To Universities and Professional Associations
- We petition universities and institutions of higher education: (a) to include all university-related flying (whether directly paid by the university or by others) in their environmental impact measurement and goal-setting; (b) to support and work to realize marked reductions in flying by faculty, staff, and students commensurate with the cuts suggested by climate science; (c) to establish and publish short- and medium-term benchmarks for reductions; and (d) to use their influence with professional associations to reduce reliance on flying for academic and research conferencing.
- We petition academic professional associations: (a) to measure and report the environmental impact of their conferences; (b) to radically reduce the amount of flying needed for conferencing; (c) to establish and publish short- and medium-term benchmarks for reductions; and (d) to work with university-based members to meet key professional objectives in ways that do not require flying and that are sustainable.
How You Can Help
Please endorse this petition through change.org, share it through social media (Twitter: #flyingless and @flyingless), and bring it to the attention of your university and professional association. You can refer people to the URL www.flyingless.org. We welcome support by all.
For members of university faculties, research institutes, and professional associations: In addition to endorsing the petition on firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and affiliation (for identification purposes only), so that we may include you in the public List of Academic Signatories. Please also send information to that email address with news of efforts to elicit support and endorsement from universities and professional associations., please email us separately at
Academics Champion Far-reaching Reductions in Flying
19.10.2015 (from a group of universities in several countries)
Group of 56 scholars launches petition calling upon universities and academic professional associations to greatly reduce flying-related footprint as part of effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions
A group of 56 scholars from more than a dozen countries launched a petition today calling upon universities and academic professional organizations to greatly reduce their flying-related footprints as part of the effort to limit the destabilization of the climate system. The signatories represent a diverse set of academic disciplines—from psychology and medicine to sociology and philosophy—in addition to fields (e.g. environmental studies, geography, and earth science) normally associated with climate and other ecological concerns. One is also a former flight instructor and licensed commercial pilot, turned scholar of climate policy and ethics, who no longer flies for conferences and vacations.
Launched less than two months before the international climate negotiations open in Paris, the petition’s release comes on the heels of increased attention to climate change during the U.S. visit of Pope Francis in September. It also comes one week after a study published on October 12 in Nature Geoscience that foresees a doubling of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves by 2050, and a significant risk, if high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions continue, of their collapse by century’s end, a development with potential implications for rising sea levels.
Such signs, and the fact that emissions are cumulative, are why signatories and climate scholars Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin at the University of Manchester (U.K.) say that “radical and immediate emission reductions” are needed to avoid extremely dangerous levels of climate change. Professor John Wiseman, another signatory and Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne (Australia) highlights the important leadership role which institutions of higher education can take in reducing emissions from aviation. “Universities and academic professional associations often embrace sustainability,” he notes, “but they also tend to have very large carbon footprints—to a significant degree due to frequent flying by members of their academic communities.”
Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist and Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University (U.S.A.) as well as the former president of the American Academy of Religion (2014), contends that the changes demanded by the petition are matters of environmental justice. “They may seem trivial,” she says, but “they are cumulative, part of a world so clean and easy for people with wealth, so hard and dirty for the poor. It is a world in which the wealthiest have garnered the vast majority of wealth, burning the vast majority of carbon at the expense of the lives and the health of the poor.”
With moderate sacrifice, university-based faculty, administrators, and students can make large reductions in their total greenhouse gas emissions and, in the process, help bring about a more just and sustainable world. The petition makes some concrete suggestions on how to reduce flying as part of an effort to bring about a broad-ranging discussion within academic communities.
Background: Flying contributes significantly to global climate change. It is responsible for 2-3% of annual global CO2 emissions–about the same percentage that Germany and the city of Beijing, for example, contribute each year. Flying’s share of global emissions is growing steadily as the growth in total flying miles outstrips improvements in fuel and engine efficiency. Because flying releases various pollutants at high altitude, its detrimental impact is far greater than that caused by CO2 emissions alone. One round-trip flight from New York City to London or San Francisco incurs a warming effect equivalent of more than two metric tons of carbon emissions per economy passenger–about 20 percent of the total annual emissions of a typical person in Finland, and more than 100 percent of those generated by an average person in India.
Calling on universities and professional associations to greatly reduce flying
For several years now, some academic friends and I have been reflecting on frequent flying in university communities during a time of climate change. This is not about any particular colleague’s personal flying behaviour, but instead about collective action to improve the climate profile of our academic communities.
We finally have gotten organized for action and are releasing a new petition campaign to encourage universities and professional associations to greatly reduce flying.
We realize that we cannot ask academics to change their own behavior in isolation, because so much depends on the professional world we live in, including expectations to attend meetings and conferences. So, we deliberately address the petition to universities and professional associations at the same time.
In addition, supporters who are academics should email us email@example.com to have their name added to our public List of Academic Signatories. We have a great list of more than 50 initial supporters, from diverse disciplines, in countries all around the world.
Please share this widely in person, by email, and through your social networks. Follow the Twitter handle @flyingless and hashtag #flyingless or add your name to thechange.org petition for news and updates.
I have drafted an extensive Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. For example, the questions include:
- What is the global and U.S. environmental impact of flying?
- Is it sometimes important for academics to fly?
- Is my decision to fly irrelevant, because the plane would have flown anyway?
- Is it okay to fly if I purchase carbon offsets?
- Is reduced flying an individual-focused agenda that undermines more important policy change?
You may wonder why I tackle this topic in a blog about U.S. Food Policy. Questions of environmental sustainability arise all the time in food policy. A key dynamic in U.S. food policy is the deep suspicion and skepticism that many Americans working in agriculture and the food industry have toward university-based scientific experts who discuss environmental issues. In part, academics can address these issues just by stating the science clearly. Yet, we may enhance our moral authority to speak hard scientific truths about sustainable food production if we also apply the same fearless scrutiny to our own industry of higher education. That, in turn, requires us to speak frankly about flying.
The petition is modest and reasonable, not shrill. Please feel free to comment here.
Kevin Anderson blog on decisions of academics and climate community about personal travel
In a blog in June 2014, Professor Kevin Anderson writes about the need for people to consider their own behaviour in relation to flying. He is personally highly conscious of his own energy use. He looks in particular at academics and those in the climate change community, and their justification for the use of high carbon travel. These are some quotes: “Amongst academics, NGOs, green-business gurus and climate change policy makers, there is little collective sense of either the urgency of change needed or of our being complicit in the grim situation we now face.” And on the desire to fly to save time to spend with our families: “When we’re dead and buried our children will likely still be here dealing with the legacy of our inaction today; do we discount their futures at such a rate as to always favour those family activities that we can join in with?” And “Surely if humankind is to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by soaring emissions, we, as a community, should be a catalyst for change – behaving as if we believe in our own research, campaign objectives etc. – rather than simply acting as a bellwether of society’s complacency.”