Fly the “Friendly” Skies – Not

I wrote about a recent article in Environmental Research Letters, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, by Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas, that estimates the annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be saved by various personal actions.  Air travel creates significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

“We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling

As Friends and others have often discussed, there is a real disconnect when it comes to travel for Quaker, environmental, or other social justice gatherings by airplane. 

When I was on the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s (FCNL) General Committee, I raised this issue, urging that we find ways to do our business using telecommunications, for example.  Discussions with FCNL staff did not, in the end, come up with a solution. I know FCNL staff often ride bicycles to work, and there are staff showers and bicycle racks at the office building.  I took the train to the FCNL annual meetings in Washington, DC, which was an admittedly grueling 20 hour trip from Indianapolis that I didn’t look forward to.

Update:  As far as FCNL specifically, there is the added benefit of lobbying representatives while in Washington for the annual meetings.  But lobbying can also be done at the local offices.


“Fly the Friendly Skies” has been a slogan of United Airlines, and I put “Friendly” in quotes in the title to call attention to Quakers’ use of air travel.  Almost every time I raise the issue of using some type of telecommunication for meetings, I hear “I feel it is so important to meet face to face.”  I long ago came to the conclusion that is environmental privilege, in the same manner as white privilege.  And is often the case with white privilege, those who engage in environmental privilege either don’t recognize it, or choose to ignore it.

Or make a conscious decision that the meeting justifies the environmental consequences.  I wonder, with the current state of our environment, whether that is a reasonable choice today.

There a multiple ways to conduct long distance meetings today.  Several apps allow people to see as well as hear each other, making it more similar to face to face interaction.  Scattergood Friends School and Farm recently connected to a fiber optic backbone, and have a system that will allow for very good quality audio/video connections.

I would encourage us to think carefully about the environmental impacts related to meetings, and urge the organizations we work with to consider alternatives.



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