The impossible task of reconciling internat'l tourism and climate change
February 3, 2020 5:34 PM   Subscribe

52 Places to Go in 2020 is the latest New York Times international travel guide, and this year's unspoken theme is "responsible tourism." Read the piece [...] and you might conclude the entire planet has morphed into one giant, eco-friendly playground, with new nonstop service to Ulaanbaatar and Lima making access easier than ever.  It’s all bullshit, of course. A 2018 study (abstract; PDF) published in the journal Nature Climate Change announced tourism alone—that’s nonessential pleasure travel—is responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The traveling public is freaking out. It knows about flight shaming (Guardian); it loves Greta Thunberg [....] But it still wants to sit on a beach in Aruba. Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won’t (New Republic)

Related: Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Them. -- As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitrs, our writer wonders if Utah's celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is "at capacity."
posted by filthy light thief (153 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
As I wrote the last time this came up, I still don't understand why it's assumed to be not economically feasible to offset or clean up the emissions caused by air travel. It seems to me like with current technology, it should add about $100 to the cost of a flight across America to remove the emitted carbon from the atmosphere. Since I wrote that comment I happened to read this blog post which came to a similar conclusion, although he concluded it was closer to $200. This is not even close to expensive enough to stop tourism from being appealing. Is there something I am misunderstanding?

(Of course, I think it's still great to raise awareness that this is a problem; the money and political will to actually stop emitting and/or clean up the atmosphere needs to come from somewhere. But I don't think that you should describe it as the "impossible task of reconciling international tourism with a genuine desire to neutralize tourism’s impact on climate change". Nor is it true that "the only actual way to mitigate tourism’s impact on climate change is for humanity to stop traveling.")
posted by value of information at 5:46 PM on February 3 [13 favorites]


I still don't understand why it's assumed to be not economically feasible to offset or clean up the emissions caused by air travel.

I think one of the issues is not just the increased emissions, but the ripple effect impact of increased tourism. Like national parks being "loved to death" or even increasing tourism to New Orleans which caused AirBNBs to explode and displacing local populations.

I do think there is a kind of "emissions exceptionalism" that is granted for long-distance leisure travel from cultural tastemakers - people who would never dream of owning a Hummer brag about their globetrotter passport stamps, even though jetting around the world is just as bad in terms of carbon emissons. I always think about how many people want to see the last polar bears but can't even identify ten local song birds in their neighborhood.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:56 PM on February 3 [38 favorites]


I'd like to see more people using alternative transportation for their tourism. This last year I got really into bicycle touring and I completed some awesome roundtrip bicycle rides from NYC to Toronto and Charlotte NC as well as plenty of weekend bike camping trips in NY, NJ, and CT. I'm planning a bicycle ride from Atlanta to SF this spring (using Amtrak to get me and my bike down to Atlanta from NYC).

One thing I've loved about keeping my tourism in North America for this last year has been learning about all the little communities in between my home city and my vacation destination. Bicycle touring is slow and keeps you mainly on the backroads so you spend a lot of time meeting people, explaining what you're doing with the bicycle loaded with gear, and getting their thoughts. There is so much variation even from one state to another, it's endlessly fascinating to me.
posted by backlikeclap at 5:57 PM on February 3 [30 favorites]


Emissions mitigation doesn’t work reliably, or soon enough, or it would be much easier to regulate into the prices of things.
posted by clew at 6:00 PM on February 3 [8 favorites]


Adding $100 to a flight is a big enough deal. If a single airline did this on their own they would see most of their customers go elsewhere. Isn't the whole reason Airbnb is a thing because people want to save money on their travel? This is something you'd need government to come in and impose.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:01 PM on February 3 [13 favorites]


As I wrote the last time this came up, I still don't understand why it's assumed to be not economically feasible to offset or clean up the emissions caused by air travel.

Carbon offsets are the moral equivalent of papal indulgences, except that they help to fractionally condemn all of us to an actual hell.

There is no way that travel and tourism as we currently understand them can survive in a low carbon economy - every single newspaper travel section is effectively a fossil fuel ad.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:11 PM on February 3 [40 favorites]


Long-distance travel cannot continue. The carbon emissions are simply too high to deal with.

From 2021, airlines will be buying carbon offsets through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. Predominantely these will come from increased forestry. Nothing else can deliver emissions mitigation at that scale and that cost. Biofuels can't come close.

How much more forestry? For Air New Zealand alone, I reckon they'll have to increase New Zealand's plantation forestry by 10%. That's for one airline in a country with room to plant more forests. For every airline... haha nope. There's simply not enough land on the globle to plant that many trees, while still growing food.

So offsets for tourism and travel are going to turn into a huge shit-fight. The only credible answer to the emissions from air-travel is to fly less. I'm in New Zealand and tourism is 5% of our GDP, so we're going to hurt.

(And this is putting aside all the local environmental and social impacts from tourism destinations becoming popluar.)
posted by happyinmotion at 6:13 PM on February 3 [10 favorites]


Academics are also figuring out what are the ethics of conference travel. The support and scholarly networking available at your discipline's primary conference is hard to replace, which has always been one of the reasons that underrepresented minorities and other marginalized scholars have pushed for alternatives to the big conference.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:15 PM on February 3 [15 favorites]


Rick Steve's and the chamber of commerce.
posted by clavdivs at 6:32 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


While obviously flying is a lot more detrimental to the environment than a lot of the other "how you can tackle climate change yourselves" solutions, this conversation still feels misguided to me, focusing too much on individuals and "personal responsibility" rather than the actual bad actors who are driving the climate crisis.

Maybe I'm being naive but I can't help but wonder if all the energy -- particularly from the media -- focused on issues like this (as well as recycling, changing diet etc) was instead directed at industry and governments, at naming and shaming and attacking them until they take meaningful action, would that make a difference?

Otherwise it feels like ordinary people are being asked/encouraged to sacrifice some of the few benefits they get from capitalism in order to alleviate the damage done by those who win the most.

(This isn't to say that people who voluntarily avoid emissions-heavy travel are wrong, or anything but admirable for their efforts.)
posted by usr2047 at 6:35 PM on February 3 [110 favorites]


If I read the paper right, that 8% figure includes tourism supply chains. If *all* worldwide air travel is about 2.5%, touristic air travel is about 1.5%. Assuming emissions are proportional to dollars, and the average airplane ticket is $379, that means your average tourist spends ~$1600 on touristy items during a trip (hotel, food fancier than a can of beans, etc). I guess that's in the ballpark, although I wonder if we should compare to the average "staycation"? People are still going to waste money at home.

A first step could be to get rid of frequent flyer programs and tax breaks for private jet owners.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:48 PM on February 3 [14 favorites]


While obviously flying is a lot more detrimental to the environment than a lot of the other "how you can tackle climate change yourselves" solutions, this conversation still feels misguided to me, focusing too much on individuals and "personal responsibility" rather than the actual bad actors who are driving the climate crisis.

I agree with this, but I also think most people really have no idea how bad flying is for the environment. The more educated the general population is about this, the better. I feel the same way about electric cars (no emissions, but where does all that electricity come from?) and the energy usage of server farms.
posted by wondermouse at 6:51 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


I agree with this, but I also think most people really have no idea how bad flying is for the environment. The more educated the general population is about this, the better. I feel the same way about electric cars (no emissions, but where does all that electricity come from?) and the energy usage of server farms.

True, and there are upsides to this in that there is more attention paid to genuinely needless business and private jet travel. Also forcing the industry, rather than passengers, to be more climate conscious and drive down emissions would be a good thing.
posted by usr2047 at 6:54 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much this is like getting folks to quit eating meat. Foist the necessity of full-on veganism on some and their immediate response is to order a double cheeseburger. Suggest that they investigate maybe cutting their overall meat consumption in half over a period of a few years and they may at least view you as non-hostile agent.
posted by philip-random at 6:57 PM on February 3 [12 favorites]


Count me as a skeptic of this line of moralization. It's those who profit from greenhouse emissions that should be focused on 100% and entirely, rather than individuals be shamed for leisure choices. Any time climate change activism turns to individual behavior of consumers, it's a red herring, a deliberate distraction, a way to keep the masses too frozen in shame and anger at each other to think about taking the profiteers to task. You know. The ones responsible for the other 92%?

As an immigrant, especially, the shaming feels like nothing but colonial/western/rich-country privilege talking. My family travels to see my home-country folk or vice versa every year. I'm not here for white-ass liberals demanding I give up either my hometown family or my livelihood because of climate change... How dare they!

