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Air travel in academia

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Air travel is an essential part of the professional lives of many academics, and a major source of pollution from that sector. In the context of the climate crisis, there have been appeals to reduce air travel by replacing it with other modes of transportation, replacing it with videoconferencing, or renouncing inessential trips.

Contents

Role of air travel in academia[edit]

The individual emissions of academic researchers are high compared to other professionals, "primarily as a result of emissions from flying to conferences, project meetings, and fieldwork".[1][2] Moreover, fields such as computer science have a conference-publishing system which requires researchers to travel to conferences in order to publish their results.[3]

Beyond their usefulness for doing research, travels are motivated by career incentives, as decisions to award faculty positions or research funding depend in part on the applicants' activity as speakers at international conferences. Academics perceive air travel as a key driver for career progression.[4] Touristic opportunities also contribute to motivating these travels, which are considered as a perk of the profession.[1][5]

While conferences and meetings are important for exchanging ideas and nurturing professional relationships, this can also be done using alternative modes of communication such as videoconferencing and social media. It has been argued that the benefits of face-to-face meetings might be outweighed by the benefits of the alternatives. (These benefits may include reaching wider communities.)[1] A 2019 study found that air travel was correlated to salary but not to scientific productivity, and concluded that "air travel has a limited influence on professional success".[6]

Attitude of academic institutions[edit]

A 2014 study of three New Zealand universities found that rhetoric on sustainability coexisted with assumptions about the necessity to travel, and policies that encouraged travel.[7] A similar phenomenon was observed in Australia, where "a normative system of ‘academic aeromobility’ has developed".[8] Australian universities could be divided into three groups, depending on whether they recognize the sustainability issues with air travel, and if yes whether they seek to substitute air travel with videoconferencing.[9]

Attitude of academics[edit]

A 2017 survey found that conservationists' environmental footprint was only slightly lower than economics' and medics', and that exposure to environmental information had little impact on researchers' behaviour.[10]

Flying often has been argued to be incompatible with anthropologists' research ethics.[11] In the case of archaeology, flying often while knowing about the problem of climate change has been denounced as a case of cognitive dissonance.[12]

The insufficient use of available virtual meeting equipment suggests that researchers prefer travelling due to psychological, cultural and organizational factors.[13]

Climate hypocrisy[edit]

How much scientists fly may not affect their professional credibility, but it does affect their credibility when they communicate to the public on climate change,[14][2] and prevents them from exercising leadership in reducing emissions.[15] In particular, a 2016 survey has found that climate researchers' carbon footprints have a large effect on their credibility, and on participants' intentions to reduce their personal energy consumption.[16][17] A 2019 study also found a large effect on participants' support for public policies advocated by the researchers.[18] A professor at the University of Cambridge was accused of hypocrisy in 2019 by farmers for flying while working to reduce red meat consumption.[19]

The idea of researchers' climate hypocrisy regularly appears in media coverage of climate change. Hypocrisy discourses can be invoked both for supporting and for resisting climate-friendly policies.[20][21]

Quantitative estimations[edit]

Aircraft affect the climate in a variety of ways: they emit CO2 and nitrogen oxides, produce contrails, and might affect cloud formation. There is considerable uncertainty on some of these effects.[22] Quantitative estimations mostly focus on CO2 emissions.

Estimated emissions[edit]

The CO2 emissions for a single conference trip were estimated to 7% of an average individual’s total annual CO2 emissions. The total emissions of scientists travelling to conferences for presenting papers were estimated to 0.228% of international aviation emissions in 2008.[23]

In a case study of a PhD project, mobility represented 75% of the carbon footprint, which could have been reduced by 44% using videoconferencing. The total emissions were 21.5t CO2-eq or 2.69t CO2-eq per peer-reviewed paper.[24] (In comparison, the carbon footprint of computers, printers, etc is estimated to only 5.44kg CO2-eq per paper.[25])

Estimated possible reductions[edit]

  • Scientific organizations could reduce the carbon footprints of their meetings by up to 73% by alternating large national or international meetings with regional ones every other year, according to a 2011 study.[16]
  • Optimizing the locations of the conferences of the International Biogeography Society could reduce emissions by about 20%, according to a 2014 study.[26]
  • Organizing a large conference in two sites (connected by videoconferencing) on different continents has reduced emissions by 37% or 50% compared to organizing the conference in either site, according to a 2012 study.[27]

Reduction of emissions[edit]

Institutional policies[edit]

The University of California, Los Angeles has been taxing its departments $9 per domestic flight and $25 per international flight.[28]

Low-carbon conferences[edit]

Conference organizers have reduced the emissions due to the travel of participants by several methods:

  • Holding virtual conferences.
  • Holding decentralized conferences, with several virtually connected regional hubs, rather than a single location.
  • Optimizing conference locations and frequencies.

