On this blog, we have examined the question whether green folks & philosophers should refrain from flying to conferences (see for example here).
Some time ago, Ian Christie (University of Surrey) responded to our request and sent in some personal thoughts on the topic:
This is a tough issue for environmentally aware and responsible scholars. I made the commitment to give up flights for holidays back in 1999, and have not gone back on it. For work, I made the same decision in 2000 on the way back to London from a two-day trip to a conference in New York – I was dismayed to reflect on the ratio of GHG emissions to achievements for the event. I had to take a last-minute flight – to Berlin – in 2004; other than that, I’ve kept to the commitment.
The problems it poses are large. For one thing, my holiday travels are more expensive and more restricted, as I use trains and ships and stay within Europe. For another, my academic career is constrained quite considerably. And finally, the commitment – as part of an effort to ‘walk the talk ‘ and reduce my eco-footprint – receives little or no social approval and encouragement. I also see almost no peer support even from environmentalists: I know hardly any who have given up flying for work, though I do come across some who have stopped all holiday flights.
I would break my personal pledge for two reasons: first, to visit a friend or relative in need ; and second, to do some work in a distant place that I felt was so valuable as to justify the flight, which I would also offset. But I don’t see that my giving a conference paper in person is work of such value as to justify a flight. Maybe giving policy advice to a committed government or business or community would be.
At all events, I think any academic committed to sustainable development must make some personal stand that demonstrates the possibility of living more lightly and responsibly on the Earth. And since flights have a large impact, they must come into question unless they can be argued to be a small price to pay for a greater good.