There is a neat article (or “peer-reviewed letter”) in this months Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment about the carbon contribution of conservation ecologists’ airplane flights. Their point is that we fly too much and are clearly part of the problem. They also point out the obvious hypocrisy.
The unease about frequent flying should be particularly acute for the community of ecologists and conservation scientists – a group of professionals who commonly speak out against emissions, yet by virtue of their own behavior have individual carbon footprints that probably exceed the per capita footprints of most Americans.
We thirteen conservation scientists span a wide range of jobs (academic institutions and non-governmental organizations) and career stages (junior to senior scientists), and – although not a random sample – we are fairly representative of those in the conservation field. The results give pause: the emissions from our flights account for an astonishing two-thirds of our average carbon footprint. Thus, in spite of considerably lower-carbon lifestyle choices (eg diet, purchasing/driving a hybrid car, home energy conservation) that made our non-flying carbon footprint 16% smaller than the average American’s, our total emissions are double that of the American average and more than ten times the global average (Figure 1; WebPanel 1). The mismatch between individual behavior and conservation platitudes has already been noted (eg Bearzi 2009) and is a source of considerable embarrassment for the conservation community (Dowie 2008).
You too can calulate your carbon footprint: using this carbon footprint calculator (which is the one Fox et al used) or several others which can be found online. BTW, anybody know about the accuracy of these things, which one is “best”, etc.?
I have my Marine Ecology class do this every year when I give a general lecture about climate change. Last time I did mine, I was curious how much I’d reduce my footprint if I downsized from a Hummer to a Prius (I don’t drive either-I have a Rav4 and ride my bike to work a lot); remarkably the savings barely equaled my annual carbon contribution from flying for work and I typically only fly ~20,000 per year! Pretty amazing. Also interesting is the importance of how MUCH you drive, which again, can wash out the benefits of driving a small car (if you drive a lot). I have been trying to fly less. I rarely go to conferences and only give one invited lecture a year. But those decisions are partially because I prefer to save my travel time for field work. It is a tough balance-just enough miles to achieve AA gold status but not so much that I melt the earth!
Helen E Fox, Peter Kareiva, Brian Silliman, Jessica Hitt, David A Lytle, Benjamin S Halpern, Christine V Hawkes, Joshua Lawler, Maile Neel, Julian D Olden, Martin A Schlaepfer, Katherine Smith, Heather Tallis (2009) Why do we fly? Ecologists’ sins of emission. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: Vol. 7, No. 6, pp. 294-296.
Bearzi G. 2009. When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish. Conserv Biol 23: 1–2.
Dowie M. 2008. The wrong path to conservation. The Nation. Sep 10. www.thenation.com/doc/20080929/dowie