Learning new languages: “Skolstrejk for Klimatet”

This fall, we find our minds occupied with new terminology from Nordic countries.

On Twitter, where the translate function is quite impressive, we read in English and Finnish from @AarneClimate about the national initiative to adapt fossil fuels consumption, including through the remarkable work of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, and also about fly fishing as an ongoing metaphor for appreciating the simple delights of our own local communities.

From Sweden we follow the hashtags  (“I stay on the ground”), #flygskam (“flying shame”), and #flygfritt2019 (a fast-growing viral grassroots movement to not fly in 2019, recently covered by the BBC), as well as the memorable slogan (readable in English without translation) “Skolstrejk for Klimatet” from 15-year-old Greta Thunberg . Greta, a living rebuttal to the claim that one must fly by airplane to advocate effectively for climate action, writes in the Guardian this week, “The adults have failed us. And since most of them, including the press and the politicians, keep ignoring the situation, we must take action into our own hands, starting today.”

In Denmark, 650 academics (surely an astonishing fraction of the national academic workforce) have signed an open letter on university greenhouse gas emissions, including from flying, which we quote at length (eloquent in translation, and we can just imagine the original):

If we do not start a global transition to a greener society immediately the consequences will be catastrophic.

Though many researchers at Danish universities are highly active in the debate on climate change, there is at present no ambitious climate agenda across these establishments. With this letter, we strongly encourage the university management to immediately develop and implement a series of far-reaching policies to drastically reduce the universities’ carbon emissions.

The universities have a particularly heavy responsibility with regard to the implementation of an ambitious climate agenda, for three main reasons.

  • Firstly, researchers contribute to a particularly high degree of carbon emissions, especially by using air transport to travel to conferences. High emissions offer an equally large potential for reducing the researchers’ climate footprint.
  • Secondly, scientific authority is a key topic in the fight against climate skepticism. Researchers cannot expect to be taken seriously in the debate on climate change if they do not themselves implement the measures they propose. We have to put our own house in order first if we want others to listen.
  • Thirdly, the universities are ideally suited to lead the fight against climate change by developing and testing innovative, interdisciplinary and evidence-based measures for reducing carbon emissions. If new solutions are not developed at the universities, where else should they come from?

Like any other large company, the universities have an obligation to assume their share of social responsibility towards their employees and the environment.

At Lund University, where she teaches in Sweden, American scholar Kim Nicholas this fall received funding for a new research project on the rise of the social movement to stay on the ground. And, at Uppsala University in Sweden, the prominent British climate scientist and non-flyer Kevin Anderson continues his research and untamed public speaking (here is a video about his summer journey by bicycle).

One plank of our #flyingless platform is that our university communities should revisit their vision for international cultural exchange, seeking to accomplish more cross-cultural understanding with radically fewer flights, through longer and more meaningful international travels.

Really. Just think about it. What would be the point of a short academic or student visit by airplane to Scandinavia or Finland in search of cross-cultural insight, unless one is willing to truly open one’s heart to a contemporary Nordic concept such as #flygskam?

For more information about our #flyingless initiative, see the original petition textFAQ, and list of 535 academic supporters. Academics who wish to be listed may write us at academicflyingpetition@gmail.com.


Fall 2018 #flyingless update

Here is a brief status report on our #flyingless initiative:

  • AASHE webinar. We helped organize a webinar for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) titled “The Climate-Friendly Global Academic Conference with a Human Touch.” Here are links to the webinar description and YouTube video. The wonderful speakers were Ken Hiltner (UCSB), Melissa Tier (Swarthmore), Richard Parncutt (Uni Graz), and Tina Woolston (Tufts). The webinar offers an inspiring array of methods for organizing long-distance conferences while preserving much of what is essential and delightful about in-person connections.
  • Speaking tour Michigan (Oct 31-Nov 1) and Ithaca, NY (Nov 2). Co-organizer Parke Wilde this week is taking his second Amtrak speaking tour of the year, this time to Michigan and upstate New York. In these years of not flying, it is a precious thing to meet friends in person. Please come say hello!
    • Lecture/Discussion about the 2018 Farm Bill. 11am-noon, Wed Oct 31. Michigan State University, Food Science Building 206. Lansing, MI.
    • Cost-effectiveness of sugar sweetened beverage taxes from a stakeholder perpsective. 4pm-5pm, Wed Oct 31. Michigan State University, Anthony 1135. Lansing, MI.
    • Innovations in Global Low-Carbon Academic Conferencing with a Human Touch. 10:30am-11am, Thurs Nov 1. University of Michigan, CSRB 2424. Ann Arbor, MI.
    • Cost-effectiveness of sugar sweetened beverage taxes from a stakeholder perpsective. 1:30pm-2:30pm, Fri Nov 2. Cornell University University, Warren 401. Ithaca, NY.
  • Petition update. This initiative originally got organized in 2015 around a petition to universities and professional associations, asking them to set reasonable goals and measure progress toward flying less (and yet recognizing the need to meet the critical purpose of a university in our struggling world). The online petition site now has 1451 supporters. For purposes of communicating with university leaders, we keep a list more specifically of academics, now with 514 academic signers. Look through the list! If you would like to have your name added as an academic, write academicflyingpetition@gmail.com.
  • Other links. See the modest proposal from Michael Kraus in Medium, reflection by Leor Hackel and Gregg Sparkman in Slate, a pile of recent activity from Stay Grounded, a people’s rebellion from Monbiot in the Guardian, and a hundred more interesting links from our Twitter feed @flyingless. Keep in touch!

The Climate-Friendly Global Academic Conference with a Human Touch

September 12 @ 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm EDT

Cultural Anthropologists Are Helping to Build the Low-Carbon Path

By Joseph Nevins

An exciting, low-carbon academic conference will begin in a few days. Organized by the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA), a section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the title (and theme) of the biennial meeting is Displacements. These include, according to the conference website, “episodes of profound political upheaval, intensified crises of migration and expulsion, the disturbing specter of climatic and environmental instability, countless virtual shadows cast over the here and now by ubiquitous media technologies.”

Scheduled to take place April 19-21, #Displace18 is the first time that the biennial meeting will be a virtual gathering. “Air travel is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and one of the chief ways that an academic livelihood contributes to carbon pollution,” the SCA explains. “We are exploring the virtual conference format with the ideal of carbon-neutral activity in mind.”

According to Jerome Whitington, a visiting professor of anthropology at New York University, the no-flying conference emerges not only out of climate change concerns, ones related to a marked increase in interest in ecological matters among cultural anthropologists over the last decade or so. It also grows out of a new generation of cultural anthropologists eager to experiment with alternative ways of interacting and disseminating knowledge and ideas like open source and new media formats.

Before it has even begun, #Displace18, a conference co-sponsored by the Society for Visual Anthropology, has already succeeded, it seems. As of this writing, there are 48 local nodes around the world where attendees and participants in the conference will gather “to watch portions of the conference together, and in many cases host their own workshops, dialogues, and local events.” The locations range from Addis Ababa, Bangalore, Cartagena, and Seattle to Copenhagen, Lima, Montreal, and Quetzaltenango. According to Whitington, the geographical diversity of participants constitutes a marked increase over previous, in-person SCA meetings. And with over 330 registrants thus far, the number of participants has also grown considerably.

Beyond the Displacements gathering, Whitington points to the need for the SCA to engage its members in serious, far-reaching discussions—ones that he is charged with helping to organize and facilitate in his role as the SCA’s “Climate Liaison.” While there have been no formal or published critiques within anthropology levied against the decision to hold a no-flying meeting, some have suggested that such efforts are misplaced, that they do not make much of a difference in the fight against climate change. There are also questions of how virtual conferencing will impact informal benefits that in-person meetings allow for—for example, by allowing scholars who come from historically marginalized communities, or scholars who are at small, geographically isolated institutions to connect with people who share their concerns, struggles, and experiences. It is for such reasons plus the hope that #Displace18 is only a first step, Whitington says, that the SCA needs to “get it right” in developing the appropriate, low-carbon tools. This requires extensive consultation and negotiation among anthropologists, as well as experimentation and flexibility.

