Is your flight really necessary?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

In last week's THE Joanna Kidman of the Victoria University of Wellington [ says that we need to talk about climate change.  The "we" being frequent flying academics like I used to be.  She begins:

I arrived in Toronto during last summer’s record-breaking heatwave. When humidity was taken into account, temperatures were spiking in the mid-40s, and the air felt like a hot, wet towel pressed against your face. Emergency cooling centres were operating at peak capacity and public swimming pools were offering free entry.  I was one of six thousand people gathering for the International Sociological Association’s quadrennial World Congress of Sociology – a major event for sociologists everywhere, and the second of three long-haul trips I took from New Zealand to northern hemisphere conferences in 2018. ...

Here are a few other quotes that caught my eye:
I’m ... bothered that I play a role in the destruction. As an academic with several large research projects on the go, I spend a lot of time in the air. If it saves a few hours of road travel or an overnight stay in a hotel, I’ll usually catch a plane. I don’t own a bicycle and I haven’t planted a tree in about 10 years. But I don’t like these eerie clusters of strange weather events and other indications that damage to ecosystems is taking place. And I am troubled by the irony of flying thousands of miles to speak about the fears of Māori youth for the future of Papatūānuku.

Over the years, I’ve been to many conferences where the “prestige economies” of academia – those engines of white privilege, oiled by male networking practices, male bonding and ethno-sociability – govern everything from the line-up of speakers to the election of Fellows. I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way, but I’ve also noticed the absences: the indigenous scholars, the academics of colour, the female early career researchers with small children, the part-time faculty on the minimum wage, the untenured workers living precariously between short-term contracts in the academic “gig economy”.

Making the 24-hour trip across the world to hear disciplinary experts present their research continues to be a rite of passage for many early career faculty in New Zealand, as well as a professional lifeline for others. Yet it is time that we asked ourselves more searching questions about whether it is always worth it. Is speaking for 10-15 minutes to a privileged and potentially predatory subset of your academic field really worth all the environmental destruction?

Kidman is a sociologist.  How much more pertinent these arguments are to environmental educators and environmental education researchers.

Her article was positive in parts.  For example:

Nevertheless, several academic societies and associations are directly addressing the problem. In April of last year, the Society for Cultural Anthropology held its biennial conference, Displacements, as both a virtual and in-person event, running simultaneously in 46 countries. Panels were live-streamed through the conference website over a 60-hour period and online participants could access the proceedings from their homes and offices – or else join local “nodes” where they could watch presentations collectively.

The benefits weren’t merely environmental. Registrations were more than six times higher than for the previous year’s physical-only conference. Moreover, this expanded reach drew new audienceswho do not usually attend international meetings. In fact, it was these participants who drove some of the more exciting debates and conversations that I saw online.

But this is how she ended:

I think there is a day of reckoning coming for those of us in academia who, through wilful neglect rather than deliberate planning, are gambling away our futures, one air ticket at a time. The deathly silence about our addiction to air travel needs to be broken as the Anthropocene era of human-driven climate change manifests itself all around us. It is high time.

It surely is ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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