Especially not before we hold oil companies and dictators and the US military machine accountable, at the very least. Bankrupt Nestle by making it pick up its own externalized environmental costs, then we can talk.
posted by MiraK at 7:08 PM on February 3 [108 favorites]


Airlines do not have low-fuel options in their skunkworks getting dusty. Rapid long distance movement is extremely energy expensive because of physics, not because of politics.
posted by clew at 7:10 PM on February 3 [12 favorites]


The near-nonexistence of trains in my neck of the woods is totally politics, though. (Also politics, of a sort: workers getting very few days for vacation, so you maximize by taking the fastest possible form of transportation. I could actually take trains from here to California. It would take about 4 days and be lovely. I'd have to turn around and come right back.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:30 PM on February 3 [52 favorites]



As an immigrant, especially, the shaming feels like nothing but colonial/western/rich-country privilege talking. My family travels to see my home-country folk or vice versa every year. I'm not here for white-ass liberals demanding I give up either my hometown family or my livelihood because of climate change... How dare they!


How dare we indeed!

The argument that your travel is more important than others is compelling; but it is a moral argument.

My and your descendants will suffer because of our choices. Tens of Millions of poor, most likely POC refugees will be made because of the rising oceans, and colonized or not, your trips to your hometown family and your work contribute. As do mine. As do everyones.

The physical world doesn't care about my privilege or your status. CO2 is CO2. And we keep on emitting it
posted by lalochezia at 7:54 PM on February 3 [25 favorites]


Rather than complaining about people choosing to see the world and hopefully expanding their cultural horizons and stepping out of their insularity or arguing over responsibility, our time would be better spent asking why nobody is manufacturing Jet A from farm waste that will otherwise decompose and release a shit ton of methane, despite the fact that it is no more expensive than digging up fossil carbon and refining it. (It's actually cheaper than producing oil from tar sands, by the way)

The technology has been proven to work already. It has been the topic of several MeFi posts in the past. The only thing standing in the way is a few hundred million in capital expense to create the necessary production capacity.

Well, that and our inability as humans to move beyond blame, shame, and moral prescriptivism. The external forces leading us to argue rather than simply fix the fucking problem certainly don't help, but we are all capable of doing better despite the negative influence of the propagandists and troll farms.
posted by wierdo at 8:01 PM on February 3 [12 favorites]


Because making biojetfuel from farm waste costs 2-5 times that of fossil fuel. And if we did make that, we'd make enough for maybe 5% of flights.

Source: was talking with the sustainability manager of the biggest fuel producer here this afternoon.

It's not a few hundred million dollars in capex for production capacity. It's a few tens of billions to make processing plants to produce a fuel that no-one will buy because it costs too much, unless governments mandate the use.

Governments are mandating the use of biofuels for aviation: Norway to implement biofuel mandate for aviation fuel in 2020

That's going to help, but it's not going to reduce emissions by more than 5% at a very high cost. Meanwhile, the passenger-miles flown are growing by 5% each year. So biofuels from waste gain us one year. That's worth doing.

It still doesn't change the overall conclusion - we cannot keep flying like this.
posted by happyinmotion at 8:15 PM on February 3 [9 favorites]


MiraK, I think international travel to see family / homelands is decidedly NOT in the same category as the article in this post. Wanting to go on a cruise to see the glaciers before they melt? Fulfilling urges to see the Galapagos? Luxuries. Flying back to Korea for grandma's funeral is a necessity though.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:22 PM on February 3 [11 favorites]


I swear. This place just cannot get enough of shaming people.

And can y’all make your minds? Not long ago the big complaint was that world travel was too expensive and for the elite.

Now it’s too cheap and choking the planet.

And it’s always someone else. Those globe trotting elites. Those meat eaters. Those car owners. Those bad oil companies.

No. It’s you. It’s all of us. This very site itself contributes to this climate crisis.

And none of us are going to be willing to make personal sacrifices necessary on any appreciable scale to matter.

Mostly because we can’t. Because our lives and economies are based on these systems that are killing the planet. If everyone stopped flying, stopped traveling, stopped — whatever. The world economy would crash.

It’s not up to individuals. It’s going to have to be forced on us. And then you’re really going to complain.

So. Knock this shit off shaming individual people for doing what is a perfectly normal thing.

I’m not going to stop traveling. I’m not. And you’re not going to stop the thousand things you do that kills the planet. Sure. I’m vegan. Sure. I didn’t have kids. But those contributions don’t mean shit. A few people not flying to Paris won’t do shit.

Shaming is just some way of deflecting your own daily contribution to this mess. And worse. Feeling smug about it. And I’m sick of it.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:33 PM on February 3 [98 favorites]


Flying back to Korea for grandma's funeral is a necessity though.

No. No it’s not.

Everyone wants the thing they do to be the exception. It’s not.

And that’s why all this bullshit about blaming and shaming individual behavior is totally useless.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:35 PM on February 3 [20 favorites]


I think we're almost at a point where virtual tourism is viable. We just need to sell it a little better:

"Besides, a real holiday is a pain in the butt. You got lost luggage, lousy weather, crooked taxi drivers. When you travel with Rekall, everything is perfect."
posted by FJT at 8:37 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]


I'm very curious to see how much of this is genuine concern over CO2 emissions, and how much of this is using climate change as a cudgel to attack tourism. I guess we'll find out when we start seeing new kinds of jet fuel developed.
posted by Merus at 8:39 PM on February 3 [9 favorites]


I do harm, inevitably, unwillingly, as a person in 21st century capitalism, without accepting that it needs to be this way. I'm not letting myself off the hook as a person who lives a North American lifestyle that is carbon intensive (my roundtrip work commute is 41 miles). So I guess for me, I want to think through what my choices mean. International travel will continue to be a huge part of my carbon emissions but I can choose to not go to Costa Rica, even though I would love to visit there. I will continue to go to conferences 2x a year at least, and continue to fly to Asia to visit family. What choices can I make to live a life more in line with my ethical commitments to climate justice? This year I'm trying to convince folks to road trip out to a conference instead of flying. 13 hours is a long drive, but split between four people, that's totally doable in one shot.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:41 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]


Sure. I’m vegan. Sure. I didn’t have kids. But those contributions don’t mean shit.

What does it mean that it doesn't mean shit? I get that you think that everyone else isn't going to do analogously to you, and so they will need to be forced to do it. But how does that make your action meaningless? It's saying that your action is so meaningful everyone needs to be forced to do it.

Typically one person doing good things does one person worth of good. If all you ever do is add up the whole world, then I guess one person worth of good doesn't seem like much, but it seems like an appropriate amount of good to me. I don't get the impulse to say that it's nothing. Less animals actually suffered in expectation thanks to you. Does that not count because it was only dozens instead of billions?
posted by value of information at 8:45 PM on February 3 [7 favorites]


EETSI, I can't tell if I'm riled up and thus misreading your words, but I did take your comment about my grandma's funeral rather badly. I'm not saying I'm virtuous, or that I should get a card stamped "yes, you may travel internationally without guilt." I'm saying that I have decided for me what is essential are certain family obligations and that in this discussion about international tourism, I am making a distinction between the travel I do because of family and the travel I do because I have a hankering to go see the Himalayas.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:46 PM on February 3 [25 favorites]


I will continue to go to conferences 2x a year at least, and continue to fly to Asia to visit family. What choices can I make to live a life more in line with my ethical commitments to climate justice?

I suggest donating money to organizations that will help more than you are harming. You can find some recommendations discussed here. When I looked into it last, I was most happy to donate to the Clean Air Task Force, which works on a variety of things and has credibly prevented a large amount of emissions in the past.
posted by value of information at 8:53 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


Also a suggestion that we try discussing in the mode of "yes, and" rather than judging. Your mileage may vary (literally?) applies here. Individual and industry culpability are obviously vastly different, but we can talk about both without having to decide forever which one is the priority. People's circumstances are also vastly different, so blanket prohibitions are also not the answer, i.e. the straw ban.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:53 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


I think one person doing good things does one person worth of good.

Yes. They mean something to ME. The contribute to my individual health. They make my life less complicated. They benefit me. They are ultimately selfish choices.

But they don’t add up to much in terms of global impact. Which is what is being discussed.

And it’s completely vain and sanctimonious to think that individual ethical choices in these sorts of global problems matter all that much.

One persons choices, in terms The Climate Crisis, don’t mean shit because the few individual ethical choices I can make, in the scope living in this polluting technological world, do not contribute much in total. There are just too many vectors in which I impact the world.

Those choices must be studied, collectivized, directed and governed on scales beyond one individuals capacity.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:59 PM on February 3 [8 favorites]


I am making a distinction between the travel I do because of family and the travel I do because I have a hankering to go see the Himalayas.

