Flying comes at a huge environmental cost, and yet many researchers view it as crucial to their success. Using the University of British Columbia as a case study, we investigated whether the faculty at our institution who flew the most were also the most successful. We found that beyond a small threshold there was no relationship between scholarly output and how much an individual academic flies.Professors go to conferences because they enjoy interacting with their peers. Nothing wrong with that; the reason we have built this fabulous technological economy is so we can do things we enjoy. But like many other cranky moralists I am skeptical of big name academics who spend half their time jetting around the world to conferences where they can stay in nice hotels and chat with other big name academics. Those people are not doing more or more interesting work than people who stay home and think. In fact in many fields people do their best work when they are young and don't have the time or money to fly around much.
And here's another reason why so many people don't take climate science seriously:
We certainly did find evidence that researchers fly more than is likely necessary. In the portion of our sample composed of only fulltime faculty, we categorized 10% of trips as “easily avoidable”. These were trips like going to your destination and flying back in the same day or flying a short distance trip that could have been replaced by ground travel. Interestingly, green academics (those studying subjects like climate change or sustainability) not only had the same level of emissions from air travel as their peers, but they were indistinguishable in the category of “easily avoidable” trips as well.It's hard to believe we are really in a climate crisis when the people promoting the crisis viewpoint don't act like they believe it, either.
Air travel emissions is a weird issue, because you can measure in so many different ways.
Per mile traveled, air is far better than ground, in terms of raw BTU output.
But per passenger-hour traveled, air is far worse, in terms of total climate impact. But then again, that actually makes perfect sense - you're using more fuel per hour, but traveling far fewer hours. If, for example, air travel is 6 times worse per hour, but you spend 1/6th the amount of time in the air, then that equals out.
Air travel also is dwarfed by ground travel overall - whatever efficiency problems it might have, it still takes place on a far smaller scale. There are about 100,000 daily global flights, but there are over 1,000,000,000 cars on the roads globally.
That's a factor of 10,000 difference, and aircraft aren't anywhere near 10,000 times less efficient that cars. Air travel only accounts for 8% of the energy we spend on transit, as opposed to 59% for light vehicles, and another 22% for medium and heavy trucks. Air travel is literally 1/10th as big a problem as the other two.
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