A key goal is to engage to the AAA regarding its yearly meeting, one Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at Goldsmith, University of London, recently characterized as “an enormous carbon bomb.” The international annual conference involves several thousand people, each of whom, Hickel estimates, travels “about 3,000 miles round trip, emitting 900 kgs of CO2 per person in the process.” (The SCA is engaging in a rigorous carbon footprint analysis of Displacements.) This, he argues, is “nothing short of carbon colonialism, shot through with violent disparities of race, class, and geography.” It is also, he writes, contrary to the AAA’s own code of ethics, which states: “Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety of the people with whom they work.”

It is inspiring to see the members of the Society of Cultural Anthropology taking this code to heart, and helping to push the discipline of anthropology in a low-carbon, ecologically just direction.

Registration for the conference is open to all. The fee is $10. Go to:  https://displacements.jhu.edu/register/

Displacement Flyer

The #flyingless tour (March 2018)

Parke is traveling overland by Amtrak for the next 2 weeks, for a mix of talks and meetings on food policy and #flyingless topics.

If you are near one of these events, please stop by to say “hello.” The chance to meet in person feels especially precious during these years of not flying.


  • New York City, Mar 16 (tomorrow), noon, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, Hunter College. 1216 East Building. Contact O. Douglas Price (Twitter @ODouglasPrice) with quick RSVP to arrange building entrance. Presentation and discussion on #flyingless themes.
  • Atlanta, Mar 19 (Monday), 11:30am. Emory University, AMUC room 223. Presentation and discussion on #flyingless themes.
  • New Orleans, Mar 21 (Wed), 5pm, American Heart Association Epi/Lifestyle meetings, 5pm poster presentation related to U.S. food policy research.
  • Memphis, Mar 24-25 (tourism on music and civil rights themes).
  • Bloomington, IN, Mar 26 (Mon), 12:30pm, IU Food Institute, 405 N. Park Ave, on #flyingless themes and 4pm, 513 N. Park Ave. (Tocqueville Room), on U.S. food policy research.
  • Urbana Champaign, IL, Mar 27 (Tues), noon, University of Illinois, 426 Mumford Hall, on U.S. food policy research.
  • Chicago, Mar 28 (Wed). No meetings planned yet (indeed, suggestions welcome).

This journey is a pilot for a different way of organizing academic life, with a moderately smaller role for academic conferencing and a somewhat bigger role for slower-paced academic tours or sojourns from place to place. Among other activities, this tour gives me a chance to share topics from the second edition of my book, Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction (Routledge/Earthscan), published this month, March 2018, as well as to act out some of our initiative’s ideas for #flyingless. Thank you to all the nice people who arranged these invitations. If you are interested in other people doing travels in a similar spirit, follow the inspiring Twitter feed of Giuseppi Delmestri (@gdelmestri) this month, and the growing number of other lifestyle pioneers we share from the @flyingless feed.


The whole world at our doorsteps

In these years of not flying, am I deprived of cross-cultural exchange, adventurous vacations, networking for my career, or art? No. The whole world is at my doorsteps.

My daily subway commute ends with a walk through Boston’s Chinatown. My work colleagues come from all parts of the globe. On the way to a movie, my family eats at the Asmara Ethiopian restaurant. I worship from time to time at the Spanish language services in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross (Catholic) and Congregación León de Judá (evangelical). Walking distance from home, we see a concert by a Malian singer and guitarist at the Somerville Theatre. Traveling to NYC, my family stays in a side-street B&B in Queens, a global metropolis unlike any other. I read the international news, watch international history documentaries on television, and reminisce about past travels in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe. It is true that I feel the loss of travel by air to new places, but I enjoy plenty of cross-cultural exchange.

