions, too. Many of these people are inspired by my changes and have made significant changes of their own. I’m not under any illusions that my personal reductions have a significant impact when weighed against the emissions of more than 7.5 billion other people. But I believe that in making the changes I’ve made, I’m telling a new story and showing people what’s possible. Plus I just like it better.
My experience is that effective advocacy starts when we change our own lives. I’ve found it empowering to reduce my own emissions, and also surprisingly fun. I haven’t found low-energy living to be a sacrifice.
Peter is an atmospheric scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory / Caltech, speaking on his own behalf. He uses satellite and in situ data to study clouds, tornadoes, and climate. He obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University, and originally searched for gravitational waves with the LIGO collaboration before switching to Earth science due to a need to learn about climate change. His book, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution describes what one person can do in response to the massive problem of global warming. Peter is the founder and editor of noflyclimatesci.org.
I have not traveled beyond Europe for conferences since 2014. Within Europe, I try to travel by train, and group scientific communication trips together to visit several events & institutions while on one trip. This has been made easier by interrail tickets allowing for longer & more flexible trips.
I make exceptions for personal travel (I have elderly & ill parents a 2 hour flight away).
I have been surprised at the level of understanding and support (higher travel costs by rail have to be reimbursed) offered to me in this effort of flying less, and also by the gratitude of often younger colleagues, who welcome someone who “walks the walk”.
I research the resource requirements of economic activity and well-being.
My story is the story of life: I love life and I belong to the magnificent story of it. Climate change threatens everything alive that I love, and I have painfully realized that my life is a part of the problem. Because of this, climate change is my problem and I have made a public commitment to reduce my carbon footprint into the size of one Earth until 2025. I choose the role of problem solver and my concrete utopia is the good life and career size of one planet – a kind of life generations now growing up can be proud of tomorrow. I want to see the world where we adults wise up to protect everyone’s future with our lifechoices. Today.
I have taken 70 steps out of 80 needed: my carbon footprint was 3 tonnes 2017 compared to 10 tonnes which was the level where I started 2006. At the moment, I’m not aware of any way to combine my carbon footprint goal with air travel. Last time I flew was the summer of 2011. Back then I decided to travel from Finland to Brazil to meet again with a lady from Brazil that I had a powerful romance with as exchange student 2010 in Canada. My inner conflict (I was already well aware of climate effects of flying that time) and longing for her were both enormous and painful. After this, I have continuously decided to choose better transportation free from flying. But what if I would decide to fly to Brazil again? This means I would take 59 steps backwards out of those 70 steps taken when it comes to the level of sustainable carbon footprint. Not really worth it. Last year my carbon footprint of mobility and transportation was 30 times less than 2011. A life free from flying is indeed very powerful.
Mikko works as doctoral researcher in the University of Tampere, Finland. He is an elementary school teacher and adult educator action studying tackling climate change by means of learning. In his current research, he is unifying Carbon Conversations approach to Finnish national curricula to create the learning community model for Finnish basic education and the international application of social networking service Climate Love Story with vision of “one hundred million people learning sustainable well-being in friendly social networking service by the year 2030”. Mikko is particularly interested in ecosocial education and sustainable well-being from the perspective of emotions.
Hi, I have a BSc in Biology and for the past three years I have sat as an elected official in a small municipality in British Columbia, Canada.
I have walked my low carbon talk for a couple decades. I live in an earthen home powered by the sun that I co-created with my husband. We grow most of our food…year round. Our home was the first project ever rated on the International Living Building Challenge and achieved a very high standard with a net zero carbon footprint.
We both gave up flying over a decade ago and choose to consume less in every aspect of our lives. We are lucky in that our family lives local. We vacation locally for hiking and kayaking trips and have said no many times to flying for our environmental advocacy work.
Our work (outside of our council duties) involves regenerative design for food, water, energy and lifestyle.
With my council work, I sit on the regional Climate action committee and try to bring scientifically informed discussion to the table regarding GHGe.
I also brought a climate resolution to the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) where it was supported and then went on to the BC government. This resolution asked the BC government to start counting all of our emissions (including aviation, consumption emissions, soil carbon emissions, and food emissions) which were up until then, completely left out.
