Guest rebuttal by David Middleton
Q. Why did climate scientists emit 30,000 tonnes of CO2 this weekend?
A. To get to New Orleans to attend the AGU’s Fall Meeting.
From the No-fly-climate-science Guy…
This weekend, 25,000 Earth, Sun, and planetary scientists from across the US and abroad flew to New Orleans for the annual American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. These scientists study the impact global warming is having on Earth. Unfortunately, their air travel to and from the meeting will contribute to that warming by emitting around 30,000 tonnes of CO2.
As an Earth scientist and AGU member myself, I know the importance of their work. Still, there’s something wrong with this picture. As scientists, our work informs us – with dreadful clarity and urgency – that burning fossil fuel is destroying the life support systems on our planet. There’s already more than enough science to know we need to stop. Yet most scientists burn more than the average American, simply because they fly more.
Few people know how harmful it is to fly in planes, including scientists. In 2010, I sat down and estimated my climate emissions. It turns out that, hour for hour, there’s no better way to warm the planet than to fly. I’d flown 50,000 miles during the year, mostly to scientific meetings. Those flights accounted for 3/4 of my annual emissions. Over the next two years, I gradually decreased my flying.
Eventually, there came a day when I was on the runway about to take off and felt an overwhelming desire not to be on the plane. I saw too clearly the harm it was doing to the world’s children, to all the beings on our planet. I haven’t flown since 2012, nor have I wanted to.
In becoming scientists, we didn’t sign up to burn less fossil fuel or to be activists. But in the case of Earth science, we have front row seats to an unfolding catastrophe. Because of this, the public takes our temperature: if the experts don’t seem worried, how bad can it be?
I’m not alone. Over 400 academics have signed a petition at flyingless.org, and a few Earth scientists have joined me in telling their stories at noflyclimatesci.org.
Like academics, climate activists also tend to fly a lot.
Burning fossil fuel causes real harm, and will become socially unacceptable sooner or later.
Peter Kalmus is an atmospheric scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but is writing in a personal capacity. He is the author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution
Do scientists fly more than the “average American”? I haven’t see any evidence that scientists fly more frequently than other business professionals.
U.S. Business TravelAmericans make more than 405 million long-distance business trips per year, accounting for 16% of all long-distance travel (see Box A), according to a preliminary analysis of the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). Conducted from 2001 to 2002, the NHTS asked 60,000 people in 26,000 U.S. households about all trips they took in a given travel period and looked at the characteristics of those travelers and trips. This report examines early NHTS findings on domestic business trips to destinations at least 50 miles from home.
Contrary to the stereotypical image of the business traveler heading off to catch a cross-country flight, the majority of long-distance business trips in the United States are taken to destinations within 250 miles of home and are by automobile. Nearly three-fourths (74%) are less than 250 miles from the point of departure and most of those are within 100 miles. Trips of over 1,000 miles account for only about 7% of all business trips. (See Figure 1).
Still, at 123 miles, the median one-way distance for business trips is greater than that for trips with other purposes. By comparison, the median distance for pleasure travel is 114 miles and for personal or family business trips the median distance is 103 miles. Long-distance commuting trips have a median distance of 69 miles.
The personal vehicle is the dominant travel mode for business travel, comprising 81% of all trips. Air travel accounts for about 16% of all business trips. The use of the two primary modes shifts, however, as trip distance gets longer. Almost all shorter trips are by personal vehicle—97% of 50 to 99 mile trips and nearly 94% of 100 to 249 mile trips. In the 250- to 499-mile range, the personal vehicle’s share of trips declines to 67%, while the airplane accounts for 31% of the trips.
Only after the 500-mile mark does the car give way to the airplane as the dominant mode of business travel. For trips 500 to 749 miles in length, air captures 64%, compared to 33% by personal vehicle. Of business trips between 750 and 1,500 miles, air captures almost 85%, and of trips more than 1,500 miles in distance, a full 90% are made by air. Accordingly, this yields a median trip distance for business travel by car of 102 miles, but one of 816 miles for business travel by air.
WHERE ARE THEY TRAVELING?
Because the majority of business trips are less than 250 miles in length, it is not surprising that 84% of business trips (341 million business trips) do not cross census region boundaries1 (Figure 2).
The origins and destinations of the 64 million inter-regional trips are not evenly distributed. The West attracts 7.4 million more inbound business trips than it sends to other regions. The South, on the other hand, has 7.7 million fewer inbound business trips than outbound. There is no statistically detectable difference between the inbound and outbound flows2 in the Northeast and Midwest. The South is the largest destination for outbound business trips from each region. Also, the South is the largest generator of inbound business trips to each of the other regions.