On a family bike tour, we take the new ferry and pedal through the alternating francophone and anglophone fishing villages of Nova Scotia. We speak with fishing folk, packing plant laborers, naturalists, and international tourists. In a random conversation in a grocery store parking lot, we listen to the stories of a First Nation Canadian man about the old farms that were paved over. It is true that I feel the loss of vacations by air, but I enjoy fine travels regionally.

For work, in the past few years, I have learned from conferences and meetings in Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Immokalee, Woods Hole, Albany, and many other places. I travel frequently by train to Washington, DC, for work. In one long trip next month, I will take Amtrak for meetings, conferences, and presentations in New York City, Atlanta, New Orleans, Indiana, and Champaign-Urbana, with stops for tourism in Memphis and Chicago on the way. It is true that the train journeys are sometimes wearisome, but they have offsetting pleasures and the work time is good. It also is true that I feel the loss of travel by air to meetings in other continents and the West Coast, but I see many colleagues from those places at the meetings I do attend.

For art, I have always visited the great galleries of Washington and New York, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Art, but for some reason I never had been inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum or Boston’s Public Library, which are both walking distance from my office, until after I stopped flying. Why not? Because, when I was flying, I thought I lacked the time. Reflect on the irony! It is true that I miss the Prado and the British Museum, and have never visited the Louvre or the Hermitage. I will have to use the virtual tour, which is of course not the same and yet an artistic and technological marvel in its own way. It also is true that I feel painful loss at not being able to revisit the temple at Borobudur or the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is a holy place to me. As a balm for my heart-ache, I instead visit Trinity Church in Boston, which is the masterpiece of the architect H.H. Richardson and the artist John La Farge, and the delightful quiet Romanesque chapel of the monks of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist alongside the Charles River. This week, I watched on TV Jim Jarmusch’s charming movie Paterson, about a quiet poet with a passionately artful sense of place in his run-down New Jersey city. Art is not a competition, and nobody should care if the museum we visit is ranked third or eighth globally. If we have a heart to listen with, we all can recognize that we are blessed by enough art to occupy all the hours we can devote to it.

For people who fly frequently, it is possible to drastically reduce flying while preserving what we love about cross-cultural exchange, adventurous vacations, stimulating work-life, and art.

For readers who doubt my claim, take your own mental inventory. If you fly four or more times in a year, imagine that you cut your flights to one quarter of their current level. To compensate for the loss, imagine that you increased your time invested locally and regionally, in overland travel, and in longer and more extensive use of the rare flights that remain. Confirm for yourself, while the environmental impact of your aviation falls 75%, that your quality of life would barely be diminished, and even the small sacrifice might trigger a response in your own soul, enhancing your appreciation for the treasures that surround you in your own place and region.

Some readers will consider my message obvious. Others will rebel against it with a hardness I can only attribute to selfishness. A third group will tell themselves that they would be willing to fly less if only the system were more supportive (through more understanding employers, more reasonable expectations from family members who live elsewhere, better train prices and comforts, better national climate policy, and so forth). For people in this third group, please focus for now on advocacy. For starters, especially if you are connected to a university community, please participate in the advocacy aspects of our #flyingless initiative (see petition, list of academic supporters, and FAQ).

Trinity Church, Boston (the Exploragrapher,CC-NC).








Let’s talk more about the aviation industry

Friends, leaders, environmentalists, we would like to hear you speak more about the aviation industry.

Many influential writers and activists on environmental issues address the fossil fuels industry, but rarely discuss the aviation industry. There are some exceptions, such as Alice Larkin (@AliceClimate), Kevin Anderson (@KevinClimate), and George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot), who frequently address aviation. Many others seldom do. Check the Twitter feeds of your favorite environmentalists. Search for your favorite climate change writer’s Twitter handle plus the words “aviation” or “flying.” Tabulating a sample of tweets for one high-profile climate change thinker this week, I find 45% are about the fossil fuels industry, 10% clean energy, 45% politics or activism, and 0% aviation, automobiles, home heating, or other industries that actually use fossil fuels.