And think the distinction is false because you should NOT be judged, condemned, or shamed for either. They are both equally valid reasons to climb on to the worlds most effective and common means of transportation.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 9:09 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]


This year I'm trying to convince folks to road trip out to a conference instead of flying. 13 hours is a long drive, but split between four people, that's totally doable in one shot.

I'm . . . not sure the math adds up there. Does it?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:11 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]


One persons choices, in terms The Climate Crisis, don’t mean shit because the few individual ethical choices I can make, in the scope living in this polluting technological world, do not contribute much in total. There are just too many vectors in which I impact the world.

In terms of the climate crisis, you might be right, because it's possible that any "extra headroom" made by individuals trying to reduce their own impact will be eaten up by selfish actors who don't care about their impact -- I don't know enough about the regulations and agreements in place to say for sure, but that's what might happen if governments agreed to e.g. force companies to stay under an emissions threshold that would result in some predetermined CO2 concentration, but didn't reward them for undershooting the threshold.

But I strongly disagree that there aren't individual ethical choices in general that individuals can make which have impacts worth caring about. Veganism is a great example. If you stop buying meat, there's no mysterious force that will step in and start buying it in your behalf; the demand for meat will just go down by as much as you don't buy. Less animals will actually suffer. I care a lot whether dozens of animals suffer and die or not and I don't think it's vain and sanctimonious to care about that.

(Furthermore, I think that if you care about action only when lots of people do it, arguing in public that people doing the action is vain and sanctimonious is a bad way to get what you want.)
posted by value of information at 9:14 PM on February 3


Why must every single conversation on global warming on this site eventually get reduced down to somebody saying "Here's what I'm doing to mitigate my part" and someone else saying "It's futile and we're doomed"?

And hey, if you really think we're all doomed, can you just dump your "truth bomb" on us and then depart the thread? Must you stay and debate? Do you really think you're doing anyone any good here?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:14 PM on February 3 [15 favorites]


Meanwhile, over in non-circular firing squad land : Trump Abandons Plan to Freeze Fuel Efficiency, where Trump was more committed to polluting as a moral imperative than the auto companies. Getting the coal fetishists out of office is the most important thing we can do for climate change right now.
posted by benzenedream at 9:19 PM on February 3 [17 favorites]


DoomEd

Nobody has claimed we’re doomed.

What I and others have said is that shaming individual behavior doesn’t work. It’s the product of our collective guilt reflex than of solving a problem.

Relying on individuals to be the drivers and changers of a problem of such global magnitude and complexity as the climate crisis will yield few if any real results.

So. Yes. I will be flying to Costa Rica.

Anyway. I’m done here.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 9:21 PM on February 3 [12 favorites]


And it’s completely vain and sanctimonious to think that individual ethical choices in these sorts of global problems matter all that much.

Ehhh, I think the whole individual vs group is kind of a false distinction, for obvious reasons. But I also think sometimes it's necessary to do small things, even if they are useless, because that's how your start a dialogue and build relationships with other people. By moving together in small ways is how you build up towards moving together in bigger ways.
posted by FJT at 9:29 PM on February 3 [12 favorites]


I imagine whatever hopeful overall change may come will involve both individuals doing individual things and corporate interests and the like being held to account. It's not either/or.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]


unless governments mandate the use.

Hey, I have an idea!
posted by PMdixon at 9:34 PM on February 3 [7 favorites]


Carbon offsets are the moral equivalent of papal indulgences, except that they help to fractionally condemn all of us to an actual hell.

But, any sin tax works to reduce demand and helps develop alternatives. Anyway, glad you mentioned the Pope, because I think that the birthrate is our only root problem to be solved.
posted by Brian B. at 9:49 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


My parents are actually thinking about doing the 35-hour train trip up to see us next time, instead of the three-hour flight. My mom has leaned hard into climate activism since she retired and it shows :)

I'm glad this shaming is happening because it gives me cover to refuse work travel I don't want to do anyway. I work at a company that is broadly sympathetic to a desire to reduce carbon emissions and in general it has gotten much easier in recent years to say, "hey, I'm working on my carbon footprint, can we do this on video chat?" So while I don't love being shamed for visiting faraway relatives, I'm happy that this discourse is broad enough now that I can get away with turning down work trips without seeming like an extremist. I like that it's now seen as reasonable to push back on a request to travel and ask yourself and the people you're supposed to travel to meet if it's really something that's *got* to be done in person.
posted by potrzebie at 9:51 PM on February 3 [15 favorites]


I find discussions around emissions quickly generate into all-or-nothing, black and white style debates. There should be more nuance to the discussion.

Carbon offsetting as it's most commonly purchased is problematic (not useless, just problematic) because it typically involves planting trees. But planting trees that grow and capture enough carbon to cover a transcontinental flight can take 20-30 years. The carbon is emitted immediately, however. That's a problem.

I expect this to change in the next 10-15 years as the urgency grows and people are willing to pay more for literal carbon extraction, we have the technology to do this right now today, but it's not economical, and scales of production are not (yet) there. This will change.

Likewise, we're foolish to expect an individual flight to emit the same emissions in 15 years that it does now. Flight efficiency has actually been improving steadily. Efficiency, in general, is one of the most under appreciated ways of reducing carbon emissions - it's crazy cost effective and the savings can be mind-boggling, yet because it can't get to zero, people tend to overlook it. Planes and their engines are growing more efficient. We, at least in the medium term, are unlikely to see electric flights as batteries are too heavy for their energy density, but it's likely we will see "hybrid" planes, with batteries managing high-energy flight stages like take off, and then switching to regular fuel, just like a prius. This will dramatically reduce emissions, especially on shorter flights.

In the long term, battery technology will continue evolving and may one day achieve the density required.

I feel the same way about electric cars (no emissions, but where does all that electricity come from?)

You should educate yourself more before sharing your opinion so blithely. An EV powered by even the dirtiest coal power plant still emits less than burning petrol in your car, because it turns out that running a small generator is basically the least efficient way to get energy imaginable. Further, purchasing 100% renewable power is trivial in all developed countries these days, and the kind of people dropping $35k+ on a new EV are, suffice to say, generally also buying renewable power.
posted by smoke at 9:59 PM on February 3 [16 favorites]


....the ripple effect impact of increased tourism. Like national parks being "loved to death" or even increasing tourism to New Orleans which caused AirBNBs to explode and displacing local populations.

37. Molise, Italy - If you're in search of untrammeled traditional Italy, you've found it


Let the trammeling begin!
posted by fairmettle at 10:12 PM on February 3 [8 favorites]


One of the reasons flights are cheaper than train or bus is that aviation fuel is untaxed and VAT passed thru in all international and most domestic routes.

The industry and its cross-jurisdiction maneuvers is a microcosm of the collective action problem we are all chained to.
posted by anthill at 10:35 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]


Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. --Mark Twain
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:39 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


1920: Hey 3rd world tropical country! We're going to buy all of your Important Resource X so you have money to modernize and become self sufficient for the future!

1990: Hey 3rd world tropical country! You should stop chopping down your forests and strip mining for coal power plants. Eco-tourism and preservation is the way to modernize and become self sufficient for the future!

2020: Hey 3rd world tropical country! You know how you've been dealing with droughts and rising sea levels? I have some more bad news...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:56 PM on February 3 [9 favorites]


Because making biojetfuel from farm waste costs 2-5 times that of fossil fuel. And if we did make that, we'd make enough for maybe 5% of flights.

Please explain how they were making it at $80 a barrel, including capex, at demonstration scale in Missouri a decade ago if it supposedly costs $120-$300 a barrel in full scale production today. Methinks some people aren't being completely honest.

Yes, the methods of the 1970s are not only expensive, but require energy inputs in excess of what is created. Modern techniques, on the other hand, are far better.
posted by wierdo at 10:58 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


BTW, I'm not talking about the ethanol or other things we call biofuels, I'm talking about making oil from turkey offal, pig shit, and the like. You know, the stuff that otherwise ends up fouling rivers and producing enough methane to itself be a serious part of the GHG problem, on the same order as the emissions people are being shamed about.

Too bad it would fuck over the tar sands producers and a significant fraction of the fracking business by undercutting their cost of production, otherwise it wouldn't have been buried "because it smells." (Yes, that was the excuse for shutting down the plant and abandoning the technology. Unfortunate we have such short memories)
posted by wierdo at 11:06 PM on February 3


We need systemic changes and personal responsibility. Don't do bad things just because they're legal.
posted by pracowity at 11:37 PM on February 3 [7 favorites]


I have many thoughts on this as I'm involved with some local ecotourism projects in Japan (my wife now leads some back roads cycling tours), and the whole country is ramping up for more tourism this year around the Tokyo Olympics.

