Tufts University and Vassar College professors organize ‘Flying Less’ initiative
Group calls on universities to reduce their Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Amidst current climate emergencies, Parke Wilde at Tufts University in Massachusetts and Joseph Nevins at Vassar College in New York have created an online initiative, which “seeks to persuade academic communities to set goals and measure progress for reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” The two professors assert that this focus stems from aviation’s problematic role in academia, as air travel constitutes the bulk of total emissions for colleges and education organizations.
Wilde and Nevins say, “universities and research institutions have a high-profile public role, so our example sets the tone for larger economic sectors and more powerful political decision-makers. Academic communities should treat the crisis like a crisis.”
The initiative’s website includes resources such as: a guide for flying less, a list of growing networks of related initiatives, links to Low Carbon Conferences, and a Thoughtful Travel Petition for those who are looking to commit to using aviation alternatives. Wilde says that the travel petition – which has 1,069 supporters as of November 2021– is for “anyone who self-identifies as ‘academic,’ including faculty, students, and staff in a university or research institution.” He notes that the petition aims to be a starting point for academics as they begin setting goals and developing progress reports at their institutions. He notes that addressing these issues with transparency only “expands the momentum” of conversations and concrete results.
Along with these resources, Wilde and Nevins also provide alternatives to flying – one of the most prevalent being online conferencing. They say that these virtual gatherings may present disadvantages for emerging scholars, but online conferences improve accessibility for others such as scholars from lower-income backgrounds or those who have personal responsibilities that hinder physical travel. The two professors note that “on balance, our initiative supports a more just vision of academic life.”
Wilde and Nevins also provide suggestions for thoughtful air travel to conferences or for research purposes:
Encourage your professional association to support high-quality remote participation in conferences.
In the destination location for conferences, plan ahead to visit colleagues at local institutions to strengthen connections that otherwise might have required a separate trip.
In field research, avoid duplicate travel occasions by staying for a longer time on a single trip.
Recommend a graduate student or junior colleague to give a presentation in your place. Build your long-term place in the field by advancing the careers of people who trust in your mentorship.
Approach your institution about their goal setting and progress reporting for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Wilde said that when this project started in 2015, many of the conversations “used to be almost impossible.” However, now that climate change is receiving much more attention, the two professors are in a place of increasing expansion. Recently, Wilde and Nevins have partnered with European initiatives: Time to ExPlane and Greener Academia. If you are interested in discussing climate change issues with these global communities, the Flying Less organizers hold online social events via the Gather Town platform.
While conversations about climate change and emissions are more widely accepted, the professors stipulate that the work is not done yet. Wilde says for real changes “universities and professional associations need to measure aviation emissions in full, so more precise statistics will be available in the future.”
For questions about Flying Less or how to approach your institution, reach out to Dr. Parke Wilde and Dr. Joseph Nevins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
cover photo: Chris Montgomery