Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

You are of course correct, but looking at the bigger picture i.e. the current momentum climate change (and related the world economy), I think that we have long missed the window of opportunity were lesser consumption of some priviledged individuals could have maybe made a difference.

I know that this sounds like a rationalisation to avoid changing ones life style (and it might in fact be subconsciously to some extend ;) ), but what most people fail to see is that climate change can not be seen seperatly from the overall issues in our society which caused it.
And as I don't see anything changing in that regard (at least not before things get much worse), we should rather brace for an hard impact and try to adapt and prepare as well as possible for what will come.

Sustainable sanitation can be part of that adaption, air travel to international conferences probably isn't ;)

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  • joeturner
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Just for illustrative purposes:

Elisabeth's return flight from Germany to Vietnam was a total of about 40 000 km. I have used a couple of online calculators, both suggest that this produced nearly 2 tonnes of CO2 for the round trip in tourist class and around 5 tonnes in business class.

My return flight from London to Zaragoza in Spain produced about 0.25 tonnes of CO2 (there was no business class option).

The emissions from Elisabeth's flights (in tourist class) is only a bit more than the emissions driving my car for a whole year.

My flight apparently emitted more than 10 times the amount from my annual heating and electricity bill and about 5 times more than if I had been able to do it by train.

OK, these are just numbers, but it shows that it doesn't take many or very long flights to make a substantial difference to one's total emissions.

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  • joeturner
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

JKMakowka wrote: Sad/funny fact: asset-e.soup.io/asset/9691/8398_ece4.jpeg

I think the problem is much deeper than individual flights, an reducing them is a bit like buying only organic food... yes not a bad thing to do and it gives you the moral high-ground, but ultimately it doesn't change a thing.
Besides... you flying less probably just means someone else flying more as prices go down (to some extend at least).


I think it is really disgusting that so many private jets are flying to Davos. And I don't accept that reducing flights is a) taking the moral high ground or b) making no difference.

To use a sanitation analogue, presumably a person might think that it makes no difference if they continue with Open Defecation when a village has been declared ODF. But we know that it is possible for one person's behaviour to adversely affect the rest of the community. Just declaring that one's own behaviour makes no difference cuts little ice (if you'll excuse my phrase).

And if reducing flights does not start with us, where is it going to start?

Maybe a pessimistic view, but I think our grandchildren will have other issues to worry about than complaining about their wasteful ancestors.


I think this might be true, but historical research is a bit of a hobby of mine. I think it is possible to look back at various historical periods and wonder why people were so slow to do anything about (for example) slavery. I don't think it is impossible to imagine our grandchildren thinking that we were wasteful in flying when we didn't need to.

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Sad/funny fact: asset-e.soup.io/asset/9691/8398_ece4.jpeg

I think the problem is much deeper than individual flights, an reducing them is a bit like buying only organic food... yes not a bad thing to do and it gives you the moral high-ground, but ultimately it doesn't change a thing.
Besides... you flying less probably just means someone else flying more as prices go down (to some extend at least).

Maybe a pessimistic view, but I think our grandchildren will have other issues to worry about than complaining about their wasteful ancestors.

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  • joeturner
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

I certainly thought that there was nothing that happened at the UN-water conference which couldn't have been discussed here on the SuSanA forum - but there were a number of topics I noticed which had not been (or at least I haven't noticed them).

In terms of a sanitation community, maybe the truth is that those of us who have been to events like these have a responsibility to not only ensure that the presentations are available but also that the issues are properly discussed with the wider SuSanA community.

For example, I now realise that there are some who maybe are not aware that the proposed post-2015 SDGs are talking about 'safe' rather than 'improved' sanitation. Without input from the SuSanA community, I'm not really sure how those who are drafting and involved in the SDG process can talk about (a) what actually is safe (b) the technologies needed to ensure safety and (c) how one would measure the spread of such technologies.

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Dear Kai,

Thanks for bringing this up, I struggle with the same issues and often feel very bad about my own air travel. I agree totally with what you and Joe have written.

One day our children and grandchildren will ask us "so what did you do against climate change and why did you fly around the world so much even though you knew that air travel is a contributor to your personal CO2 footprint?". Whilst air travel overall might not contribute the lion share to climate change, it is a major possible contributor to one's personal CO2 footprint; e.g. one long-distance flight per year can already double your personal CO2 emissions if I remember the figures correctly.

One thing that really irks me is how people in the sanitation sector not only fly but even fly business class. Most companies have a policy that if the flight time is longer than 6 or 8 hours then the employees are allowed to fly business class (a notable exception is Stockholm Environment Institute: I was told they all fly economy). Why is business class travel worse? Well as you get fewer business class seats on a plane it incrases your CO2 emissions by about 30% (if I remember correctly).

It also irks me that people often fly for just short 2-day meetings to far away places when a video conference could have done the same.

But I am saying this here like I am a saint, and in fact I have just come back from a trip to Hanoi where I visited the Faecal Sludge Management Conference. It's exactly this dilemma that Joe mentioned. Every now and again (like once a year) I do find it somehow important to reconnect with people face to face (and meet new people), as it does provide connections that video conferences cannot. (by the way, I met many people who said "I know you from the forum" or who said "I use the forum a lot, it is just great!").