Kyoto has already been lousy with tourists for several years, so lots of the rural areas are trying to attract visitors who want a less touristy, more "traditional" experience. By developing eco-tour activities, we've been very aware of the paradoxical aspects where even inviting tourists can start to destroy the very traditional/natural/authentic/etc. things they've come to see.

But on the other hand, one of our cycling spots is a traditional handcraft village (mostly woodcarving) that used to make household Buddhist altars. They cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they've grown out of fashion, and the village used to have about 100 crafting households, and is now down to 4. They're all about bringing in tourists (within reason), and have adapted by also carving more souvenir type goods that people can bring home. Without tourists, or at least media attention to drive online sales, I think these sorts of towns would die out.

So while I agree that wasting Jet fuel is a huge problem, I think tourism can also support local economies and traditions which balances out the energy waste, at least more than something like say bitcoin mining.

Also, I wonder how many energy-conscious non-travelers it would take to make an impact on actual flight traffic. When I return to the states, I've been using the same Delta flight for over a decade, which used to be full as it was a transit flight to the Philippines, but that leg of the flight stopped and now it's usually less than half-full, but still flies NGO to DET almost daily. Not sure how they make money with a 30-40% full cabin, maybe they take a loss and make it up on other routes? If not though, it could be a pretty uphill battle to putting any major dent in jet fuel just from the passenger side of the equation. Perhaps pressure on stricter govt. regulation may be a better route?
posted by p3t3 at 12:16 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


Having worked in tourism, and following the industry quite a bit, let me put up this comparison for you.

Two of Australia's top industries are coal and tourism.

Coal generates $64 billion a year. Tourism generates $60 billion a year.

If you stopped tourism tomorrow, a million people would lose their jobs. That's 7.7% of the workforce.

If you stopped the coal industry tomorrow, 54,000 people would lose their jobs. That's 0.4% of the workforce. That coal produces 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. That is, interestingly, almost exactly the amount of emissions produced by all the air travel in the world annually. (And they are not the top country when it comes to exporting CO2 producing fuel.)

So, stop tourism or stop coal. Which one would be a more effective impact on CO2 emissions while having the least economic impact? I leave it to you.
posted by rednikki at 1:03 AM on February 4 [72 favorites]


I don't even think the problem is primarily people choosing whether to fly or not fly - I think the problem is simply that our consumption levels are too high. Only a homeless beggar has a near zero environmental footprint...

All industrial production creates CO2. Roads. Houses. Food. Phones. TV shows.

Sure, some sectors are more CO2 intensive than others. But everything needs roads and buildings and logistics and energy at a minimum, and concrete production is a major source of CO2 emissions. Spend a $1000 on a phone, on a flight, a new TV, on a road trip, or an expensive gourmet dinner - the CO2 emissions involved in their manufacture and delivery aren't wildly different once you look at it from the view of your entire salary.

All money is spent at the end of the day, unless you burn it in a bonfire. Not spending $1000 on a flight may make you feel better. But at the end of the day, what did you spend that $1000 on instead? A new phone or TV? Or "saved and invested" it in rental housing or stocks in mega corporations? It's almost inevitable that someone who earns $300,000 - and maybe making a token effort to be "eco-friendly" - will still end up with contributing more CO2 emissions than someone who earns $40,000 and ignores the environment.
posted by xdvesper at 1:59 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


So, stop tourism or stop coal.

That's a false dichotomy. You could stop both or neither. You could cut back on both or neither.
posted by pracowity at 2:03 AM on February 4


Spend a $1000 on a phone, on a flight, a new TV, on a road trip, or an expensive gourmet dinner - the CO2 emissions involved in their manufacture and delivery aren't wildly different

What are you talking about? This is patently untrue. Some activities and items have much larger carbon footprints than others. A TV isn't anywhere close to a flight. An expensive, huge, TV isn't anywhere close to a short flight.

Argh, I find this fatalism and ignorance so frustrating.
posted by smoke at 2:20 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


That's a false dichotomy. You could stop both or neither. You could cut back on both or neither.

I think the point was to illustrate that there is an outsized focus on aviation relative to its impact. It's 2.5% of global emissions, but seems to be closer to 50% of the discussion on climate change. There are people talking about all but banning air travel, yet cars produce far more CO2 globally, and have far more feasible alternatives available generally.

I swear a lot of this focus is because air travel is something that the speaker doesn't do, or could easily give up, we should all stop flying, meanwhile let's not talk about cars because that's harder to envisage cutting out of their life. This is an anti-immigrant sentiment, whether intended or not. Why should we give up flying before cars, when cars contribute more?

Because flying is only that important to immigrants. God forbid not being able to drive home to see grandma on the weekend. But sure, let's shame and try and ban Giorgio next door from flying home to see grandma once a year.
posted by Dysk at 2:28 AM on February 4 [33 favorites]


Also, I wonder how many energy-conscious non-travelers it would take to make an impact on actual flight traffic. When I return to the states, I've been using the same Delta flight for over a decade, which used to be full as it was a transit flight to the Philippines, but that leg of the flight stopped and now it's usually less than half-full, but still flies NGO to DET almost daily. Not sure how they make money with a 30-40% full cabin, maybe they take a loss and make it up on other routes? If not though, it could be a pretty uphill battle to putting any major dent in jet fuel just from the passenger side of the equation. Perhaps pressure on stricter govt. regulation may be a better route?
posted by p3t3 at 12:16 AM on February 4


Airlines will fly planes completely empty sometimes because if they don't use their runway time slot, they can lose it for future flights. Yes, they fly totally empty planes back and forth.

Six times per week, an empty plane used to fly from London’s Heathrow Airport to Cardiff, Wales. The next day, the plane would make the return trip without a single passenger.
posted by starfishprime at 2:32 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


God forbid not being able to drive home to see grandma on the weekend. But sure, let's shame and try and ban Giorgio next door from flying home to see grandma once a year.

And for reference, we could ban cars and you could still take a bus or train to see grandma. Might take a little longer or be a bit less convenient, but there are meaningful other options.

Once you've banned the flying though, Giorgio is left with taking a boat (which is not an even remotely comparable timescale and is actually often far worse when it comes to emissions) or just never seeing grandma. Or moving "back to his own country" I guess.
posted by Dysk at 2:43 AM on February 4 [15 favorites]


Tourism is a scourge quite apart from environmental impact. Tourist hotspots become unlivable long before ecological collapse.
posted by dmh at 2:48 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


> Coal generates $64 billion a year. Tourism generates $60 billion a year.
> If you stopped tourism tomorrow, a million people would lose their jobs. That's 7.7% of the workforce.
> If you stopped the coal industry tomorrow, 54,000 people would lose their jobs. That's 0.4% of the workforce. That coal produces 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

I was curious about this so I ran some numbers:

(1) sanity check of CO_2 emissions from one year of exported australian coal:

>>> billion = 10**9
>>> coal_export_sales_aud = 57.2 * billion
>>> coal_price_usd = 66.0
>>> fx_aud_per_usd = 1.49
>>> carbon_mass_per_coal_mass = 0.78
>>> co2_mass_per_c_mass = (12+16*2)/12.
>>> tons_coal_exported = (coal_export_sales_aud / (coal_price_usd * fx_aud_per_usd))
>>> tons_co2_pollution = tons_coal_exported * carbon_mass_per_coal_mass * co2_mass_per_c_mass
>>> tons_co2_pollution / billion
1.66

Agree. it's about 1 billion tons of CO_2 pollution per year, ignoring stuff like emissions for mining and transport (probably on the order of 2%). I got a number closer to 2 billion

(2) for comparison, we also need to estimate of CO_2 emissions of tourism. We can do that assuming all international tourists to australia take a return plane flight

>>> annual_international_tourists = 8600000
>>> average_flight_time_hours = 10.8 # estimate from location data
>>> assumed_ton_co2_per_flight_hour = 0.25
>>> return_trip_factor = 2.0
>>> total_flight_hours = return_trip_factor * average_flight_time_hours * annual_international_tourists
>>> total_tons_co2 = total_flight_hours * assumed_ton_co2_per_flight_hour
>>> total_tons_co2 / billion
0.04644

OK, so the CO_2 impact of coal is about 36 times greater than the CO_2 impact of international flights for tourists visiting australia (ignoring any other CO_2 generated from tourism)

(3) for fairness, arguably we need to estimate both value obtained on the supply and demand side. i.e. not only the seller of the goods / services benefits, but surely the end user of tourism or coal-energy benefits as well.

