Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Carbon Footprint: Stay Grounded

An editorial in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer induced my choice of this week's Carbon Footprint series. Kathleen Braden, a professor of geography at Seattle Pacific University, relayed her reasoning for not supporting the Sierra Club's efforts to combat global warming because of duplicity between the group's positions and its member services. Don't worry, she doesn't spare other conservation groups that are as two-faced as Janus.

Braden is familiar with the consequences of international travel: she recently gave a seminar about ecotourism in Russia. (The 30 minute talk is available for podcast.) But the central premise of her P-I column was something else - carbon emissions from airplane travel. By offering members vacation travel packages to remote destinations around the world, she calculates that the Sierra Club will add 689 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere this year, just so that members can enjoy nature in Nepal or Peru. The same duplicity comes from groups that send plush toys, t-shirts and other packages overnight by air freight to new members.

So what's the take home from this? Are we to take fewer plane trips? Reduce the number of overnight orders? Visit distant family less? The culture of academia is dependent on travel. Just like salesmen, professors travel the country to present their research and ideas to colleagues via conferences or invited seminars. NIH grant review occurs in study sections in Washington DC. Some societies plan 'destination conferences' in Waikiki or Sydney or Venice. On a more personal note, I expect to fly to eight to ten cities next year to interview for residencies. What are we to do about this culture of travel? Whatever it is, it will require system-wide changes in behavior. I am going to start by not worrying whether I will make 'MVP' this year on my Alaska Air frequent flier number. A 14 hour drive to visit my parents? That would be more difficult. And visiting my in-laws in Hawaii... Right now, we are limited by time and finances, so making that trip is still infrequent. Are there any frequent travelers out there - in business or academics - that have found ways to reduce their carbon impact without 'suffering' lost productivity or professional standing?

There's another little pearl from this column that I don't want to overlook, and it ties nicely with a recent post of mine. Here is a Christian - a professor at a Christian college - who is a member of the Sierra Club, the Ocean Conservancy, and probably others that sees no problem between the scientific claims made by these groups and her personal faith. I bet that Kathleen Braden sees her public scholarship on this issue as part of a Christian imperative to be good stewards of the Earth.

1 comment:

sarah said...

Hey Tom ! You are the first one I met who knows about Janus. Exept for the people from the little town where I grew up in France. Here we are very proud of our Janus Temple ;)