No Fly Pledge for Climate Science

Climate change is anthropogenic (human-caused). This is scientific fact. We have created novel climatological disturbances that have not existed for the past 800,000 years.

I’m beginning this blog post with a graphic that everyone should be familiar with. On this graph, above, “normal” lies between the dashed lines. The dashes show the maximum levels that carbon dioxide (CO2) [in blue] and temperature [in red] have reached, over millenia (the timeline on the “X” axis goes back in time 800,000 years, with the oldest data on the left). You can see that CO2 and temperature are closely correlated, and prior to the industrial era, CO2 levels remained largely below 280 ppm.

Carbon dioxide levels are at 411.97 ppm as of March 2019.

The organization was founded to advocate for policy changes to keep CO2 levels at the relatively reasonable level of 350 ppm (parts per million), to avoid setting irreversible climate changes in motion.

But, no, we refused. I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality. We have gone beyond the tipping point – the point of no return – for arctic ice melt, glacier loss, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, sea level rise, increasingly intense hurricanes, and catastrophic wildfires.

Every year more of us become climate refugees; every month more species become threatened, endangered, or extinct in the wild because they can’t adapt quickly enough to a changing climate.

The only good news is this: the greatest threat facing every living thing is also the one threat every human has the power to change. It’s simple: shrink our carbon footprints. Individually, nationally, globally.

What are the quickest ways to decrease our carbon footprint? (a) drive less; (b) eat a more vegetarian diet; and (c) stop getting on airplanes.

Two decades I stopped flying. I did so after taking an online ecological footprint quiz where you input your lifestyle habits to determine how sustainable your consumption levels were. If you were a total resource hog, the quiz would say something like, “if everyone lived like you, we’d need five earths to sustain your lifestyle.”

Pfeiffer on

When I did the quiz, my footprint was reasonable…until I added in my plane flights. The energy use from my plane flights engulfed everything else I did. It didn’t matter if I was a recycling, composting, thrift-store-frequenting, vegetarian. Whenever I got on an airplane, I blew up my footprint. As a UC Davis graduate student, I attended the climate change lectures (we called it “global warming” back then), and I saw the writing on the wall.

I decided I was going to significantly reduce my ecological footprint by making major lifestyle changes every year. The first change? No more airplanes. In the following years I got a push-mower, expanded my vegetable garden, got rid of my printer, reduced my trash to 1/2 barrel/year, began teaching online, moved into a shuttle bus, then downsized to a van.

Now, FINALLY, my fellow scientists are stepping up and making the same pledge. We don’t have to fly to meetings: we can convince our scientific societies and conferences to hold virtual, live-streamed events. We can go on “stay-cations” and spend quality time in nearby nature reserves, county and state parks.

I don’t buy any argument that justifies a carbon-intensive lifestyle, especially by scientists who research and teach climate science. If we don’t hold ourselves to higher standards, it’s the equivalent of being medical doctors who chain-smoke, eat fast food every day, and refuse to be vaccinated.

Crazy, right?




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