At the same time I am wondering if I really learnt so much at this conference and if I couldn't have had almost the same learning effect by spending one very intense week reading and writing on the discussion forum and on twitter.

Which brings me to my last point: I think this forum can do A LOT to reduce air travel by giving people the opportunity to interact in almost the same way as if it was face to face. So I think with this forum we are doing our little bit to help reduce air travel to conferences.

The rise of webinars and online courses (like the MOOCs) is also wonderful, Adobe Connect and similar tools are getting better and better, and internet connectivity is also rising everywhere in the world which is great. I firmly believe this will slowly reduce the need for face to face meetings and conferences and ultimately lead to less flying.

As far as the FMS3 conference is concerned, I was pushing for filming of all presentations and am really pleased that this was done. The videos and presentation files will hopefully be available online very soon. Twitter is also good for quick real-time feedback from conferences (hashtag was #fsm3). Maybe it is enough in future if instead of a full-blown conference, a dozen or so people meet in a room and the rest of the people are connected via the internet.

The only thing that you cannot re-create very well over the internet are those famous "chats over a beer or two". So for that I don't have a solution.

Regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Freelance consultant on environmental and climate projects
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  • joeturner
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Ah, y'know Kai, I was also thinking of posting on this topic.

There are voices within my community (science journalists) who say that we should not fly anywhere at any time to anything. In particular if we cover stories on climate change.

This is a struggle for me, because if I don't fly to conferences, I don't have anything to write about.

Last week I flew about an hour to a UN-Water conference. I looked at the other road/rail options and it would have taken more than 25 hours and was about 3 times the cost. I could not justify this.

But it is also true that there is a big question about how much value there is at these conferences which justifies the climate cost of getting everyone there. One UN official told me off-the-record that the conference was an almost complete waste-of-time, that it was really only telling people what they already knew and that many of the people there were working in the same UN building.

Another science conference I attended in Copenhagen late last year was talking about whether it would be possible to have some kind of online conference rather than flying everyone in from all corners of the planet.

So to the question: have I changed practice? Well, put it this way, I could fly to a lot more things than I do, and I feel guilty every time I fly. I always try to find a way to travel by train or coach/bus. But - and this is not an excuse that I'm happy with - the perilous state of journalism means that I either need to chase stories or give up and find something else to do.

I would say that air travel is largely not justified. I am not really sure that these meetings are much more than times when people get to meet (and drink with) their friends. And I put myself into that bracket, I cannot justify my own behaviour given the limited benefits there are from my work.

On the other hand, conferences are one of the few times when I get to meet the people and hear the debates on different issues. It is possible, but much more difficult (and less efficient and probably less accurate) to get stories in any other way.

Ultimately, I suppose, if there was something else I could do which would pay the bills but not involve flying, I would do it. And I know there are other science journalist who travel much further afieldd more often than I do who also struggle with the morality of this point.

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  • KaiMikkel
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Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

A few years ago, following a decade of work as a airplane pilot (six of those with an US- based airline) I gave up flying both professionally and personally. I did so in large part because I could no longer resolve the consequences of my professional life with what I was doing in my personal life to reduce my ecological footprint (the latter of which I view as my duty as a global citizen). I have also tried to limit my indirect association with the aviation industry by distancing myself from the consumerist society that exists in the Global West/Global North and, whenever possible, by making use of ground shipments for ethically produced necessities that I cannot source locally. Having been personally responsible for burning well over two million pounds of aviation gasoline and jet fuel combined, I now realize that I have a lot to make up for.

How does this relate to this forum?

Well, its hard not to notice that many of the folks involved in the sustainable sanitation sector make use of air travel fairly regularly in the course of their work, be that attending conferences, making site visits and/or consulting in various parts of the world.

Contrast this against the fact that in the last couple of years some of the world's leading climate scientists and activists have announced that they are boycotting all airline travel, both in their professional lives and in their personal lives.

So, given aviation's inherent unsustainability, its disproportionate effects on the climate and the myriad other problems associated with the aviation industry and air travel, I am wondering the following:
  • Have any of you taken steps to reduce and/or eliminate air travel from your professional and/or personal lives?

  • How do folks balance the notion that we should each "be the change that we want to see" against the desire to travel to far flung places to promote sustainable sanitation?

  • Are there ways to conduct this meaningful work without engaging in air travel, and, if so, what are they?

  • As sanitation professionals and activists, what obligation do we have to our children (for parents), to future generations and to existing peoples to arrange our lives in such a way as to minimize the negative effect that we have on the planet and on its living beings?

  • Are sustainable sanitation professionals struggling with these issues and engaged in formal and informal debates with others in resolving the unsustainability of airline travel against the need that exists to promote sanitation, particularly sustainable sanitation?

  • Is it possible or impossible to justify air travel in the conduct of this work?
Thanks, in advance, to everyone who responds to my questions. :)
Kai Mikkel Førlie

Founding Member of Water-Wise Vermont (formerly Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge)
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