Updates on Various Fronts

Climate strike protest, London, February 2019.

Exciting Initiatives in Academia and Beyond

The Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland is encouraging its academic personnel to decrease its flying and has devised a chart to help them do so. In response to the efforts of the three PhD students at the French-speaking university, the institution is asking researchers, faculty, and graduate students to commit themselves to reduced flying—renouncing, for example, all flights within Switzerland and taking ground transportation to all destinations within 450 kilometers of Neuchâtel—by publicly signing a document. As of May 29, 166 individuals had signed.

Students in Europe have launched a European Citizens’ Initiative to get the European Union to end the privileged status of air travel by imposing a tax on aviation kerosene or fuel. The hope is that, by making flying more expensive, the tax will lead to a reduction in air travel and spur greater investment in sustainable modes of transportation. The initiators of the petition ask that FlyingLess supporters from EU member-states consider signing. You can do so here.

In April, the Council of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) received a petition signed by 234 AAG members. The document called upon the AAG Council to take far-reaching action to reduce CO2 emissions related to the Annual Meeting—one which sees about 9,000 attendees from the United States and abroad, the vast majority of them flying to and from the host city and producing thousands of tons of CO2 emissions in the process. Responding favorably to the petition, the Council is now in the process of setting up a task force charged with redesigning the AAG meetings and reducing their associated emissions at a depth and scale suggested by climate science and bodies such as the International Panel on Climate Change. Given the size and influence of the AAG, this development could have impacts well beyond the organization.

On May 31, 2019, the Department of Geography, Planning & Environment at Concordia University in Montreal adopted a “Flying Less Policy” that grew out of the work of its Climate Emergency Committee.  The policy requires, among other things, that all faculty members in the department disclose their annual flying activity (the results of which have already been made public, collectively and anonymously, for 2018-2019). The policy also commits faculty to prioritizing travel-free meetings and video conferencing over physical travel and, when travel is needed, collective forms of ground transportation for destinations within 12 hours of Montreal. Moreover, it commits the Department to promoting a Flying Less policy at the University as a whole, and within Quebec and Canada as well (by encouraging external funders, for example, to work to decrease flying). In addition, the new policy requires that the Department encourage students to participate in activities that do not involve flying and provide financial support to make such participation possible.

Concrete initiatives and strategies to reduce air travel will be the focus of a flight-free conference in Barcelona from July 12-14. Organized by the Stay Grounded network—in conjunction with various civil society groups and the Institute for Ecological Sciences and Technology (ICTA) in Barcelona—the “Degrowth in Aviation” conference will bring together social movements, non-governmental organizations, and scientists. To register, go here.

In the Media

Efforts to reduce flying within the academy and far beyond are receiving heightened attention in the media. A May 22 article in The Guardian (“Could you give up flying? Meet the no-plane pioneers”), for instance, mentioned FlyingLess and linked to our website, leading to a huge spike in visits. Meanwhile, TRT World, an international news channel, recently broadcast a roundtable discussion addressing the question, “Can we stop flying?”  Among the four participants was Milena Büchs, as Associate Professor in Sustainability, Economics and Low-Carbon Transitions at the University of Southampton (and a Flyingless petition signatory ).

The coverage manifests the growing movement in Europe critical of flying and its impact. As POLITICO Europe reports, “If it were a country, aviation would be the sixth-largest carbon polluter in the world, eclipsing Germany.” The same article, whose title refers to a “popular revolt against flying,” asserts that “campaigns to reduce air travel emissions are gaining traction” in Europe.

This is especially evident in Sweden (see “#stayontheground: Swedes turn to trains amid climate ‘flight shame’”), where the number of domestic air passengers has dropped eight percent (8%) in recent months, after a three percent (3%) decrease the previous year, while train travel has increased by similar figures. In response, the Swedish government has stated that it would like to reintroduce overnight trains to cities throughout Europe. (Elsewhere on the continent, there are other favorable signs of the resurrection of night trains.)

In France, the national government is considering a proposed ban on flights within the country on routes traveled by train in less than five hours.  Regardless of what the government decides, it will push for an aviation fuel tax at the next meeting of the European Commission, according to France’s Environment Minister Francois Rugy.

Such developments have not gone unnoticed within the aviation industry. At the meeting in Seoul, South Korea of the International Air Transport Association in early June, airline executives expressed worry that anti-flying sentiment will “grow and spread” if they don’t win what one executive termed the “communications battle.” (See “‘Flight shame’: How climate guilt is the newest threat to airlines.”)

Recent academic articles

An article by researchers in the Department of Geography the University of British Columbia, one based on a sample of 705 academics at their home institution, found no relationship between the amount of professional air travel and academic productivity. They also found, using a smaller sample size, no significant difference in total air travel emissions between researchers they characterized as “Green” (those who study topics related to environmental sustainability) and “Not-green.” (See Seth Wynes, Simon D. Donner, Steuart Tannason, Noni Nabors, “Academic air travel has a limited influence on professional success,” Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 226, No. 20, 2019: 959-967.)

Another just-published article by a team of researchers at the University of Adelaide studied academic air travel—also among academics at their home institution. The authors were particularly interested between institutional pressures for academics to fly and their university’s formal commitment to sustainability. Drawing on a one-year qualitative study, they found that, while many academics are worried about climate change, only a small number are willing to fly less for fear of damaging their careers. The authors conclude that institutional and political shifts are needed to bring about individual changes in behavior on a large scale. (See Melissa Nursey-Bray, Robert Palmer, Bride Meyer-Mclean, Thomas Wanner, & Cris Birzer, “The Fear of Not Flying: Achieving Sustainable Academic Plane Travel in Higher Education Based on Insights from South Australia,” Sustainability, Vol. 11, No. 9, 2019: 2694.)