fredag 17 april 2020

Who gets to fly? (proposed book chapter)

The Carbon Law specifies that we repeatedly need to reduce carbon emissions 
by 50% every decade until 2050.

I got an invitation to contribute with a chapter to a book, "Academic flying and the means of communication". The (proposed) book is edited by two researchers at the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo.

The call was published earlier but apparently we don't move in the same circles, I got a personal invitation earlier this month but at the tail end of when prospective authors were supposed to submit abstracts.

This book is of course very interesting to the FLIGHT research project (previous blog post here). While a (non-peer reviewed) book chapter is less prestigious than a journal article, this book will bring together other authors whose papers we have read so it's the right company for us to be in. It's also possible to do (write about) things in a book chapter that would be harder in a journal article so we jumped on the chance of contributing to the book with a chapter.

This is however only one of several writing projects we are starting up and it just so happens that this particular project will be my personal baby (e.g. I will step up to be the first author, other research project members will step up and take responsibility for other papers we will write this year). Here is the call for book chapters:

CALL FOR PAPERS – Edited Volume

In recent decades, the institution of science has become ever more closely intertwined with the practice of air travel, to the point where many academics now think of flying – even of the intercontinental variety – as an essential aspect of their work life. Frequent flying has, in other words, become an ingrained part of what it means to be a successful academic.

Academics’ increasing reliance on air travel is quite striking if one considers that, in a period when academic aeromobility expanded greatly, science established beyond a doubt that human-made global warming is real and serious. It is even more striking if one remembers that, in this very same time span, alternatives to this “academic tourism” – like e-mail, social media, teleconferencing, MOOCs, etc. – became increasingly viable as means of academic communication. 

This planned edited volume shines a light on how and why academic practice today is so intertwined with air travel; how it came to be so; and what can be done to change this situation. Ultimately, it aims to challenge the prevalent conception of a successful academic career, where aeromobility is perceived as a need for professional enhancement. The simple – yet intractable – starting point of the book is that flying is only one means of academic communication among many, and that the state of the planet now obliges us to shift to other means. 

Among the questions we would like to see taken up are: 
• What characterizes academic aeromobility? 
• How did flying come to form such a key part of academic work life – and why is it            perceived as indispensable?
• What are the factors that drive academics to fly – and who benefits from this practice?
• What do scholars and scientists think about flying – and how do they talk about it in the everyday?
• What arguments can be presented for or against academic flying?
• How are conferences/workshops, etc. framed as part of the academic enterprise?

We now invite scholars and scientists from a variety of disciplines, including geography, sociology, history, communication, anthropology, and more, to submit 300-500 word abstracts of proposed book chapters

And here's our just-submitted abstract:

Who gets to fly?
Daniel Pargman, Markus Robèrt, Aksel Biørn-Hansen, Elina Eriksson and Jarmo Laaksolahti

To avoid the consequences of catastrophic climate change we need to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement (e.g. keeping global average temperature “well below 2°C” compared to pre-industrial levels, UNFCCC 2015). The Carbon Law (Rockström et al. 2017) specifies a CO2 emissions reduction trajectory that is compatible with the Paris Agreement. The Carbon Law specifies that we repeatedly need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% every decade until 2050 and the Exponential Roadmap (Falk et al. 2019) exemplifies in some detail how carbon emissions could be reduced by 50% in every sector (transport, industry, buildings etc.) between 2020 and 2030. By extension, emissions need to be reduced by 50% in every country, in every city, in every industry, in every organisation, in every household and in every practice - including in academic aeromobility. While there is a much denial (“flying is only 3% of global emissions”), techno-utopianism (electric airplanes, biofuels) and suggestions for inadequate behavior changes (pack light, travel with modern airplanes), it’s not possible to reach the necessary emission reductions without significantly decreasing flying.

At KTH Royal Institute of Technology, academic aeromobility constitutes 99% of CO2 emissions from business travel. To decrease carbon emissions from travel is basically equivalent to decreasing CO2 emissions from aeromobility. At the end of 2019, KTH’s President set the ambitious goal of reducing CO2 emissions from flying by 60% between 2020 and 2030 (equivalent to reductions of 9% per year). This obviously constitutes a major challenge and in order to decrease flying we first need to understand flying, e.g. who flies when, where and why? In a research project, “Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations”, we have developed visualization tools to understand, display and compare KTH emissions from flying between 2017-2019 (down to the level of each individual employee) and we are working with one department at each of the five Schools to help them achieve KTH’s emission reduction goals.

Visualizing data about flight and CO2 emissions, including inequalities both within and between departments, begs tough but necessary conversations: who gets to fly and who needs to reduce their flying? Living up to KTH’s goals will eventually necessitate conversations about what constitutes excellence and what constitutes a successful academic career in an age of escalating climate emergencies. We also need to ask questions about what characterizes prudence and responsibility for KTH employees a decade from now. 

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