Campaign for Academics to Fly Less

This fly less campaign initiative asks academics to sign-up and commit to reducing their air travel. That is not even asking them to stop flying, just fly less. Why academics? Because they are supposed to be intelligent enough to realise the consequences of their actions and are generally empowered enough to be able to do something about it. Many of the most active flyers are wealthy academics who often are not even paying for their own flights anyway. When we get to the environment there are too many hypocrites; too many who should be acting differently; those who claim they know better, but fail to act, whether in ecological economics, degrowth or the climate change scientific community. The inconvenience of public transport is just too much for busy planet savers who are too important to change their ways, while recommending social innovations for other less important mortals.

There are many good reasons to reduce, and even better stop, flying, besides preventing greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution. Flying is part of the aerospace industrial-military complex and you indirectly support it when flying. The whole security paranoia and militarisation of civil society is communicated directly via airports. You support multinational corporations of the worst extractive types both for fossil fuels and minerals. The airport as a piece of infrastructure has become a leading edge, high tech, consumer interface, designed to boost sales of ‘stuff’. If doing short-haul flights, you often waste as much time going to and from airports as you ‘save’ flying. The ‘time saving’ just results in faster and more hectic lives, or ‘time wasting’ elsewhere. People flying all over the place lose all conception of geographic space and connection to the planet they buzz around.

These are just a few random points. If you want more coherent environmental arguments checkout Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist who has been arguing against his own colleagues and their jet set lifestyle, as well as those of hypocritical environmentalists. See his online articles and debates: “Hypocrites in the air: should climate change academics lead by example?”; “Evangelising from 32 thousand feet: Why Brendan May is wrong in calling for more environmentalists to fly”; “Debate with environmental business advisor on flying, emissions & leading by example”; “Does Greenpeace’s sanctioning of short-haul flights mirror wider hypocrisy amongst the climate change community?”.

My personal experience within the ecological economics community shows the idea of flying less is not on the agenda at all. The Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE) invited me for a plenary talk a few years ago, but when I said I would not fly, but instead do a telecommunication version, all went silent; finally after repeated requests I was informed this was impossible and the INSEE President told me they often flew to Europe so what was the problem? An invited talk to an ESEE conference in Germany proved highly problematic because I was told their travel agent only knew how to book flights, and when I booked trains myself a refund was impossible because it was not done via the travel agent. The ISEE holds conferences in totally inaccessible locations for anything but flyers. For example, the Iceland conference was planned with no realistic options but to fly.  Simultaneously, that conference headlined the importance of respect for planetary boundaries, while a local sustainability professors sent out information about new cheap airline flights from London, and plenary speakers came from the USA to tell how ‘we’ are beyond safe global greenhouse gas emissions limits.

In Austria very few academics (11 in total) have joined the academic fly less campaign. In 2017 an important petition (PDF in German with signatories) against the proposed constitutional change in light of the judicial ban on the Vienna third runway was signed by 57 professors. However, of those professors only 2 had publicly committed to the fly less campaign (signatories to the fly less campaign PDF).  Many may be taking other actions, but the time is ripe for realising that the most harmful single action a person can undertake, in terms of greenhouse gas emission, is to fly on a commercial jet.  Environmentally aware academics should be leading the way in reducing and ultimately stopping flying, and making their commitment to do so public. Hopefully all 57 will do so once made aware of the campaign and realising the importance of making a public commitment to change their behaviour.

In general at present, professed environmental concern by academics, along with the claimed importance of reducing greenhouse gases and achieving the Paris Agreement targets, is not matched by flying less (e.g., as Kevin Anderson has exposed for climate scientists).  Academics continue to justify their personal need to fly regularly to conferences, workshops and meetings, as well as for non-work related activities.  Younger academics feel pressurised into flying while conference tourism in exotic locations is heavily promoted.  In addition, Universities discriminate against those academics who do not fly on the basis that this is the cheapest means of travel.

Academics wanting to show their supporting should sign-up to the petition on change.org. In addition, they should email the organisers separately at academicflyingpetition@gmail.com with their name and affiliation in order to be include in a public list of academic supporters