Travelling too much

Its been a while since I wrote here and the main reason for this silence is that I have been travelling too much.

And by ‘travelling’ I specifically mean flying. So far this year I travelled far enough to fly clear around the Earth – more than 40,000 km. And in every sense, it is just too much.

There is always a good reason to travel – work and ‘business’ always provide sound reasons for travel. But the undeniable fact of the matter is that flying is bad for the environment.

So while I greatly enjoyed a secondment in New Zealand the trip caused the emission of 7.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide – an amount which overshadows the steps I take to minimise emissions at home.

And the carbon dioxide emissions are not even the worst part. I was reminded by a recent Physics World news item that:

… contrail cirrus clouds are the single largest source of the aviation industry’s contribution to climate change, far outpacing the impact of aircraft carbon dioxide emissions. 

It is hard to just say ‘No’

I have asked my colleagues in many fields how they feel about flying. Everyone I have asked thinks it is a really important issue.

Some have, bravely in my opinion, shunned air travel, refusing offers to travel because of the emissions they would cause.

While not underestimating how hard that choice is, it is easier for those who live in large cultural centres such as London. London offers a great many local opportunities for work and pastimes, and also has ground-based National and International travel networks, that are not available to those who, for example, live in New Zealand.

And the freedom to not travel is not open to everyone. Some are obliged to travel internationally for work.

For colleagues working in the field of climate change, many of whom forswear personal air travel, international meetings are an essential part of seeking international solutions to this international problem.

But even these colleagues who don’t fly for personal reasons normally have funerals to attend. And perhaps when their children grow they may ache to see their grandchildren who may be living far away.

The bridge to the future

If we imagine a future more sustainable world, then flying around the world must surely become less common.

In market economies the only ways to achieve this are to either

  • (a) raise the price of air travel, or
  • (b) ration the amount of air travel or
  • (c) some combination of (a) and (b).

None of these look like options that people will vote for without a great deal more understanding of the problem at hand.

To misquote LP Hartley,

The future is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

But how do we get there?

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