My last flight was in 2008, though I didn’t know at the time it would be my last. After the “failure” in Copenhagen, it became clear to me that we cannot expect governments, businesses, or engineers to come up with some magical solution to climate change and the many other problems of our 21st century civilisation – the only way is by everyone, individually, choosing to live a lower impact lifestyle and voting in governments and buying from businesses that support that change. I have also taken many other actions, but choosing not to fly is by far the biggest reduction in emissions relative to the lifestyle I could lead. I think it also helps me to communicate the science, as people can see that I am prepared to act on the conclusions myself rather than telling others what they should do. Ultimately, since none of these actions are going to “save the planet” anyway (if that even means anything), I don’t judge other people’s choices – I can only do what makes me feel better about my own place in the world.
I haven’t found it problematic either personally or professionally. No-one has yet forced me to board a plane! I enjoy taking trains, which are generally comfortable and convenient. The difference in time and cost per trip is less than you would think after airport transfers etc have been factored in, since train stations are typically in town centres. And the overall time and cost is certainly less than most of my peers, since I choose to attend fewer conferences and try to make a greater effort to network well in those I do go to. When asked to give a talk in a location that would be unfeasible to reach by surface transport, I ask if I could, for example, join by video conference or pre-prepare a video talk and take questions on Twitter. I’m also lucky enough to have supportive colleagues and to live in the UK, with plenty of high quality conferences easily accessible here and in Europe (surely any necessary emissions of climate research would be much better spent improving access for researchers from developing countries). Eventually, either we will meet our carbon budgets and flying will be replaced by more effective ways of global networking, or we will miss those carbon budgets, and the impacts of climate change will make flying a luxury of the past. Getting used to it now seems like a good idea either way.
I never really decided not to fly. Especially to begin with, it was an ad hoc decision each time to consider the options, but every time I weighed up in favour of not flying. Now, the longer I keep on with my “winning streak” the more I want to keep it going!
My background is in maths and physics; I have a PhD in climate physics from Imperial College London and I now work in LSE’s Centre for the Analysis of Time Series. My research interests focus on realistic evaluation of climate information for decision-making, communication of the inherent uncertainty, and improving robustness and usability of information that is relevant for decisions in mitigation, adaptation, insurance and business.
Stop air pollution, aircraft noise and climate change. “Fly less” is possible in this time of fast internet and videoconferencing. If scientists do not start flying less, who will?
I won’t say that I have completely given up flying, but I choose my traveling by air much more carefully now. I fly a lot less frequently because of my concern for the massive carbon footprint of air travel.
The following personal account is an excerpt from a blog post on “Why I quit flying”.
A jetsetter lifestyle can be exhilarating, I know from experience. Working as a researcher at a British University, I flew frequently to conferences and to visit my family and friends on the continent. I grew up as part of a generation that experienced flying as a cheap way of transport, where flights often cost less than bus tickets. When I wanted to visit my friends abroad all what mattered was whether or not I could afford to go. With dropping flight fairs that was often the case. Only much later did I start worrying about the ecological baggage of my decisions.
I deeply care about the planet, not only as humanities only life-support vessel, but also beyond that. For years I had a bad conscience about being an environmental scientist and still making use of the ecologically worst means of transport that there is, namely flying. I told myself, that everyone was doing it and that globally it would make absolutely no difference, if I quit flying or not. Also, what other way of moving around was there really?
Today, I agree with activist Nimue Brown, when she says:
“If your life doesn’t express your values, then your values appear pretty hollow to anyone looking. […] Don’t ask other people to make lifestyle changes you haven’t made yourself.”
I want to take responsibility for my actions and that includes my way of travelling. It does not make any sense to advocate for a socio-ecological transformation of western consumerist society and then live as unsustainable as everyone else. Changes won’t happen by wishful thinking and I do think that individual sacrifices will be necessary to turn the tide. It won’t be enough and should come with political pressure, but it is a good starting point.
We need a different way of thinking when it comes to taking responsibility for our actions. Maybe we should start discussing how it is possible that we can live fulfilled lives without travelling to the other end of the world.
I quit flying in 2014 and haven’t boarded a plane ever since. I very much enjoy the comfort and tranquillity of train rides and rather skip a trip than travel 1000 km or more for a two-day meeting.
I graduated as a Marine Biologist and have a PhD in Ecological Economics. My interdisciplinary research, at the University of Aberdeen, was looking into the value(s) that people hold for nature conservation and marine protected areas in particular.
