Having lived in Europe and the Bay Area for the last twenty years (with a three year stint in LA, where I mostly used my bike to travel), I have enjoyed being able to live without a car. My quality of life is greatly enhanced, and my conscience, too.
Flying, however, has always been a challenge. As an academic, conferences are often far. To keep progressing on a career path, too often not attending a major conference has meant more anxiety than that produced through reflecting on the known harm I am causing to the biosphere and future generations.
While solar-electric airplanes and electric barges will certainly lessen the carbon load, part of the harm to the environment comes from the the disease of wanderlust. The belief that the grass is greener on the other side of the planet.
Inside of the US, and inside of Europe, I don’t fly. To get from one continent to another, however, is another matter entirely. So, my approach has been minimizing extraneous travel. Asking the question, “do I really need to go there?” and then often turning down the offers and finding peace and satisfaction with the many events accessible by train and locally.
One thing I’d like to see is the embodiment of the true ecological price of flying. Right now, it is often more expensive (in Europe, especially) to take a train from point A to B than a plane, even though the ecological footprint is many times larger.
Yogi Hale Hendlin is an environmental philosopher and public health policy researcher working on questions of industrial epidemics, and how to integrate ecological communication into politics.