Some of the journalists I admire have a registry of interests, based on the idea that it would be hypocritical for someone whose job it is to uncover hidden truths not to reveal from where, and from whom, they get their money. Likewise, it has felt hypocritical for me to call myself a climate scientist for these past years, and advocate for emissions reductions, without making it clear when I was professionally, significantly participating in those emissions.
Having to fly places is an essential part of some of my jobs. In this world, under these circumstances, I don’t think it’s possible to get away from it. (My colleague Natalie Jones has written a useful primer for why multilateral negotiations can’t happen virtually and still function equitably.) But flying is the greatest source of emissions in academia, and while multiple studies make a strong argument for why it’s not actually correlated with a better career as an academic, the institution still pressures students and researchers to present widely. (Go, they say; fly to another continent to sit in a room much like any other conference room, and stand and deliver for twenty minutes on something people could have read online, to a group of eight or nine people who are probably just there because they’re presenting, too. Is this the mind-opening, heart-swelling world we want? No, it’s a dozen people dressed up in a classroom, hands clammy with nerves.)
We’re all compromised, of course. As Alexis Shotwell reminds us, this is a compromised world. Reducing emissions is a relational and a collective problem, not an individual one; my reducing my flights will not, in and of itself, tip the balance. And mine is a life of relative privilege: I can afford, socially and financially, to make low-carbon lifestyle choices (living in a city, for now; not living with a disability; rarely eating meat).
But in the spirit of initiatives such as this one, the Concordia Flying Less Policy, and many others, I think there is deep value in owning up to the negotiations we make. You can’t reduce what you don’t measure. The purpose of the registry is to encourage its readers to consider how many times they’ve flown for professional purposes, and whether their travel was truly justifiable; and for myself to have a record of how many times I’ve participated knowingly in the system I’m trying to disrupt.
A final note on my own rules for myself: barring emergencies, I don’t fly for personal reasons, or for vacations. I will always attempt to use ground-based travel for professional purposes, and will continue to lobby the organizations that fund my travel to support their employees or grantees in finding alternatives to flying. If I am flying, I try to pull together as many purposes to be there as possible.
And I will ignore any bit of this ethical framework if the situation would otherwise cause me so much stress and discomfort that it would be impossible for me to do my job properly.
registry of air travel, 2017 - present
Montréal - London return, June-July, for my Confirmation of Status and the Bonn Climate Conference (to which I travelled by train).
Moncton - Montréal, March, because my train to return fell through.
Katowice - Montréal, December, returning home.
Whitehorse - Katowice, December, for the Katowice COP.
London - Whitehorse, November, for a writing retreat in Atlin (and my move from Oxford to Montréal).
New York - London, June, returning from ENB training.
London - St. John’s - New York, June, for my first conference as a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar; and onward travel to training with the Earth Negotiations Bulletin team in NYC.
Montréal - London, March, returning from winter fieldwork in the Maritimes. (I drove to Montréal.)
London - Montréal, December, to begin fieldwork in the Canadian Maritimes for the D.Phil. (I took the train out East.)
Athens, GA - London, July, returning from a bike mechanic gig supporting the Race Across America and the Tour Divide. (Ask me about that one, it’s a good story.)
Athens, Greece - San Diego, July, to support a rider as assistant mechanic during the Race Across America.
London - Athens, Greece, June, to participate as an improviser in the Athens Improv Festival (Mount Olymprov).