When the Huffpost calls you out: You’ve got a problem

There are not many media outlets more left and ‘party line’ on all global warming issues than the Huffington Post, so when they start pointing out hypocrisy then it is clear the targets of the attack must be pretty blatant in their transgressions.

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Recently, we [Nives Dolšak and Aseem Prakash] witnessed a fascinating conversation among a few of our professorial colleagues about their frequent flyer status on a prominent airline. Two of them had achieved “Diamond” status ― the very top of the priority boarding pecking order. They spoke the most and were the loudest. The others, with either Platinum or Gold frequent flyer medallions, also noted how “busy” they were with “all this travel.”

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Come on then, name and shame!

Carbon Footprint – Green Traveler Guides

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The group casually mentioned the various benefits ― such as seating upgrades and access to airport lounges ― that come with their statuses, but the bragging was not really about those perks. It was about importance and recognition. After all, only the most successful academics fly around the world, attending conferences, participating in workshops and giving lectures. Congratulations all around! […]

But while universities are working to help their communities take on climate change, academics are accumulating big carbon footprints with their jet-setting professional styles. […]

This is a notable disconnect between what universities preach and what their culture incentivizes and their star professors do. Academics are probably among the people most aware of the threats posed by climate change. […]

What is the carbon footprint of flying? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. One round trip flight from Washington, D.C., to Beijing generates 4.3 metric tons of CO2 per passenger seated in economy class, almost equivalent to the annual footprint of an average car. If you fly business class, multiply this by a factor of three.

When we have gently confronted our colleagues about carbon footprint issues in the past, we have received these sorts of reactions:

  • We bike to work (or drive a Prius or a Leaf), therefore international or cross-country travel is OK.
  • Because we are the global experts, travel is required to disseminate knowledge and to solve global problems.
  • We buy carbon offsets.

These are good responses but ultimately not persuasive. The reality is that cross-country or international travel is an important status marker in our profession. Few academics want to give up this recognition they have probably earned after years of struggle and hard work.

The reluctance to unilaterally curb air travel also reflects a collective action problem. If “others” were to reduce their conference travel, I might be willing to go along. But what if they do not? To solve the free riding problem, universities should provide an assurance mechanism that levels the playing field.[…]

In 2014, our school, the University of Washington, [did an] analysis of travel reimbursement data [which] suggested that its professional travel that year amounted to 136 million miles and created 23,811 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.[…]

Scholars have developed very good estimates of the social cost of carbon.

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Yeah, it is zero (but let’s not interrupt these earnest professors.)

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Based on these estimates, universities could tax carbon emissions. Using the UW data, an internal carbon tax of $20 per ton […] would amount to slightly less than $500,000, a very small sum for a university with an operating budget of over $7 billion. The tax would be paid either by the department in which the traveler was located, or by the funding agency defraying the cost of the research-related travel. Of course, if the university hosting the professor wanted to pay the tax instead, that could be credited to the professor’s carbon account.

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And all this accounting will help cool the world how exactly?

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For equity reasons, a carbon tax should be tiered. Those below a specific travel threshold ― say 25,000 miles per year ― could be exempted. The marginal tax on carbon emissions could rise in a graduated fashion, with the rates for every tier adjusted so that on average, the university fully internalizes the social cost of carbon for the professional travel of its professors.

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“The marginal tax on carbon emissions.” Please – no one mention this to Grant Robertson or Michael Cullen!

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Universities could then use these funds to buy carbon offsets. Professors could buy offsets on their own as well and universities could then deduct the amount from that person’s carbon tax payment.

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Yeah, whatever …

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Our proposal might be criticized on several grounds. First, it is plausible that we are exaggerating the scope of this travel problem. Academic travel probably constitutes only a small portion of all air travel. The UW study found that professional travel accounted for about 11 percent of the university’s total emissions.[…]

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Or possibly the whole lot of you sucking on the AGW teat are “exaggerating the scope of this ‘carbon’ problem”?

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Second, our proposal could be viewed as an assault on academic freedom. Arguably, professors and researchers should be able to travel wherever they wish, either to gather data or to present their findings. Any restriction on travel could be seen as constituting administrative intrusion into research, a very touchy issue in contemporary times.[…]

Our modest carbon budgeting proposal has several payoffs for universities. First, it would demonstrate to all stakeholders that universities were willing to walk the climate walk. Second, faced with a carbon budget, professors would have incentives to interact with their colleagues at other universities in novel ways.[…]

End of quote:

Perhaps we should institute a carbon budget for Green MPs flitting hither and yon to such important things as the “March for Life” in Washington?

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Perhaps teleconferencing would become more popular. Maybe over time mega conferences with thousands of attendees would become less attractive as decentralized networks for knowledge exchange emerged. Instead of attending five major conferences every year, professors might start attending only two or three. And they might start looking for conferences within their time zones.

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Yes, and the porcine aviator just did a barrel roll right outside my window.

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Academics are capable of finding the answers to most complex problems, including climate change. But their excellent research will be less effective in changing public policy and popular culture without their moral leadership. And moral authority comes when we are willing to forgo valuable things to serve the public purpose.

If there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is influenced by human beings, then academics should personally do something about it. Even if it means fewer conferences and less air travel.

End of quote:

I am stunned that the Huffington Post included the “If” at the start of that last sentence.  Is a shadow of doubt creeping in at last?


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In solidarity with the those in the world’s most despised demographic, WH has decided to ‘come out’ as an old, white, male. WH enjoys exercising the white male privilege, that Whaleoil provides for him, to write the occasional post challenging climate change consensus; looking at random tech issues that tweak his interest, as a bit of a tech nerd; or generally poking the borax at anyone in public life who goes on record revealing their stupidity. WH never excelled on the sports field because his coaches never allowed him to play in his preferred position on the right-wing.  WH also enjoys his MG.

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