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.
Prof. Dr. Stefan Müller
Linguist, studied and dissertation in computer science.