The FlyingLess End-of the-year Update for 2019! (Part 1)

Climate change activists protest proposed expansion of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, December 14, 2019.

Growing numbers of people in Europe continue to choose trains over planes. Virgin Trains recently revealed that, through the first six months of 2019, 35 percent of travelers percent between London and Edinburgh and Glasgow opted for the train, constituting six growth over the previous year. This reflects a broader decline in flying in the United Kingdom, one partially explained by taxes on flights and improved train service, where domestic flights fell 10 percent in the 2007-2017 period.

In Germany, the number of people flying between the country’s cities fell 12 percent in November in comparison to one year earlier. November also marked the fourth consecutive monthly decline. Meanwhile, in the United States, which lacks the type of anti-flying advocacy one sees in many countries in Europe, Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, had the highest number of riders in its history in fiscal year 2019.

These figures are significant for climate change-related reasons, but also for matters of public health. A just-released study, conducted by University of Washington researchers over one year (2018-19), found that communities underneath and downwind of jets landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (the eight-busiest airport in the United States) are exposed to a type of ultrafine particle pollution uniquely associated with aircraft. Ultrafine particles are more likely to be inhaled and absorbed by the body than larger ones. Those associated with airplanes are so small that the can penetrate the central nervous system. According to the university’s summary of the findings, previous studies “have linked exposure to ultrafine particles to breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer and a variety of lung conditions.”

Goings-on within academia and beyond

Scientists 4 FutureInspired by the “ClimateWednesday” self-commitment to reduce flying among academics in Germany (see our previous update), a broader regional initiative has emerged. #Unter1000 (Under 1,000)  includes those employed in scientific institutions in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Signatories promise not to fly for professional purposes if the distance is under one thousand kilometers (610 miles). More than 2,100 individuals have signed thus far.

Image result for university of baselIn a similar vein, about one year ago, students at the University of Basel advanced a proposal in the Swiss university’s student senate that would require that students take the train for any university-organized trips under 1,000 kilometers. (Within this distance are destinations such as Brussels and London.)  The university’s sustainability office has now included the reduction of flight-related greenhouse gas emissions as part of its “goals and actions” for 2019-2021.

Retro computer graphics and sunsetThe “Beyond Oil” conference that took place in Bergen, Norway in mid-October and, as reported in our last update, involved a “conference train” from Oslo to Bergen (a seven-hour journey) was quite successful. In comparison to its 2017 gathering which involved 80 attendees, this year’s in-person/virtual hybrid conference had 130 participants. Despite a more than sixty percent increase in participation, the CO2 footprint of the 2019 gathering was half that of 2017’s. The conference organizers have put together a helpful (and inspiring) document on “lessons learned” from this year’s conference.

Image result for society for neuroscienceIn November, a petition was submitted to the Council of the Society for Neuroscience. With almost 1200 signatories, the petition calls upon SfN to take various steps to “act on the climate crisis.” These include: providing and publicizing a careful accounting of all annual conference-related emissions (one that incorporates the tens of thousands of flights associated with the gathering); developing a plan to reduce the emissions “substantially” year-by-year by (among other measures) making the conference biannual, adopting a “hub-and-spokes” model that links meeting sites around the world to a much-reduced-in-size central meeting site; and considering matters of climate justice when making organizational decisions. In response, the SfN is now reportedly exploring multiple pathways for realizing reductions in the meeting’s carbon footprint, beginning with next year’s gathering in Chicago. With more than 37,000 members in scores of countries, the Washington, DC-baseed SfN describes itself as “the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and the nervous system.”

File:Uni Exeter.svgAt the University of Exeter (United Kingdom), a working group put together by the vice-chancellor in response to the university’s declaration of an environment and climate emergency in May 2019, has released a “white paper” about what that emergency should mean for the institution’s operations. The working group recommends that the university achieve a 75 percent reduction in direct carbon emissions by 2030 (and 100 percent by 2040). It also recommends a 50 percent decline in indirect (or “scope 3”) emissions (which make up more than 84 percent of Exeter’s total emissions) by 2030, with a 100 percent goal by 2050; this includes a 50 percent reduction in “long haul travel” emissions by 2025. (Travel-related emissions make up 21 percent of the university’s total emissions.) Achieving these highly ambitious goals, the authors of the detailed document write, requires “fundamentally changing individual and collective attitudes and behaviours.”