It's easy to estimate approximately how many users benefit from the goods or services:

tourism: number of international tourists visiting australia: 8,600,000

n.b. this ignores domestic tourism, which is significant

coal mining: number of people who are end consumers of electricity from thermal coal (this is an upper bound, some coal will not be used for residential electricity consumption, will instead be used for e.g. steel production, to run aluminium smelters, etc)

I estimate a year's export of coal might produce enough electricity for residential use by 268,000,000 people, at extravagant australian-household levels of electricity consumption. So arguably that's helping 31x as many customers as tourism, likely over a longer time period -- i.e. the whole year compared to the duration a tourist visits.

>>> billion = 10**9
>>> coal_export_sales_aud = 57.2 * billion
>>> coal_price_usd = 66.0
>>> fx_aud_per_usd = 1.49
>>> tons_coal_exported = (coal_export_sales_aud / (coal_price_usd * fx_aud_per_usd))
>>>
>>> coal_energy_gigajoules_per_ton = 8.88
>>> megawatt_hours_per_gigajoule = 0.28
>>> power_plant_efficiency = 0.37
>>>
>>> total_electricity_generated_megawatt_hours = tons_coal_exported * coal_energy_gigajoules_per_ton * megawatt_hours_per_gigajoule * power_plant_efficiency
>>>
>>> household_annual_electricity_consumption_megawatt_hours = 5.0
>>> people_per_household = 2.5
>>> households_powered_per_year = total_electricity_generated_megawatt_hours / household_annual_electricity_consumption_megawatt_hours
>>> people_with_electricity_per_year = households_powered_per_year * people_per_household
>>> people_with_electricity_per_year / billion
0.26755221476510077
posted by are-coral-made at 3:27 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


Why should we give up flying before cars, when cars contribute more?

You could give up (or cut back on) both.

If your Giorgio needs to fly home to see his poor old grandmother once a year, that's not the subject of this post, which is tourism and climate change. When Giorgio flies to the homeland, he could pay normal flying-home-to-grandma rates. When Giorgio flies the Tahiti (assuming that's not where grandma lives), he could pay tourist rates designed to discourage air travel.
posted by pracowity at 3:58 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


And can y’all make your minds?

This isn't a Quaker meeting.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:11 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


Ignoring travel specifically, it's fairly easy to estimate climate impact as a function of amount of goods & services consumed:

Total goods and services produced globally: 2017 global GDP: 80.6 * 10^12 USD
Total global CO_2-e emissions from fossil fuels and industry: 36.2 10^12 kg CO_2

Divide the two numbers and we get 0.45 kg CO_2 per 1 USD -- that's the global average carbon dioxide emissions involved in producing 1 USDs worth of goods or services in 2017.

If you consume 1 USD of goods or services, then, all things equal, your consumption required about 0.45 kg of CO_2 emissions. This gives you a crude rule of thumb to estimate the CO_2 footprint of personal consumption -- the more you spend on goods or services, the larger the pollution.

I had a go at forecasting my lifetime projected total CO_2 emissions -- if I last until age 85, at my current rate of consumption & with a increasing consumption of healthcare services over time, I'll probably consume enough goods & services to emit 1000 tons of CO_2.


There have been a few studies backing up this relationship between carbon footprint and income:

> A household’s carbon footprint generally increases with its income, ranging from 19.3 to 91.5 tons of CO2-equivalent annually.

http://theconversation.com/5-charts-show-how-your-household-drives-up-global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-119968

> Regression analyses revealed people’s environmental self-identity to be the main predictor of pro-environmental behavior; however, environmental self-identity played an ambiguous role in predicting actual environmental impacts. Instead, environmental impacts were best predicted by people’s income level. Our results show that individuals with high pro-environmental self-identity intend to behave in an ecologically responsible way, but they typically emphasize actions that have relatively small ecological benefits.
posted by are-coral-made at 4:12 AM on February 4 [12 favorites]


coal mining: number of people who are end consumers of electricity from thermal coal (this is an upper bound, some coal will not be used for residential electricity consumption, will instead be used for e.g. steel production, to run aluminium smelters, etc)

Your assumption is bigger than you might think: generally (and definitely in NSW) industry uses waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more power than residential. For example, one company, Tomago Aluminium, uses more than 10% of NSW's total electricity!

As alluded to above, industry typically slides under the fog of outrage at consumers.
posted by smoke at 4:26 AM on February 4 [11 favorites]


I find it mind boggling that everytime we learn more about how our behavior is causing harm we see people digging in that they are being shamed and judged and shaming is bad, and there are lot's of other causes of climate change so therefore we should all do nothing but wait for governments to fix it.

Ha! What a plan. We are responsible for choosing to do nothing (or even just voting alone) until governments decide to fix this. We HAVE to do this ourselves because even if governments will change they won't unless we make them and shift the tide with our behavior.

I also wonder if no one has heard the term harm reduction.

You can absolutely understand and admit your behavior is harmful, that you aren't able to change all of it at once, and still be working to mitigate the harms of your behavior in small changes that are manageable.

Flight travel is harmful, industrial production is harmful, meat industry is harmful, mass agriculture is harmful, using computers is harmful. Not all in equal amounts but enough we should absolutely care about all of it and every single one of us should be looking to make changes instead of pointing fingers or even wasting our breaths telling people that if we generate awareness and ask for behavioral change we're being too judgy or shamey. Generating awareness will make some people feel bad and it's part of this process.

But a bigger part of the shaming is that we are defending ourselves from the idea of change by pretending we are being persecuted far more than we are. I can use my computer to talk about this and about what changes I'm able to make without assuming I know what others are able to make. We can encourage each other to change and even talk about how horrible these behaviors are without assuming we know what others are or are not able to do in their specific circumstances.
posted by xarnop at 4:38 AM on February 4 [14 favorites]


Yeah, maybe some of us aren't responding to the people encouraging that we all cut down our own consumption where we can, but are instead responding to comments like this:

Long-distance travel cannot continue. The carbon emissions are simply too high to deal with.
posted by Dysk at 4:45 AM on February 4 [14 favorites]


I agree that statement is problematically worded as is. It's interesting though because I read the same comment and still didn't take it as a personal attack. I didn't feel that the person making that comment was judging any other person more than themselves or they believed that they or anyone else really has the power to suddenly literally stop all long distance travel. I read their comment to be shorthand for the rest of what they said which is "long distance travel as we know it".

The way we are living our lives is destroying the planet. We can all blame governments or someone else, or we can talk about this reality and ask ourselves and others to make what changes we are able, even changes that are hard and challenging and we don't really feel ready for or up to.

And we can do that with compassion for the fact that it's hard, it's imperfect, and we can't change everything at once or know what others are able to change at a given moment. I believe we are capable of this challenge of asking people to change, talking about what needs to change, while having empathy that change is hard and not everyone has the same ability to change given their current situations. I think one of the hard things though is that we will resist admitting we are the problem- we can see addicts in any other addiction as being problematic when they deny their behavior is a problem but we can't see it in ourselves.

The fact that this is real doesn't mean we should all do whatever we want, it means we should challenge ourselves more but also continuing making information available about what needs to change and asking people to make hard choices that don't feel easy or comfortable. Harm reduction isn't about making everything easy or only changing what is convenient. It still often includes heroically difficult feats of change, just with more realism about how difficult even those small changes are. I see the same pattern of resisting change, ignoring the harms of behaviors, and following a false dichotomy of either totally hating the self and giving up on any care of making change or of thinking we have to make every change (which is physically impossible). It's the same false dichotomy that abstinence "all or nothing" based thinking fails people in other forms of addiction too. We have allowed ourselves to become addicted to toxic mass production and conveniences.

The weening off process is hard and painful and likely even harmful to us on a personal level. But that doesn't mean we should give up. We can do this. I believe in us. We need each other and to build healthier systems of supporting each other to help ween each other off dependence on a toxic system. Humans have never functioned in isolation- we can't generate all the resources we need in a healthy way, alone. We have to organize and rebuild healthier means of production, and to acknowledge disabilities, functional limitations, financial barriers, and the limitation of individual willpower as a functional tool, that are leaving a lot of people unable to make many of these changes without support. We need to know our needs, because we need a great deal of support to make the changes- and to help ensure once we know our own needs, we network to become part of providing that to others as well.
posted by xarnop at 5:05 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


The last time I had a conversation about individual "luxury" choices, one of the zero-waste folks in the conversation said, "The problem is that people have too many children. Even with everything else I do to reduce my impact on the environment, the fact that I only have one child is my biggest contribution."