Nowadays I work as sustainability trainer, independent researcher, workshop facilitator, event moderator and environmental activist. With ATTAC Berlin I work on a wide spectrum of Degrowth topics, including climate change and climate justice.
This April, after I installed solar panels, I realized that transport was now about 80% of my carbon footprint. We heat with wood from our land in a super-efficient wood stove; we eat mostly local food; we are getting a plug in electric car to take advantage of our solar panels–but 2 flights to Europe and 4 domestic trips each year for seminars and conferences overwhelmed all our smaller changes. I’ve cut my flights by 75%, and I’ve turned down all but one conference trip, and one seminar each year (that’s the plan, anyway). My colleagues, who are mostly climate historians as well, are doing much the same.
Nancy Langston’s most recent book is Sustaining Lake Superior (Yale UP 2017), which examines climate history in the Lake Superior basin. She is now examining the decline in woodland caribou in the boreal forest, comparing the effects of climate change, habitat loss, and predators. Her CV is posted at nancylangston.net.
I love ocean science meetings. I love rubbing elbows with colleagues, grad students, undergrads, technicans, communicators and vendors who are passionate about ocean science and eager to share their latest findings, adventures, or inventions. But the cost—personal and environmental—limits my ability and willingness to jump on a plane simply to be part of the crowd. Fortunately, virtual sessions (thanks, AGU), Twitter, and local seminars and meetings allow me to stay up to date, interact with fellow scientists, and engage in science as never before. I think it’s irresponsible to fly given what we know about its effects on our planet. So until we reverse the course of climate change, I remain a passionate but virtual supporter of my fellow scientists and educators.
Professor Sean Chamberlin teaches oceanography, meteorology, and climate science, and mentors undergraduates in research on a variety of topics, including aquaponics, marine debris, and plankton dynamics.
Simply, if I talk – not preach – about global warming, I should set an example for my friends, students and colleagues. After a long career of flying all over the planet to scientific meetings to glorify my research in front of my colleagues, attending ‘planning meetings’ that achieved little, serving on review panels that could have been done by telecom and, worst of all, competed with my peers for Frequent Flyer Miles, I realized that I was missing the basic fact – my carbon footprint was embarrassing. I went almost cold-turkey and have flown only twice in the last six years. I speak more than ever; all over Southern California. I definitely don’t miss airports, uncomfortable planes, lousy hotels and haven’t had jet lag in years. Yea! While others fly to the many types of meetings, I telecom in! Neither do I flaunt my ‘virtue’ (well a little) to others. My contribution to decreasing atmospheric carbon is minuscule, but I feel good about my decision. I note the prompt for this came from Peter Kalmus. Thanks for the suggestion Peter!
He is a graduate of Purdue University and went on to earn a Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of Hawaii. Bill began his career on the research faculty of the University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., and then moved to JPL. During his career, he has served as a consultant to many respected organizations including NASA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, United Nations and many scientific and environmental groups. He has received many awards for scientific accomplishments, as well as communicating science to the public.
With very few exceptions I have not flown for about 10 years. For about 7 years up to late 2012, I was working full time on environmental campaigning, mainly to do with climate change. There is a pressing need for academic conferences to be largely online. There are pros and cons but the environmental argument trumps them all.
Gerry Wolff started with research in cognitive science, then after work in software engineering, he migrated to research and lecturing in software engineering and AI. He’s now Director of not-for-profit CognitionResearch.org.
For most people in academia, as individuals, flying less is the single biggest change we can make to protect the environment from climate change. For academic communities, collectively, a dramatic reduction in flying is the single highest-priority contribution we can make to help put our world on a path to sustainable consumption during a time of climate change.
There is a road forward toward both environmental sustainability and joyful prosperity. Through the #flyingless initiative, Joe Nevins, a team of other academics, and I have compiled a wealth of information and resources for university communities. On a more personal level, my family and I have been conducting our own experiment in living richly with a low-carbon profile.
Here is my personal testimonial. I stopped flying in August, 2014. In my academic work as an economist who studies food policy at Tufts University, in Boston, the career adjustments have worked out well. I take trains for my frequent business travel to DC and for more occasional university and conference presentations in cities as far away as Ohio and Atlanta. Because I travel more seldom, I can take a little more time for professional and personal visits at the destination. I have a system for efficient work on the train, so the time opportunity cost of most travel is now less by train than by air. I accept more conference and university engagements in Boston, and fewer elsewhere. For some long-distance invitations, I propose one of my graduate students, which has sometimes even helped the panel organizers enhance diversity by age and gender. As just one tool in the toolset, not as a full alternative to flying, I give some presentations by webinar, and I organize working meetings by WebEx several times a week. For one of my grant-funded projects (RIDGE, an initiative for research on U.S. nutrition assistance programs), I’ve reduced the flying requirement for the whole team. Emotionally, I am highly motivated to accept the small losses from not flying, when they do occur, because it is meaningful to be living out my principles. It helps me stay upbeat and focused on days when the news is troubling.
In sum, my testimony to you is that we really can dramatically reduce our flying while still achieving what we hope to achieve in our work and lifestyle as scholars.
Parke Wilde (PhD, Cornell) is a food economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. His research addresses food security and hunger measurement, the economics of food assistance programs, and federal dietary guidance policy. He is one of the organizers of the #flyingless initiative, keeps a food policy blog at usfoodpolicy.com, and is currently revising his 2013 book from Routledge/Earthscan, titled Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction.
I hadn’t flown for a few years but took a trip to NYC from my home in London. On the way back, I remember saying to myself “this might be the last time I fly”. Something told me that this artificial experience that I knew was terrible for the environment had to stop. That was around six years ago. My work pattern changed afterwards. I had never been a regular flyer, but would jump on planes for work when I needed to. But I turned my back on that and made the commitment to myself to only work locally, or in countries I could reach by train.
Deciding not to fly has had a huge impact on me, it’s put me more into the mentality of buying local and working to keeping my footprint down.
There may be two more flights in me, to see close family members 3,000 miles away. I’m gearing myself up for this possibility, feeling completely torn about not wanting to be responsible for so many emissions, but it’s been 8 years since seeing them. Going on this potential trip feels like last chance disco to see people who I’m so close to I don’t think I can bear the thought of never seeing them in the flesh again.
Composer, pianist and founder of ClimateKeys, a worldwide initiative that coordinates concerts by musicians and climate change experts who lead conversations with the audience. ClimateKeys has a no-fly policy; concerts are organised where the musician lives and local speakers are sourced. In this way, ClimateKeys is a ‘glocal’ project, happening in multiple countries but carried out locally.
I’ve been avoiding flights since 2003 when I started my first post-doctoral research position at the Tyndall Centre based in the University of Manchester. My research focus at the time was quantifying the impact of aviation on the climate, and comparing it with global and national goals and targets to avoid so-called ‘dangerous climate change’. Taking on this topic, it became immediately clear that the rate of aviation growth, and its associated CO2, was at odds with the UK’s own climate targets, as well as those being discussed within the EU Commission. In addition to this, I’d started working for the first time in an interdisciplinary research group, where engineers and physical scientists sit alongside social scientists and economists. Discussions around personal and institutional behaviour, the roles of individuals and communities, governments and NGOs were all frequent topics of conversation, often with a focus on flying. As a result my view on flying galvanised over time. I did not stop flying altogether until 2005, but my views became stronger the more frequently I presented the following conclusion to various audiences: that aviation has few technical options for decarbonisation, particularly in the necessary timeframe, and that cutting CO2 from aviation requires ‘demand management’. After delivering this message, I would frequently find that many audiences immediately asked if I flew to the conference, or flew much in my job. Academic or industry-focused discussions often became personalised.
So, whilst some will argue that individual behavioural change makes little impact on global levels of CO2, and therefore there is little merit in making a change, it was plain to me that my aviation-related behaviour mattered to some. To fly to a conference and tell an audience that the aviation sector needs to (at least) curb growth rates, started to seem highly contradictory. However, when I also described how policy options such as taxes, personal carbon allowances or emissions trading needed to be strong enough to ‘manage demand’ – and therefore require public support before policymakers will push hard enough – it put my own behaviour in the spot-light. It seemed to me that if I continued to fly it would be like a GP telling a patient to give up smoking while a packet of her cigarettes sat openly on the table, waiting for the next cigarette break.
