Erica Thompson

Research Officer - London School of Economics
London School of Economics
Erica Thompson

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.