At which another person chimed in to say, "I have no kids, yay."

And then someone else said, "Actually, people like you are the ones who ought to be having kids, so that we can have a generation of children raised with environmental consciousness. Now what we will have is that your way of thinking dies with you, and only other people's ideas live on. It's how we get Idiocracy."

Folks, there is no way - NO WAY - to criticize individual choices without descending into that exact shit show over and over again. There is no argument against this or that individual choice that does not come from utter privilege.

Climate change isn't privilege neutral.

- The people profiting from travel and tourism ARE the big oil companies and lifestyle peddlers.

- The individuals who travel do so in significant part because leisure travel is sold to us as this one-week-of-paradise in exchange for toiling for corporate profit the other 51 weeks of the year.

- The reason why immigrants need to fly home is due to colonialism and neo (i.e. corporate) colonialism turning us into immigrants in the first place - the same colonizers who were and are by faaaaaaar the biggest polluters and the biggest profiteers.

THEY CAUSE 90% OF ALL POLLUTION FOR PROFIT. We cause 10% of it in order to live, rest, work, and love. How fucked up do our priorities have to be to point fingers at us instead of at them? Who does it benefit when we do this?
posted by MiraK at 5:10 AM on February 4 [49 favorites]


My boyfriend was talking to his parents in New Zealand the other night. They were telling him about a new property they'd bought as their final retirement home, then made a chagrined comment about how "It might have been a bad idea because it's close to the beach and that might all be underwater in 20 years anyway..."

Then they pivoted into a completely unironic discussion of whether the next big family vacation (after this Christmas' trip to Rarotonga, which we didn't go on) should be "Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali, or what do you guys think?"

At which point all we could think was that his brother and sister live in Australia and are choking on smoke, their own retirement property might fall under Aquaman's legal jurisdiction by 2050, and they're already flying to visit us in the Netherlands this summer, so they know full well we'd be flying halfway around the planet to, what, lie on a beach and rent a moped for an afternoon ride around an island? How do you say "No thanks, that sounds unjustifiable" without actually saying that?

Sure, maybe not every long-distance flight needs to be an agonizing moral dilemma...but doesn't it? My boyfriend and I have been buying carbon offsets for every flight we've taken in the last couple years (trying to buy less guilt despite zero confidence in their effectiveness), we've been trying to avoid "non-necessary" flights, and we've more or less decided any future vacations need to by train or in the still-not-super-sustainable hybrid car we have... And no matter what, we're still not sure how to deal with the hugely different travel expectations of other people in our families and social circles without regretting the relationship fallout.
posted by wakannai at 5:24 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]


The reason why immigrants need to fly home is due to colonialism and neo (i.e. corporate) colonialism turning us into immigrants in the first place

With respect, an immigrant was not something anyone "turned me into". It is not necessarily a sad situation to be in, an evil forced upon us. I get that it can be, and will be for many people. But casting migrants as inherently or universally somehow victims is not a great look.
posted by Dysk at 5:34 AM on February 4 [21 favorites]


Academics are also figuring out what are the ethics of conference travel. The support and scholarly networking available at your discipline's primary conference is hard to replace, which has always been one of the reasons that underrepresented minorities and other marginalized scholars have pushed for alternatives to the big conference.

My wife's uni has partially solved the problem of travel by cutting conference funding to such low levels that the only conferences she attends now are regional. Of course that means that the better funded Tier 1 research schools get to network and dominate even more further entrenching inequality of opportunity and outcome.
posted by srboisvert at 5:50 AM on February 4 [14 favorites]


Why is it so hard to understand that the shit middle class people took for granted in the late 20th century is shit middle class people will not get to have going forward into the future if we want to have a future?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:54 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]



THEY CAUSE 90% OF ALL POLLUTION FOR PROFIT. We cause 10% of it in order to live, rest, work, and love. How fucked up do our priorities have to be to point fingers at us instead of at them? Who does it benefit when we do this?


I'm all for structural arguments re externalities and capitalism. See my posting history.

BUT

who buys the products and services that drives this profit? we do, as consumers and as participants in an extractive society - colonized and not! - cause a lot more than 10% of GHG emission!

Who uses the electricity and heating that makes the profit? Who buys the cars? Who eats the animals?

This is a walking and chewing gum situation. Companies won't change because "the demand is still there". We won't change because "it's the companies fault".

Climate change isn't privilege neutral.


Japan - a "developed", privileged society is building dozens of coal plants.


China is helping Africa, an exploited, colonized continent, build HUNDREDS.


Arguments from past-lack-of-privilege-to-continue-emitting are ULTIMATELY meaningless (see: china increasing flights from 150 million/year to 400 million a year. How does past lack of privilege for recently-middle-classed chinese people figure into your analysis?)

. They end one way, with the oceans rising and our ability as a species to have anything beyond 1400s-level technology and society to help us - with billions still on the planet. Lots of wars over limited resources, starvation, a vast increase in human misery the likes of which the globe - in any of its previous horrors: a scale that dwarfs slavery, colonialism, war, you name it! - has never seen.
posted by lalochezia at 5:57 AM on February 4 [6 favorites]


With respect, an immigrant was not something anyone "turned me into". It is not necessarily a sad situation to be in, an evil forced upon us. I get that it can be, and will be for many people. But casting migrants as inherently or universally somehow victims is not a great look.

I'm sorry if my words came across that way. It was NOT my meaning.

But here's the deal: emigration patterns say that if you're from a rich (generally colonial or formerly colonial) country, you're far less likely to migrate voluntarily elsewhere than vice versa. Immigrants aren't necessarily victims, and immigration isn't necessarily sad... And this truth is perfectly compatible with the fact that much of immigration is people chasing economic opportunity, and there wouldn't be anything to chase if their own countries and economies and resources hadn't been plundered by others.

The point being, the climate change caused by immigrants' repeated flights home and back is the result of colonial and corporate profiteers.

Same as the climate change caused by leisure travelers is the result of capitalism selling people that vision of a travel lifestyle specifically as a break from the corporate hamster wheel we are on the rest of the time - i.e. corporate profit on BOTH ends is the reason why most people pollute for leisure.
posted by MiraK at 5:59 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


And this truth is perfectly compatible with the fact that much of immigration is people chasing economic opportunity, and there wouldn't be anything to chase if their own countries and economies and resources hadn't been plundered by others.

The point being, the climate change caused by immigrants' repeated flights home and back is the result of colonial and corporate profiteers.


Much of it is, but not all, and that distinction is important to acknowledge. Otherwise you end up with an analysis that implies that in a fair and just world we wouldn't have immigration.
posted by Dysk at 6:09 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Companies won't change because "the demand is still there".

Well and because governments aren't forcing them to. That's a pretty big omission from your screed.
posted by PMdixon at 6:13 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]


There's a couple of reasons, IMO, why people are on here telling consumers to pull up our pants, to use an analogy from racism.

1. You CAN yell at consumers. Individuals are powerless and easily reached. We're all on here reading your comments. You can be sure of being heard/read by someone. Yelling at corporations - while it would be a much better directed yelling - is much less satisfying because nobody hears you. Their power keeps them out of your reach. If you feel like yelling and blaming, consumers are an easy target. So the fact that they're the wrong target starts to matter less.

2. Individual consumers are human - i.e. susceptible to guilt and anxiety - which makes y'all feel like you achieved forward movement when you manage to make consumers feel these emotions. You dumped your anxiety on someone else! Yay! Win! (Not.)

The dead giveaway that consumers are the wrong target for your activism is this: almost all the individual-level changes recommended by climate change activists are only implementable by upper-middle-class-and-higher white people. The zero waste lifestyle or switching to pasture-raised meat or even going vegan when your culture isn't built around vegan/vegetarian food is laughable to anyone who is middle-class or below, for example. Telling folks to have fewer kids is lovely only when you don't live off a farm or your people have never been the target of genocide. Telling people not to fly out to vacations is morally reprehensible when the people in question have been planning and saving and dreaming for five years to get this rare treat.

"Take personal responsibility" was a bad direction for folks to go when it came to racism and sexism, and it is no less of a bad direction when it comes to climate change. There are systemic forces at work which are DIFFICULT to tackle, and DIFFICULT to feel like we're making any progress on, but that difficulty is no excuse to set our sights on the more easily bullied, but wrong, targets.
posted by MiraK at 6:20 AM on February 4 [19 favorites]


But don't we want the very privileged to make changes to lessen their hurt of the less privileged? When someone says "let's try to do less X" on Metafilter, they are talking to a variety of people, privilege unknown, but a LOT of those reading that will be the people who have the privilege to make the change and should. Those whom can't follow the advice can just ignore it.