Voluntary reduction in air travel[edit]

For researchers, reducing air travel is "the biggest opportunity for reducing personal climate impacts".[16] Some academics therefore reduce or stop flying in order to reduce their individual carbon footprints and/or to lead by example.[29] Travel for fieldwork can be reduced by good planning.[30]

The feasible reductions, and impact on careers, depend on the researchers' seniority. Graduate students and postdocs fly less than full professors, but attending conferences is considered more important for their careers.[31]

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus stopped flying in 2014, and claimed that slow travel made "his world shrink and become richer".[32] Physicist Shaun Hendy avoided planes for a year in 2018, and wrote a book on the experience.[33] Climatologist David Reay has foregone air travel as part of "staving off despair".[34] Various other experiences are included in a guidebook.[35]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Towards a culture of low-carbon research for the 21st Century". Tyndall Working Paper 161. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fois, Mauro; Cuena-Lombraña, Alba; Fristoe, Trevor; Fenu, Giuseppe; Bacchetta, Gianluigi (2016). "Reconsidering alternative transportation systems to reach academic conferences and to convey an example to reduce greenhouse gas emissions". History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 38 (4). doi:10.1007/s40656-016-0126-x. ISSN 0391-9714.
  3. Vardi, Moshe Y. (2019-12-20). "Publish and perish". Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)) 63 (1): 7–7. doi:10.1145/3373386. ISSN 0001-0782.
  4. Nursey-Bray, Melissa; Palmer, Robert; Meyer-Mclean, Bridie; Wanner, Thomas; Birzer, Cris (2019-05-12). "The Fear of Not Flying: Achieving Sustainable Academic Plane Travel in Higher Education Based on Insights from South Australia". Sustainability (MDPI AG) 11 (9): 2694. doi:10.3390/su11092694. ISSN 2071-1050.
  5. "Fly or die in academia?". The Psychologist. Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  6. Wynes, Seth; Donner, Simon D.; Tannason, Steuart; Nabors, Noni (2019). "Academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success". Journal of Cleaner Production (Elsevier BV) 226: 959–967. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.04.109. ISSN 0959-6526.
  7. Hopkins, Debbie; Higham, James; Tapp, Sarah; Duncan, Tara (2015-09-12). "Academic mobility in the Anthropocene era: a comparative study of university policy at three New Zealand institutions". Journal of Sustainable Tourism (Informa UK Limited) 24 (3): 376–397. doi:10.1080/09669582.2015.1071383. ISSN 0966-9582.
  8. Glover, Andrew; Strengers, Yolande; Lewis, Tania (2017). "The unsustainability of academic aeromobility in Australian universities". Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy (Informa UK Limited) 13 (1): 1–12. doi:10.1080/15487733.2017.1388620. ISSN 1548-7733.
  9. Glover, Andrew; Strengers, Yolande; Lewis, Tania (2018-05-08). "Sustainability and academic air travel in Australian universities". International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (Emerald) 19 (4): 756–772. doi:10.1108/ijshe-08-2017-0129. ISSN 1467-6370.
  10. Balmford, Andrew; Cole, Lizzy; Sandbrook, Chris; Fisher, Brendan (2017). "The environmental footprints of conservationists, economists and medics compared". Biological Conservation (Elsevier BV) 214: 260–269. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2017.07.035. ISSN 0006-3207.
  11. "In an era of climate change, our ethics code is clear: We need to end the AAA annual meeting". anthro{dendum}. 2018-01-13. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  12. Reynolds, Natasha (2018-11-02). "Decarbonising archaeology". Nature Research Ecology & Evolution Community. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  13. Janisch, Tscherina; Hilty, Lorenz (2017-11-22). "Changing university culture towards reduced air travel – Background Report for the 2017 Virtual Conference on University Air Miles Reduction". Zurich Open Repository and Archive. Retrieved 2020-03-21.
  14. Nordhagen, Stella; Calverley, Dan; Foulds, Chris; O’Keefe, Laura; Wang, Xinfang (2014-06-12). "Climate change research and credibility: balancing tensions across professional, personal, and public domains". Climatic Change (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 125 (2): 149–162. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1167-3. ISSN 0165-0009.
