Press Release for public launch of petition–October 19, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Canada: Alejandro Frid (University of Victoria), (1)(604)358-2031; Sweden: David Jansson (Uppsala University), (46) 73 084 1967; United Kingdom: Rupert Read (East Anglia University), (44)(1603) 592079;
United States: Parke Wilde (Tufts University), (1)(339)368-2975/ parke.wilde@tufts.edu; Tim Waring (University of Maine), (1)(207) 581-3157.

October 19, 2015

Academics Champion Far-reaching Reductions in Flying
Group of 56 scholars launches petition calling upon universities and academic professional associations to greatly reduce flying-related footprint as part of effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions

A group of 56 scholars from more than a dozen countries launched a petition today calling upon universities and academic professional organizations to greatly reduce their flying-related footprints as part of the effort to limit the destabilization of the climate system. The signatories represent a diverse set of academic disciplines—from psychology and medicine to sociology and philosophy—in addition to fields (e.g. environmental studies, geography, and earth science) normally associated with climate and other ecological concerns. One is also a former flight instructor and licensed commercial pilot, turned scholar of climate policy and ethics, who no longer flies for conferences and vacations.

Launched less than two months before the international climate negotiations open in Paris, the petition’s release comes on the heels of increased attention to climate change during the U.S. visit of Pope Francis in September. It also comes one week after a study published on October 12 in Nature Geoscience that foresees a doubling of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves by 2050, and a significant risk, if high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions continue, of their collapse by century’s end, a development with potential implications for rising sea levels.

Such signs, and the fact that emissions are cumulative, are why signatories and climate scholars Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin at the University of Manchester (U.K.) say that “radical and immediate emission reductions” are needed to avoid extremely dangerous levels of climate change. Professor John Wiseman, another signatory and Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne (Australia) highlights the important leadership role which institutions of higher education can take in reducing emissions from aviation. “Universities and academic professional associations often embrace sustainability,” he notes, “but they also tend to have very large carbon footprints—to a significant degree due to frequent flying by members of their academic communities.”

Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist and Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University (U.S.A.) as well as the former president of the American Academy of Religion (2014), contends that the changes demanded by the petition are matters of environmental justice. “They may seem trivial,” she says, but “they are cumulative, part of a world so clean and easy for people with wealth, so hard and dirty for the poor. It is a world in which the wealthiest have garnered the vast majority of wealth, burning the vast majority of carbon at the expense of the lives and the health of the poor.”

With moderate sacrifice, university-based faculty, administrators, and students can make large reductions in their total greenhouse gas emissions and, in the process, help bring about a more just and sustainable world. The petition makes some concrete suggestions on how to reduce flying as part of an effort to bring about a broad-ranging discussion within academic communities.

Background: Flying contributes significantly to global climate change. It is responsible for 2-3% of annual global CO2 emissions–about the same percentage that Germany and the city of Beijing, for example, contribute each year. Flying’s share of global emissions is growing steadily as the growth in total flying miles outstrips improvements in fuel and engine efficiency. Because flying releases various pollutants at high altitude, its detrimental impact is far greater than that caused by CO2 emissions alone. One round-trip flight from New York City to London or San Francisco incurs a warming effect equivalent of more than two metric tons of carbon emissions per economy passenger–about 20 percent of the total annual emissions of a typical person in Finland, and more than 100 percent of those generated by an average person in India.

For more information, please visit http://www.flyingless.org, or write us at academicflyingpetition@gmail.com.

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The Petition Text

To Universities and Professional Associations

[Link to Background, Frequently Asked Questions, List of Academic Signatories, and change.org page.]

  1. We petition universities and institutions of higher education: (a) to include all university-related flying (whether directly paid by the university or by others) in their environmental impact measurement and goal-setting; (b) to support and work to realize marked reductions in flying by faculty, staff, and students commensurate with the cuts suggested by climate science; (c) to establish and publish short- and medium-term benchmarks for reductions; and (d) to use their influence with professional associations to reduce reliance on flying for academic and research conferencing.
  2. We petition academic professional associations: (a) to measure and report the environmental impact of their conferences; (b) to radically reduce the amount of flying needed for conferencing; (c) to establish and publish short- and medium-term benchmarks for reductions; and (d) to work with university-based members to meet key professional objectives in ways that do not require flying and that are sustainable.

How You Can Help

Please endorse this petition through change.org, share it through social media (Twitter: #flyingless and @flyingless), and bring it to the attention of your university and professional association. You can refer people to the URL www.flyingless.org. We welcome support by all.

For members of university faculties, research institutes, and professional associations: In addition to endorsing the petition on change.org, please email us separately at academicflyingpetition@gmail.com with your name and affiliation (for identification purposes only), so that we may include you in the public List of Academic Signatories. Please also send information to that email address with news of efforts to elicit support and endorsement from universities and professional associations.

Background

Flying contributes significantly to global climate change. It is responsible for 2-3% of annual global CO2 emissions–roughly the same percentage that both Germany and Beijing, for example, contribute each year. Meanwhile, flying’s share of global emissions is increasing steadily as the growth in total flying miles outstrips improvements in fuel and engine efficiency. In the United States, aviation is responsible for at least 8% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions — the largest source after automobiles. Because flying releases a variety of pollutants at high altitude, its detrimental impact is greater than that caused by CO2 emissions alone. One round-trip flight from New York City to London or San Francisco incurs a warming effect equivalent of more than two metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per economy class passenger. This is an amount greater than 20 percent of the total annual emissions of a typical person in Finland, and larger than 100 percent of those generated by an average person in India.

Climate science posits a need to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 90 percent (in relation to 1990 levels) by 2050 in order to limit temperature change to 2°C. Emissions are cumulative, so reductions cannot be delayed.

Universities and academic professional associations should be leaders on this issue. Flying is an elite activity. The vast majority of the world’s population has never flown. Academics–particularly those from the world’s most prosperous countries–fly more frequently than most people do. University communities typically embrace sustainable practices in other areas of daily life. It would be inconsistent to ignore sustainability just in the case of flying.

University-based faculty, staff, and students can make large reductions in their total greenhouse gas emissions with moderate sacrifice in terms of institutional goals, professional advancement, and quality of life. However, they require mechanisms that are institutionally sensitive to differences in status, power, and position, as well as the right structural supports. It is easier for university-based academics to reduce flying, for example, if their professional associations improve the design and scheduling of their scholarly meetings. Among other measures, academic meetings and conferences can employ technologies that allow remote participation and choose locations that allow easy access by train, bus, and car-pool. Regional conferences can be more frequent, and national and international conferences can be less frequent.

This petition is about much more than personal environmental choices. It is about coordinated large-scale institutional changes for global impact. For university communities and professional associations, reduced flying offers direct and indirect benefits for the environment. The direct benefits come from shrinking greenhouse gas emissions. The indirect benefits come from modeling in one social sector the type of change that is essential for all sectors, avoiding hypocrisy, and thus enhancing the moral voice and practical effectiveness of environmental research and policy advocacy by academic professionals.

See the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for more information.