Finally then, to my view on personal flying behaviour: it is that climate change experts, scientists, policymakers and anyone who understands the scale of the climate change challenge we face, will be considered role models by some, maybe many. We are influential, and what we do matters. I don’t believe that the climate problem will be solved by voluntary behaviour change, but I also don’t think policymakers will have a strong enough mandate unless individuals start to demonstrate how things can be different. Examples of having great holidays, keeping properly in touch with friends and family or being able to maintain an international academic reputation, all without flying, need to be demonstrated. And they probably need to be demonstrated by people who have influence, and can gain some level of trust on the issue of climate change. And I think that is people like me.
Alice is a Professor in Climate Science & Energy Policy as part of the Tyndall Centre and Head of the School of Mechanical, Civil and Aerospace Engineering, University of Manchester. Her research currently focuses on international transport and water-energy-food system scenarios within a climate change context. Alice trained as an astrophysicist at the University of Leeds and did her PhD in climate modelling at Imperial College.
I’m a science teacher in Brussels (16-18 year olds physics, chemistry, math) and, as all teachers should, I try to lead by example. Part of that is having an extremely low-carbon lifestyle. Not flying is one of the many things I do to achieve that goal.
I bike everywhere, literally. I rarely even use trains. I don’t use any hot water, don’t eat any dairy, don’t use any direct fossil fuels. I rarely buy anything new (especially electronics). I honestly think I’m part of all the local green political parties and most of the green initiatives in town, especially the ones working towards local food security. I share a well isolated house and never turn on the heating. I’m living in Brussels with an ecological footprint close to a Nigerian farmer. I live a healthy and happy life that way. For now that is: since I see barely anyone following my example, since I’m being ridiculed everyday, since I barely survive traffic here, etc…
I hope this testimony, and this platform in general, helps. If that’s a naive approach I at least proved that it’s possible to live sustainable in the modern area, however tragic that may be.
On account of the associated carbon emissions, I haven’t flown long-haul for work purposes since 2006; I haven’t flown long-haul for personal reasons since 1989. I haven’t flown short-haul for about 5 years, and have no intention of doing so unless absolutely unavoidable.
In my work, I am Director of the Cube Project, in which I design and build eco-friendly microhomes (www.cubeproject.org.uk). I would find it disingenuous to fly around the world to tell people about this and other projects.
Any international travel (in mainland Europe) is accomplished by hybrid car with four passengers, or by train (especially night trains).
Mike Page is an engineer turned cognitive psychologist. His principle research has been in human memory, though he has a developing interest in the psychology of pro-environmental behavior change. He directs the Cube Project, in which he designs and builds net-zero-carbon microhomes, as demonstrations of important techniques and technologies.
I’m a piano tuner living in London, England. My carbon footprint is approximately 2 tonnes per year. I take about one long-haul return flight every two years. I never take short-haul flights – I use rail or road, bicycle or a combination instead. My last two return flights I packed my dismantled bicycle into a bag and reassembled it in Buenos Aires to ride out of the airport to my grandma’s house.
She was 96 years old and I wanted to see her again before she passed away. My point is that I will fly if I feel it’s for a really important reason and the alternative transport takes weeks at a prohibitive cost. It has now been four years since my last flight but if my brother who lives in Texas gets married this autumn I will fly to his wedding.
I volunteer with grassroots networks that organise direct action for climate justice – causing logistical difficulties for companies that are trying to expand their airports, dig new open-cast coal mines, and spearhead the fracking industry in the UK. Some of my comrades refuse to fly, ever.
But this is how I see it… 65 million people in the UK, but only perhaps 10,000 people radical enough to reduce their carbon footprint to near-zero. Per capita UK emissions are about 10 tonnes CO2e per year (plus several more in indirect emission from imported goods, lets roll with 10 for the purpose of this argument). By living a near-zero carbon lifestyle the 10k radicals are saving 10k/yr emissions, but their lifestyle is so far removed from the mainstream that most other people see it as impossible. In contrast if all UK citizens were encouraged to make reasonable concessions to halve their footprint that’s 325 million tonnes CO2e per year emissions saved!
Volunteer with Reclaim the Power, a UK-based grassroots direct action network for environmental and social justice. I’m taking action to prevent the gas and oil fracking industry from taking off in the UK, and also to see more justice in aviation.
The British fly more than anyone else in the world, and 70% of all flights are taken by 15% of the population – the frequent flyers. They are currently rewarded and I want to campaign for them to be penalised. To scrap passenger duty and replace it with a Frequent Flyers Levy – one tax-free flight per years but each additional flight is taxed more.
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