Perhaps the movement finds it easier to talk about energy production than energy consumption. This may be fine for some consumption uses, but not others. At one extreme, replacing fossil fuels with clean energy in the electric grid may be more fruitful than reminding people to turn off lights. As a middling case, replacing gasoline cars with electric cars may be partially helpful. And, at the other extreme, we have aviation. We are skeptical about mainstream media coverage of biofuelselectric flight, and offsets. Changes in aggregate demand are fundamental for this particular critical industry.

It is unjust and unreflective to call for drastic economic changes in the fossil fuels industry while remaining silent about the aviation industry. The geographic locus of conflict over fossil fuels is in the coal mines of Appalachia, the oil wells of Oklahoma, and the gas extraction sites of North Dakota. The geographic locus of conflict over aviation would be in airports filled with comparatively privileged travelers, and (as @AntiAeroGAAM reminds us; added Feb 8) in the fields and communities displaced or damaged by new airports and airport expansions. It feels immoral to ask coal miners to be good sports about the economic transition they face, while remaining silent about the changes required for frequent flyers.

In public debate and in the theater of public engagement to protect the environment, the aviation industry deserves a place alongside the fossil fuels industry. We appreciate the occasional tweets and articles by leading environmental writers and public speakers about aviation already, but the issue deserves more. For example:

  • Along with articles about tax breaks for Exxon, let’s have more articles about the more universal tax breaks for jet fuel.
  • Along with articles about the Paris Agreement, let’s increase coverage about the omission of international aviation from that agreement.
  • Along with coverage of EPA’s failures to regulate carbon from energy plant emissions, let’s write more about the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO’s) inadequate approach to addressing aviation emissions.
  • Along with reports about sacrifice zones and spills from pipelines, let’s give more attention to the daily noise pollution and localized air pollution for low-income neighborhoods near airports.
  • Along with editorials calling for divestment from fossil fuels, let’s consider divesting from the aviation industry.

When I raise this issue, friends sometimes say that environmental progress requires a steady focus on policy change and industrial transformation. They say talking about “personal change” would be a self-indulgent distraction. Yet, I don’t see why the aviation industry is equated with personal change, while fossil fuels are treated as an issue of industrial structure. I do wonder whether high-flying personal habits induce a cognitive dissonance, which has muted environmental writing addressing the aviation industry. Conversely, I suspect more political writing about the aviation industry would trigger contemplation of personal change. My own experience, and that of some authors involved with our initiative, is that flying less can be part of a slower lifestyle that is simultaneously good environmentalism and joyful. But, this personal change is not the goal of this blog post, which is about hard-nosed coverage of aviation as an industry.

Friends also sometimes describe their own flying for environmental work as essential. Yet, environmental NGOs and researchers alike could still adopt a reasonable budget for aggregate reductions in flying for environmental conferences, prioritizing a smaller number of high-impact flights. Thinking about the COP meeting in Paris, many European participants traveled by train and bus, and the conference would have been just as successful if they all had done so. As for the enormous U.S. presence, my friends and colleagues were inspired by their experience in Paris, and yet our next important work may involve more domestic travel to bridge the political and cultural gulf that produced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Clearly our first work is at home. The question is not about judging environmentalists; the question is about having the small public interest non-profit sector demonstrate how to do its small share, at a time when courageous changes are expected from every major sector of the economy.

I recognize that most of the world’s greatest environmental writers focus on broad social transformation. In the spirit of this broader transformation, I say to them it is both fair-minded and strategic to quit the soft treatment of the aviation industry. I’ve said enough on this myself. I am ready to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree with me, so long as I don’t hear a deafening silence. Friends, speak up more about the aviation industry.

By Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons