I noticed another discussion on Twitter about whether or not climate scientists should fly. I have written about this before and the issue of people making personal sacrifices is something I’ve pondered recently. I have a great deal of respect for those who’ve decided to forgo something like flying in order to reduce their personal carbon footprints. However, I don’t think this should be expected of climate scientists, in general, simply because their research happens to be highlighting the risks associated with continuing to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. I would add, though, that those who actively advocate for changes in our lifestyles should practice what they preach.
Something that did surprise me, though, was that emissions from air travel make up only about 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions (about 11% of emissions from transportation). So, emissions from air travel do not currently make up a significant fraction of global emissions. However, it is expected to grow and, if we do reduce emissions from other sources, it could make up a much more significant fraction in the future. It is therefore important to think about emissions from air travel, but right now reducing emissions from air travel will – alone – not significantly dent global emissions.
However, there are many other factors to consider. It can be a significant fraction of an individual’s carbon footprint. A single long-haul flight could be 10% of someone’s annual emissions. So, if someone wanted to reduce their personal emissions, flying less can have a big impact. Similarly, it is one of the most carbon intensive forms of transport. If it is possible to travel via bus, train, or even car, emissions will probably be lower than if travelling by air. I certainly now think much more about how I should travel than I used to; if I can catch the train, rather than flying, I try very hard to do so.
However, there are many positives to flying. We can directly explore other cultures and environments, helping us to appreciate how diverse and amazing this planet can be. Even though many meetings could (and should) be done using videoconferencing facilities, there are occasions where a face-to-face meeting would be far more effective than meeting remotely. Many people’s families are spread around the globe and I think it’s important to be able to see one’s parents, children and siblings.
So, I do think it’s extremely important that we think of ways to reduce our emissions, and I have a great deal of respect for those who are making personal sacrifices so as to do so. I also think we should all be thinking more and more about how we can minimise our carbon footprints. However, I don’t think we should be going around expecting individuals to forgo things simply because their research happens to indicate a risk associated with those activities. Ultimately, global emission reductions is going to require much more than simply some people giving up some carbon intensive activities, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.