This isn't unique to this discussion. I feel like over half the threads devolve into a complaint that a given comment doesn't apply to a given community. Navigating a discussion when anyone can be reading it is hard! The audience is potentially everyone. That doesn't mean we should just never talk about our experiences or goals, just that we need to add hedging words when speaking, and as readers recognize when a given comment doesn't apply to us.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:09 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


""Take personal responsibility" was a bad direction for folks to go when it came to racism and sexism"... I'm honestly lost here. My understanding is that changing sexism and racism and ableism all come from both systemic factors and the individuals making up that system. Making change at the individual level is making the systemic change that we want. We need both aspects of this change.

What is a system made of? Actual people who read in places like this. No one likes to believe they have power in a corrupt system, yet we do, we are not at all powerless. Realizing that is part of the process of systemic change, realizing the ways as individuals we profit from and sustain a toxic system. Being willing to challenge it with our voices, our actions, our voting, our protests, our behaviors- we need all of it, not just one thing. Being willing to look at how our behavior enables the system we have while also examining the ways corrupt systems trap people in them and make them feel powerless-- we can do both.
posted by xarnop at 7:48 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


It's a complicated issue.

The carbon cost of flying made me change my life plans, give up flying for the time being, and leave a job in a tourism-related industry.

But "overtourism" is often the result of people being able to travel now who didn't use to, such as growing middle classes in China and India. It wasn't so much a problem when only a smaller global elite could afford it. There's a lot of discomfort in saying - well, we richer folks have had our fun, travel is cancelled now.

It's also no coincidence that the flight-shame movement took off in Sweden, where you get a shit-ton of vacation time and have dozens of countries accessible by rail.
posted by noxperpetua at 7:59 AM on February 4 [18 favorites]


You have a point, tofu_crouton. Consciousness raising is necessary for change. We just have to learn to do that in a way that's mindful of people's differing circumstances, acknowledging privilege, and never ever shaming & blaming individuals for their choices.

In a way, this conversation is reminiscent of conversations that surround the food industry. In response to massive profitmaking entities feeding us and our children salt, fat, and sugar in insane quantities, we've been raising consumer consciousness. And the thing is, focusing on consumers IS working.... but it's interesting to see the various ways it has worked, and which branches have yielded the best fruit.

On one hand, there's people who focus on the big picture: they raise awareness about what goes on in the industrial food production chain. They examined what forces have resulted in this much salt, fat, and sugar being pumped into our bodies - government subsidies and corporate profits and sugar industry coverups. They exposed school lunches for what they were, and took on local governments. They wrote books about what we are forced to eat when we live on minimum wage, about how society and the healthcare system treats fat people, about the horrors of industrial farming. They launched political efforts to reform school cafeteria food and ban sodas and eradicate food deserts. They talked about black people's food histories and identified the systemic racism at work in the devastation wreaked on fat people's bodies. They talked about misogyny as it intersects with food issues: how we see women's bodies, what women's relationship with food is, and how it's women who are held responsible for all the unpaid work of cooking/grocery shopping/meal planning/cleaning up.

On the other hand, there's people who focused on individual choices. Folks who urged us to buy local, ethical food, and go vegan. Folks who said buying McDonalds for our kids is child abuse. Folks who put their money into expensive farmer's markets. I don't want to say this was all a bust! There's now an exploding cottage industry of farmers' markets - something that didn't exist 20 years ago, something that will only become more ubiquitous as time goes by, thanks to these folks. CSAs are ever more affordable. Community gardens are not only conduits of food justice but also for a host of other community-health works. However, most of these efforts are correctly understood as luxuries and small-time efforts even though it's a step in the right direction. The upper middle class people who buy farmer's market produce are mocked appropriately for it if they try to brag or moralize about how everyone should buy farmer's market stuff. The mockery doesn't stop rich people from buying ethically sourced meat and produce - it just makes their privilege an integral aspect of the consciousness-raising about food, and eventually the conversations about food.

Back in the early days of conversations about food, folks would say, "Stop choosing poison for your body!" and "Feeding McDonalds to kids is child abuse!" etc., which I find analogous to people here saying "Long-distance travel cannot continue," and "My and your descendants will suffer because of our choices [to fly on vacation]." These days, our conversations about food are informed by the work of poverty activists, fat activists, labor activists, school lunch activists, etc. That is what makes them conversations, instead of a form of privilege war. I'd love for us to learn those lessons for here.

Maybe we learn to kindly roll our eyes at the folks who can afford to go on their personal zero-waste or carbon-neutral lifestyle journeys, crack a few jokes at their expense (trusting that these jokes do not deter them from their personal efforts), and move us closer towards having conversations about climate change which do not center the supposedly morally superior actions of a few individual people. I look forward to the day when people announcing "I choose not to fly for my vacations" or "I choose to have only one child" are LOL'd at just as someone announcing "I shop exclusively at farmers' markets" would be. This is not where the consequential activism about climate change will happen.
posted by MiraK at 8:16 AM on February 4 [19 favorites]


But don't we want the very privileged to make changes to lessen their hurt of the less privileged?
In the unlikely event that climate change is meaningfully addressed in a useful time frame, it will require far more coercion than individuals are capable of applying. Luckily we have states to do that coercing. But this idea that we just need to get enough buyin is dangerous.
posted by PMdixon at 8:23 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]


So. Yes. I will be flying to Costa Rica.

Sorry, did you just shit on someone flying to a funeral so you can go on vacation guilt free? Just apart from the larger conversation, holy shit
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:35 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]


The individuals who travel do so in significant part because leisure travel is sold to us as this one-week-of-paradise in exchange for toiling for corporate profit the other 51 weeks of the year.

This is along the lines of what I was thinking. Also, how 2-3 weeks' PTO when you have a family means a leisurely bike trip is probably beyond reach for us, as is sailing between continents, etc. A lot of the time vs. money tradeoff is tipped over on the scale by lack of time, so you end up on a plane where you could have taken a train, etc.

I am not an absolutist. I personally believe all of the following can be true:

- governments can regulate and tax industries, which will drive the cost of travel up for everyone, which will result in some people not being able to see their families as much and suck for middle class and under, but also will provide financial incentives for everyone to travel less, including corporate travel. They can then reinvest these proceeds into supporting research, or creating social programs that give people time to take boats by requiring 5 weeks' vacation every 3rd year, or better transit options, or whatever it is we work out.

- governments should tax the class of people who have private jets or charter jets more just in general, and should be in the business of changing the infrastructure for everything i.e. public transit, better longer-distance transit,

- individual actions do matter some, especially in terms of consumer shift. My family's single biggest contribution on the travel front has been more of a mindshift to eliminate the "we work hard all year so we are flying to Aruba in the winter" mentality. We don't eliminate all travel, we did a road trip/camping last year, and I would like to take my children to Europe in the next three years.

I think part of it is a mindset. We don't travel long distances because we're tired out and just want a break full of what to me often feels like colonial pampering. My husband and I laid that out a few years ago, not just for environmental reasons but so we could pace ourselves differently. We have not and do not plan to go to Disney etc.; we've never focused on that with our kids or treated it like a necessity. I've been on what I plan to be my last cruise. At one point my kids were really sad about not getting to go to a big waterpark, so I booked a night's hotel a commuter train ride away, and they had a blast. I guess the thing is we try to "dream small" -- look for local solutions first, and then move out from there.

In all these things, my generation has improved over my parents' (who bought an extra home in Fort Lauderdale in order to get on cruise ships more easily) and I think my kids will make even better choices...and, professionally and politically, enable different solutions. My contribution will be in the middle, raising them in awareness.

That said, we're privileged in making these choices. We live in a vibrant city with tons to do. We live right on the shores of a beautiful lake (in winter I can see it between the houses across the street). So we picnic by walking 15 minutes down the big hill, pulling a cart if we are making a full afternoon of it with a little sun shade etc. I'm not going to begrudge other people. But I am also not going to pretend that going to Disney should be a dream for us.

To use the food analogy, I think it is a cultural mindset that needs to change. When I was growing up, we didn't think about the environmental impact of "TV Dinner Night" (every Thursday!) where everyone had their individual foil tray of highly-processed Salisbury Steak food. My kids would be stunned if we served things at home in individual disposable packs. I think travel is coming around to the same thing. And that's not a bad thing, but that's really as far as individuals can go in their spending - make good choices, given the constraints.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:37 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


So. Yes. I will be flying to Costa Rica.