On October 29, 2019, Stay Grounded held its second webinar. Titled “’System’ Change and/or ‘Behaviour’ Change?,” the webinar featured presentations by Vivian Frick, an environmental psychologist at the Technische Universität Berlin; Lars Kjerulf Petersen, an environmental sociologist at Denmark’s Aarhus University; and Michaela Leitner, a  sociologist and campaigner with Stay Grounded. Together, the presenters offer valuable insights on what drives human behavior in relation to flying and regarding how to bridge the gap between growing awareness of climate breakdown and persistent flying practices. A global network, Stay Grounded has posted an excellent summary of the webinar, a video of which—including the discussion that followed the presentations—is below.


Because so much has been transpiring on the FlyingLess front, there is a lot to cover. We have thus decided to break up this update into two parts—to prevent it from becoming overly long. We will post Part 2 next week. It will include additional “items” under “Goings-on within academia and beyond” and summaries of “Recent academic articles, working papers, and essays.”

A #flyingless social event Dec 30

Please join us for the second annual #flyingless New Years Eve Eve party online Dec 30 at 3pm eastern USA time (8pm UK time, 9pm Western Europe). It was fun last year, and we are expanding this year.

We will have short speeches and toasts on themes of effective work and joyful living without flying. For the many people around he world taking a #FlightFree2020 pledge, this event may serve as a conversation starter in advance of New Years Eve parties the following night.

See below for technical details about how to participate.

Many of the participants come from our vibrant international Twitter community:

  • Myself, Parke Wilde, at Tufts (@flyingless) and Joe Nevins at Vassar College (@jonevins1), the co-organizers for the university #flyingless petition initiative. The Boston party may also have greetings from Shoshana Blank in the Tufts Office of Sustainability (@GreenTufts) and Janie Katz-Christy of Green Streets. Email us ( for location details if you would like to attend in person in Boston.
  • #FlightFree2020 organizers around the world including Maja Rosén in Sweden (@flygfritt), Ariella Granett in the United States (@FlightFreeUSA), and Anna Hughes in the UK (@FlightFree2020).
  • Kimberly Nicholas (@KA_Nicholas). Lund University. Sweden.
  • Peter Kalmus (@ClimateHuman). California. Organizer of the inspiring No Fly Climate Sci site and author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.
  • Genevieve Guenther (@DoctorVive). Leader of End Climate Science. New York City.
  • Aarne Granlund (@AarneGranlund). Climate mitigation professional. Finland.
  • Kim Cobb (@coralsncaves), a climate scientist and environmental leader, and Blair MacIntyre (@blairmacintyre), an innovator in virtual reality social connections with Mozilla Hubs. Georgia Tech. Atlanta.
  • Larry Edwards (@RadReduction). Sitka, Alaska. A contributor to Stay Grounded.
  • Roger Tyers (@RogerTyersUK), who took a train from the UK to China this year.
  • Joshua Spodek (@spodek), who discusses flying less in a TedX talk.

After initial toasts from these folks, we will open the event up for additional participants if feasible (it partly depends on the number of participants). WebEx also has a chat window for additional conversation.

If you would like a food element to connect across the sites, consider this vegan cookie recipe from the wonderful cookbook author and #flyingless supporter Linda Watson (@cookforgood).

To make it a party, consider inviting some friends to this event and choosing a location that has some local visual meaning or “sense of place.” For example, our Boston event will have window views of the Boston skyline and harbor in the late afternoon.

In addition to being a party, this event is practice for enhancing the social components of our ongoing initiative to develop linked simultaneous multi-site conferences. Please send comments and feedback afterwards.

We hope you enjoy this experiment in long-distance socializing! Sometimes I think that academics would be quite willing to give up most of their flying, if only we were assured of still being able to have a drink with our friends. In a time of climate grief, perhaps we should give this lots and lots of practice.

Technical details: Connect using this WebEx link. There are multiple audio options. Please mute when not speaking, and (to avoid feedback) never have more than one mic open in the same room. The webinar will be recorded, so we can make a video for sharing with people who cannot attend. You can use the WebEx chat window for troubleshooting as well as socializing. The most common difficulty is connecting WebEx with your computer’s mic and audio. There will be a WebEx practice session 2 hours before the main event.