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.