The typical business traveler is likely to be male; work in a professional, managerial, or technical position; be 30 to 49 years old; and have an income well above the population average.
Men account for more than three-fourths (77%) of business trips. This compares to nonbusiness travel where men take 54% of the trips and women 46%.
Those who consider their occupation to be professional, managerial, or technical account for over half (53%) of all business trips. This occupational category represents only about 40% of the general population. Sales or service workers account for the next largest share of business trips, 28%. On the other hand, clerical/administrative workers account for less than 4% of business trips even though they represent almost 12% of the population.
About 55% of all business trips are made by individuals aged 30 to 49. Those in their thirties take 28% of the trips while comprising 16% of the population. Those in their forties take 27% of the trips while comprising 15% of the population. The percentage of trips represented by those in their fifties drops markedly, with only 18% of business trips represented by this age group. Overall, this age group accounts for about 11% of the population. The youngest and oldest groups of adult business travelers, 18 to 29 and 60+ years old, represent about 16% and 10% of business trips, respectively.
Business trips are generally made by those with household incomes that exceed the national average, which is about $47,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although 12% of households have annual incomes of $100,000 or more, the NHTS survey found that this income group accounts for over one-fourth (27%) of business trips. Another 18% of trips are made by those with household incomes between $75,000 and $99,000. There are relatively few low-income business travelers. Although 21% of households have incomes of $25,000 or less, only 6% of the business trips are made by that income group.
I suppose academic and government scientists might take more long flights to conferences, while most business flights are relatively short-distance.
I tend to fly a lot, between Dallas and Houston… So do a lot of other people. It’s probably Southwest Airlines’ most “popular” route. While I don’t personally know every geoscientist who flies this route, I rarely see any that I know on the same flight with me. Most of the business travelers are wearing suits or at least jackets and ties… making it unlikely that they are geologists or geophysicists. My SWAG is that most of them are sales people, lawyers, bankers and other finance people.
My other option is to drive my Jeep between Dallas and Houston; which I do more often than I fly. I’m going to take another SWAG and say that my Jeep has a bigger carbon footprint than my seat on a SWA Boeing 737.
According to the ICAO calculator, each of my SWA round trips puts 260 lbs of CO2 in the atmosphere. The EPA says that burning gasoline emits 8,887 grams CO2/ gallon, about 20 lbs./gallon. It’s about a 500 mile round trip and my Jeep gets about 18 miles per gallon. I burn about 28 gallons of gasoline on each round trip. This works out to 556 lbs. CO2. So, if I cared about reducing my carbon footprint, I would fly rather than drive.
As scientists, our work informs us – with dreadful clarity and urgency – that burning fossil fuel is destroying the life support systems on our planet.
–Dr. Peter Kalmus
Dr. Kalmus is a physicist who “uses satellite data, in situ data, and models to study the rapidly changing Earth, with a focus on boundary layer clouds.” So, I guess he could come to the bizarre conclusion “that burning fossil fuel is destroying the life support systems on our planet.”
I recently ran across a survey of scientists (ca 2006) with real jobs and it tells a different story.
AAPG does recognize that pollution from fossil fuels is harmful to the environment. We also acknowledge that high levels of atmospheric CO2 could impact global temperatures. As such, we continue to advocate and support voluntary actions that stimulate the use of clean energy technologies and reduction of fossil fuel emissions.
It must be noted, however, that the world is dependent on fossil fuels to meet its growing energy demand, and will remain so for many decades. We recognize that we are thus conflicted in how we are perceived in this debate. That perception of conflict does not mitigate, however, the very compelling reality that it is unreasonable to ask society to give up its economic prosperity to mitigate increased levels of CO2.
The climate debate is far from over and must be discussed and further debated. AAPG calls on both sides of the issue of anthropogenic global warming to conduct this debate in a more professional manner than has been done so in the past. As a result of the politicization of AGW, data manipulation, alarmism, indoctrination, exaggeration, name-calling, and extortion, have all entered into; and influenced the tone of the debate. These have no place in science, and the professional community must stand together to condemn these unprofessional and unethical behaviors.
Bob Shoup, AAPG Climate Committee
While “pollution from fossil fuels is [somewhat] harmful to the environment,” the benefits fossil fuels have provided to human well-being far outweigh any negative effects from the pollution.
I applaud Dr. Kalmus for having the courage to “walk the walk.” However, he and his 400 fellow No-fly-climate-science Guys & Gals, would be better off flying to important conferences and meetings. If Dr. Kalmus’ work at JPL and the AGU Fall Meeting are integral to saving the planet from Gorebal Warming, he shouldn’t be wasting time by taking the train instead of flying.
Speaking of saving the planet (warning: lots of F-bombs)…
I just can’t get enough of this George Carlin sketch!