I was inspired to limit my flying to one round trip between Boston and San Francisco each year after watching inventor Saul Griffith’s 2009 LongNow talk, “Climate Change Recalculated.” I’ve allowed myself this one flight so I can visit family and close friends during the holidays. I’ve been tracking my miles flown here: https://www.beeminder.com/abliu/reduce-miles-flown.
While I’ve been mainly good about sticking to my limit, partly because I dislike the whole flying experience, I’ve already gone beyond my limit this year with two flights totaling 3,000 miles, and will probably go further beyond it with an additional flight home. It’s hard to not fly home twice a year if your mom really wants to see you that often. (My mom and I have debated workarounds; for example, I proposed “once per year for an extended period of time.” That was unsatisfying to my mom and I can understand why, but it might be the best compromise I can offer. I haven’t found other easy solutions besides moving close to home or figuring out a good telepresence solution.)
Why limit flights at all? I think the quantity of the limit matters. One to two flights to family per year feels reasonable to me. I feel unambivalently good about a tough limit on long-distance travel that isn’t about seeing family. That includes academic conferences, vacations to distant locations, college reunions, job interviews, etc. If I’m ever considering one of these flights, I should be asking myself very critically, “Do I **really** need to make this trip? Can my family and I take a local vacation to a nearby city or nature instead of flying thousands of miles? Can I video conference or find a lower-carbon way to make the trip?”
I’m a PhD student in computational biology at Harvard Medical School. I’m interested in pandemic preparedness, biosecurity, and catastrophic risks.