  15. Higham, James; Font, Xavier (2019-12-02). "Decarbonising academia: confronting our climate hypocrisy". Journal of Sustainable Tourism (Informa UK Limited) 28 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1080/09669582.2019.1695132. ISSN 0966-9582.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Rosen, Julia (2017). "Sustainability: A greener culture". Nature (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 546 (7659): 565–567. doi:10.1038/nj7659-565a. ISSN 0028-0836.
  17. Attari, Shahzeen Z.; Krantz, David H.; Weber, Elke U. (2016-06-16). "Statements about climate researchers’ carbon footprints affect their credibility and the impact of their advice". Climatic Change (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 138 (1-2): 325–338. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1713-2. ISSN 0165-0009.
  18. Attari, Shahzeen Z.; Krantz, David H.; Weber, Elke U. (2019-05-24). "Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support". Climatic Change (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 154 (3-4): 529–545. doi:10.1007/s10584-019-02463-0. ISSN 0165-0009.
  19. Brierley, Craig (2020-02-10). "High flying academics". Retrieved 2020-03-14.
  20. Gunster, Shane; Fleet, Darren; Paterson, Matthew; Saurette, Paul (2018-06-11). "Climate Hypocrisies: A Comparative Study of News Discourse". Environmental Communication (Informa UK Limited) 12 (6): 773–793. doi:10.1080/17524032.2018.1474784. ISSN 1752-4032.
  21. Gunster, Shane; Fleet, Darren; Paterson, Matthew; Saurette, Paul (2018-11-06). "“Why Don't You Act Like You Believe It?”: Competing Visions of Climate Hypocrisy". Frontiers in Communication (Frontiers Media SA) 3. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2018.00049. ISSN 2297-900X.
  22. "Shaun Hendy - How Much does Flying Contribute to Climate Change?". Brave New Europe. 2019-11-28. Retrieved 2020-03-14.
  23. Spinellis, Diomidis; Louridas, Panos (2013-06-26). Bohrer, Gil. ed. "The Carbon Footprint of Conference Papers". PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science (PLoS)) 8 (6): e66508. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066508. ISSN 1932-6203.
  24. Achten, Wouter M.J.; Almeida, Joana; Muys, Bart (2013). "Carbon footprint of science: More than flying". Ecological Indicators (Elsevier BV) 34: 352–355. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.05.025. ISSN 1470-160X.
  25. Song, Guobao; Che, Li; Zhang, Shushen (2016). "Carbon footprint of a scientific publication: A case study at Dalian University of Technology, China". Ecological Indicators (Elsevier BV) 60: 275–282. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.06.044. ISSN 1470-160X.
  26. Stroud, James T.; Feeley, Kenneth J. (2014-12-02). "Responsible academia: optimizing conference locations to minimize greenhouse gas emissions". Ecography (Wiley) 38 (4): 402–404. doi:10.1111/ecog.01366. ISSN 0906-7590.
  27. Coroama, Vlad C.; Hilty, Lorenz M.; Birtel, Martin (2012). "Effects of Internet-based multiple-site conferences on greenhouse gas emissions". Telematics and Informatics (Elsevier BV) 29 (4): 362–374. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2011.11.006. ISSN 0736-5853.
  28. Hasan, Mejs. "New University Rules Encourage Scientists to Avoid Air Travel". Wired. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  29. Westlake, Steve (2017). "A Counter-Narrative to Carbon Supremacy: Do Leaders Who Give Up Flying Because of Climate Change Influence the Attitudes and Behaviour of Others?". SSRN Electronic Journal (Elsevier BV). doi:10.2139/ssrn.3283157. ISSN 1556-5068.
  30. Kjellman, Sofia E. (2019-05-27). "As a climate researcher, should I change my air-travel habits?". Nature (Springer Science and Business Media LLC). doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01652-2. ISSN 0028-0836.
  31. Langin, Katie (2019-05-13). "Why some climate scientists are saying no to flying". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)). doi:10.1126/science.caredit.aay0230. ISSN 0036-8075.
  32. Holthaus, Eric (2014-10-02). "I Went a Year Without Flying to Help Fight Climate Change". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  33. Hendy, Shaun (2019). #NoFly: Walking the Talk on Climate Change. Bridget Williams Books. doi:10.7810/9781988587080. ISBN 978-1-988587-08-0.
  34. Reay, Dave (2018). "How I stave off despair as a climate scientist". Nature (Springer Science and Business Media LLC) 564 (7736): 303–303. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-07765-4. ISSN 0028-0836.
  35. Watson, Chris (2014). Beyond flying : rethinking air travel in a globally connected world. Cambridge, England: Green Books. ISBN 978-0-85784-209-1. OCLC 894969477.