These Earth and climate scientists have stopped flying, or fly less. Each speaks strictly on his or her own behalf.
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 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?
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
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 Environmental impacts of paper use and tourism; Ozone depletion; Waste composition, for Lancashire recycling policy; Climate change transport policies; Radioactive waste management – reactors and submarines; Public engagement with renewable energy technologies – focus on marine energy; Windfarm repowering public opinion; Energy demand and thermal comfort of older people; Fuel poverty and energy vulnerability; Ethnographies of everyday travel;
‘Less is More’, pro-environmental behavioural change game; Office building design and energy demand; Office work futures, time and energy demand, online shopping and energy/travel demand implications
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
Often called the “Prophet of California climate,” Patzert recently retired after 35 years as a scientist at the California Institute of Technology’s NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif since 1983. The author of many scientific and popular articles, Bill works with undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world, and lectures at many local universities. A media favorite, he is often sought out by reporters and is regularly seen on local and national television representing NASA and JPL. In a recent article, he was named as one of the West’s most influential individuals in dealing with water issues.
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.
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.
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.