I do not fly anymore

Zuletzt geändert am 14. May 2020

As of August the 5th, 2019 I decided to not fly anymore. Not at all. No private flights, no business flights. Until it is possible to fly CO2 neutral.

I stopped private flights in 2008 as it became increasingly clear what harm flights do to the environment. In the years after this I did not fly a lot, the last transatlantic flight was in 2016 to Seoul. It was an invited keynote talk to a big conference, which is quite some honor for an academic and something one needs on his CV (we are working on changing this). My last flight was 2017 to Oslo, where I worked for the Forskningrådet (the organization that manages the distribution of the Norwegian research money). This is important for the self organization of science and also some sort of honor, since the panel consisted of four foreigners deciding on the future of Norwegian linguistics (exaggerating a bit). As for earlier flights, you can find a list of conference talks on my web page.

The decision to not fly was not easy. I love being in foreign countries and see foreign culture. Europe is pretty boring nowadays since countries are getting similar: the same stuff in super markets, the same tourist nepp everywhere. I had a lot of business trips to foreign countries. So people can say: Yes, you academics, it is easy not to do private flights, since you are traveling anyway. In fact, people said this and they are right. So: No flights? None at all? I never was in Australia. The area of linguistics I am working in is not represented in Australia (It is LFG there rather than HPSG) and hence, there never was a conference there I really wanted to attend. So the self-commitment means that I will never go there. Africa? I am working on Germanic languages. Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa, is one of them. Well, there are connections via land. Icelandic, also a Germanic language. Well, there is a ferry. China? I published two papers about Mandarin Chinese and I have other professional connections to China: my grammar theory text book is translated to Chinese right now. Korea? I have connections to Seoul. Working there for some time would be great. I could go there by train, but it takes time. Hm.

I talked to colleagues and friends and it turns out that there are quite a few and very successful ones who do not fly at all (Prof. Dr. Gisbert Fanselow, Prof. Dr. Shravan Vasishth, and Prof. Dr. Isabell Wartenburger). Some of them psycho linguists and the most important psycho conferences take place in the US.

So, question: Is my research so important that I am willing to cause damage to other people? Our CO2 emissions contribute to global warming and this causes severe droughts and other catastrophes. Millions of people are affected and will die. Is linguistics more important than this? Probably not. Definitely not.

If travel is unavoidable, I will use the train and I already started doing longer trips by train this year in July traveling to Bucharest where the HPSG conference took place.

So: Never again! I compensated all my previous flights and I am clean now, at least as far as flying is concerned. Do you commit to fly less? If so, leave comments. If you do not fly short distances consider signing self-commitments at your universities or get a respective initative on the way at your institution.

10 thoughts on “I do not fly anymore

  1. Ich fliege auch nicht mehr, das letzte mal war bei mir 2018. Ich muss es aber beruflich auch nicht. Wir versuchen natürlich auch gleichzeitig die Autonutzung für Urlaubsreisen runter zu schrauben. Aber da ich z.B. gerne einmal mit meinem kleinen Sohn mein Geburtsland Rumänien besuchen würde, fand ich es spannend, dass sie die Zugreise nach Bukarest beschrieben haben.

    • Ja, die Reise war gut. Ich bin von Salzburg, Budapest nach Bukarest gefahren (hinzu). Das war auch OK. Rumänien hat wundervolle Landschaften und dazu noch einen besseren LTE-Ausbau als Deutschland! Es war immer guter Empfang.

  2. Ich bin nur wenig geflogen und werde es ab diesem Jahr gar nicht mehr tun. Unseren Urlaub haben wir die letzten Jahre in Deutschland verbracht und sind dieses Jahr mit der Bahn verreist. Die Kinder fanden es spannend. Jetzt recherchieren wir, welche Orte wir gut mit der Bahn erreichen können, welche interessanten Orte es eigentlich in der Nähe so gibt und wie man größere Strecken mit mehreren Etappen erholsam und mit Spaß per Bahn zurücklegen kann – für den nächsten Urlaub.

    • Ja, sehr gut. Das geht wirklich mit der Bahn. Wir sind nur zwei mal mit den Kindern geflogen. Ansonsten immer wieder: Ostsee, Thüringen, Oderbruch. Geht von uns aus alles mit der Regionalbahn (Fahrradmitnahme!) oder sogar gleich mit dem Fahrrad. Sehr schöne Urlaubsorte. Nach Rom kommt man auch und nach Paris und London auch.Niedrlande, Belgien. Aber am besten ist lokaler Urlaub.Ich schreib dann demnächst mal über den Urlaub in diesem Jahr. War seid langem mal wieder ein Auslandsurlaub.

  3. Since you are not just a private person but also a powerful academic, maybe you should also say that in evaluating the CVs of more junior colleagues, you will not look at the degree to which they collaborated with colleagues from further away – because flying clearly facilitates this. Or maybe, positively, you could say that you put a premium on (interdisciplinary) collaborations within the same university, which are usually harder than collaborations within the same framework (e.g. HPSG) across continents. It seems to me that such anti-flying policies require a lot of rethinking – which we as academics should be good at.

    • Yes, we are thinking about this. The people of climatewednesday.org, the Universities, the DFG. Gisbert Fanselow is checking travel law and regulations. Everything is non-trivial but there will be ways. Everybody wants this now. The university adminstrations are with us as one can see reading their press releases.

      There are ways to reduce flying without impacting the carrer, but even then we have to rethink everything. It is not easy and it is also clear that older people have some advantage. They have their networks in place and communication via the net is possible. For young researchers personal contact is really important since they have to establish connections to get the next job and so on. But this has to be organized in different ways. For example, the HPSG crowd rotates their conferences between the US, Asia and Europe. But in the time when it is not in Europe we now have little workshops: for example in Paris or Frankfurt/M. These destinations are reachable by train. By the way: All people from my lab signed the self-commitment to not fly short distance any more. I did not put pressure on them. Talking about the self-commitments, I found out that one of them worked as a conductor on international night trains during his time as a student. =:-)

  4. We don’t fly no more since 2010. A trip to Japan made clear that, flying over Seberia nature is not to be ruined by dirty kerosene wasted on trees and snow.
    Holidays we do by ferry or by train. Much more relaxed.

    • Good! I stopped private flights in 2008 but continued till 2017 with business stuff. Stopped now. Holiday works by trains.I agree: more relaxed and you know where you are. =:-)

  5. Just look at the ERC Advanced Grants criteria for what counts as a successful researcher:

    “In most fields, PIs will be expected to have a proven track record of achievements in the past 10 years appropriate to their research field and at least matching one or more of the following benchmarks, for instance: up to 10 significant publications as main author in leading international peer-reviewed journals of their respective field, or major international peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journals; 3 major research monographs (for research fields where monographs is the norm). They may also demonstrate a record of invited presentations in well-established international conferences, organization of international conferences, granted patents, leading research expeditions, awards, prizes, academy memberships etc.7.”

    Under this criterion, I would now look very bad. By contrast, a researcher with even mediocre output in terms of quality could engineer many invited talks through connections and schmoozing, and look very fundable to the ERC. Maybe someone influential like you needs to contact the ERC and tell them about the carbon footprint consequences of demanding that academics travel a lot to give keynotes.

    • Thanks for raising this point! We have to change the ways we evaluate each other. Gisbert and me are working on travel in the DFG. I am not in any EC committees but let’s see whether we can change anything there.

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