Sorry, did you just shit on someone flying to a funeral so you can go on vacation guilt free? Just apart from the larger conversation, holy shit
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9


That is not at all what that poster did. They said so quite clearly, here:

I am making a distinction between the travel I do because of family and the travel I do because I have a hankering to go see the Himalayas.
And think the distinction is false because you should NOT be judged, condemned, or shamed for either. They are both equally valid reasons to climb on to the worlds most effective and common means of transportation.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:09 PM

posted by tiny frying pan at 8:48 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]


I can dream of guaranteed generous vacation time and solar powered airships, right?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:52 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]


"... hold oil companies and dictators and the US military machine accountable..."
^^This, so much this. The military wastes more fuel in a single touch and go exercise for a troop carrier than you and I could in many, many flights. That's just ONE example. There's no mandate for the military industrial complex to make/use more fuel efficient vehicles, or to use their fuel as though it's the scarce resource it is.
To me, this is a classic case of "Let me steal all but one cookie, then blame the {individual} for wanting the last cookie." I am always suspicious (as others here have said) when we begin taking up arguments that blame individuals, and not industry - they are the far larger user, and can make more impact that any one (or many) of us ever could.
posted by dbmcd at 9:08 AM on February 4 [11 favorites]


To me, this is a classic case of "Let me steal all but one cookie, then blame the {individual} for wanting the last cookie."

I like that, but in my mind, the cookies belong to Bangladesh, and the governments of a handful of countries stole most of the cookies, and then me and some other non-Bangladeshi individuals stole the last cookie. I can still blame myself and my friends for our part in the theft.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:21 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


This was the comment ifds was responding to:

Flying back to Korea for grandma's funeral is a necessity though.

No. No it’s not.

Everyone wants the thing they do to be the exception. It’s not.

And that’s why all this bullshit about blaming and shaming individual behavior is totally useless.


The last line makes it clear that the poster doesn't think spamandkimchi should be shamed for flying, but the comment was still pretty rude and aggressive, and the poster said nothing after spamandkimchi followed up to say that it was not a hypothetical and they were actually talking about flying to an actual funeral, and took the comment badly. (It happens that I also recently took a longish flight for my grandmother's funeral and so am feeling kinda salty about this.) There's no reason to go so far in the opposite direction that you're making people feel shitty for considering their choices.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:29 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]


My and your descendants will suffer because of our choices. Tens of Millions of poor, most likely POC refugees will be made because of the rising oceans, and colonized or not, your trips to your hometown family and your work contribute. As do mine. As do everyones.

So you're going to stop flying from here on out? Serious question.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:33 AM on February 4


Do you notice how the biggest proponents for shaming individual behavior in this thread always slyly make a convenient out for themselves. Why their use of a given carbon contributing technologies is okay?

Yeah. No. You cannot have it both ways.

I pose to you that if you say air travel for tourism is an unnecessary evil and people should be shamed into not doing it; then so is commenting on the carbon polluting internet or even using any portable communication device for anything but emergencies — projected to contribute 14% of all carbon emissions. They are conveniences only. You do for vanity. And entertainment. No matter how you dress it up.

But ALL of this perilous and pointless Tu Quoque territory. It will not solve this problem.

Sure. Do what you feel matters to you. Make your contribution. It can’t hurt. If we’re very lucky it might lead to some tipping point. It might lead to consumer innovation.

But these blanket judgements. This sanctimony. This smugness. This shaming. No. It will not solve this. It has rarely solved anything. All it does is piss people off. And it pisses me off.

And no, racism and The climate crisis are not comparable. I suppose if the international institutional slavery trade still existed, then yes there would be a slight comparisons to make.

But no. The climate crisis is of a magnitude and complexity that there are few things to compare it to. Which why it’s so difficult to fix.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 9:37 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]


There was a Season 3 episode of The Good Place which made the point for us perfectly, see this clip of Michael (a being from the afterlife) explaining to The Judge (a being from the afterlife) that life on earth is simply too complicated for humans to keep making purely good choices, using the example of how the act of purchasing a tomato contributes to all kinds of hellfire evil that none of us can hope to avoid.

There is no ethical consumption in capitalism.
posted by MiraK at 9:45 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]


But these blanket judgements. This sanctimony. This smugness. This shaming. No. It will not solve this. It has rarely solved anything. All it does is piss people off. And it pisses me off.

What I got confused about is that you were responding to people just...thinking about their own ethical limits in a thread about that kind of decision-making and you were shaming them for thinking about it. Which is to say, I think the aggressor here in terms of shaming is not who you seem to think it is.

You can come down on a different side in terms of ethics, but I don't think it's called for to actively try to be shitty to people who are thinking it through. I also don't think that it's called for when you admit that it comes from a place of defensiveness about your own choices. If you feel that your choices are fine, then own that and be comfortable. There's no need to try to keep other people from thinking about it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:49 AM on February 4 [6 favorites]


There's no reason to go so far in the opposite direction that you're making people feel shitty for considering their choices.

But isn’t this the whole thread? This whole thread just reeks of shame and displaced grievances.

My argument is nobody should feel the least bit guilty about using this completely excepted, thoroughly normal, highly convenient, inexpensive, extremely efficient form of travel for just about ANY reason.

If you say “funeral travel good” then say “going to see a rare cultural or natural wonder bad“ all you’re doing is buying into the fallacy of guilt. When they both contribute equally to the problem.

Hey. I’d like to see my family outside the crippling context of grief.

The fact is if casual airline travel ended or even reduced by any appreciable amount as suddenly as some here want the world would be thrown into economic chaos. So that is not going to happen.

What will happen is technological innovation and I doubt that will occur because fewer people spend money on the industry tasked with making it.

I’d like to solve this thing without the James Bind Villain route of upending civilization. I’d like to solve it with out adding yet another thing to divide society.

Collective action is necessary. Collective shaming is not.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 9:51 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]


I understand your argument I'm just telling you you're being shitty
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:53 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]


Collective action is necessary. Collective shaming is not.

Also like I don't want to pick on you because you're not the only person evincing a similar position in this thread, but if this is an emergency, it may be that widespread cultural changes in terms of what is "normal" need to be made. I don't get this all-caps bold "this is an emergency" stuff paired with "and nobody better think about changing culture or behavior or they're shaming and that's bad."
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:53 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]


but I don't think it's called for to actively try to be shitty to people

But it’s okay for you to be shitty to me.

Look. I’m not going to respond to you, okay. So you can just drop that right now.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 9:54 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]


[Everyone Expects, you're coming on real strong in here with a seeming attitude of "no you're wrong" but... I think people mostly agree that the solution to climate issues has to be mainly large-scale rather than individual. So this "you're wrong" framing is creating a lot of heat, by acting as if people are being foolish when they're talking about the connections of heavy personal stuff like funerals or real problems like racism/colonialism/etc, which sounds like you're dismissing the importance of those in-fact-important things. General point, it sucks for discussion when someone comes into a thread about a big social problem/issue to insist "it's simple, you fools, there's only one right answer" and then doggedly bulldozes anyone else addressing any other aspect of the big problem. Please don't be that guy.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:02 AM on February 4 [16 favorites]


cw: for some stuff related to suicidal ideation

Not to be an engineer or whatever, but I think you get some clarity from looking at the edge cases. From a perspective that "reducing one's carbon emissions [or impacts on others generally] is the ultimate good," then the "best" thing one can do for the world is to cease to exist. That's it, that's the only way to make your net impact zero.

Given that we mostly generally accept that that's not what we're going to do, then the conclusion has to be that everyone has to make a decision about where the ethical set point is above which is "too much emissions/impact" and below which is "you're ok."

For instance, everybody has to eat to continue to exist. If we accept that we think our individual continued existence is worthwhile for some reason, then we have to decide what to eat. Maybe if you do the math (which I don't think is actually feasible), the lowest impact thing to eat is radishes you grew in your backyard that you use graywater and your own manure to fertilize. But it gets tiring to eat radishes every day. So you have to decide "well is my personal increased happiness "worth" eating a potato every once in a while?" Maybe to you it is, maybe it isn't. But there isn't a quantifiable moral principle that makes that decision for you. You just have to accept that you value your enjoyment of potatoes more than minimizing your impact on the world.

I think it is pretty natural that people's choices of set point are going to differ. People are going to have different tolerances for different impacts. It is very easy for me to choose not to fertilize my lawn. It is very easy for my partner to choose to bike to work. He, however, cares a lot about lawn maintenance, and I choose to drive to work. Neither of those are justifiably "moral" positions, but they're what we can live with.

Of course, if my partner weren't worried about being judged by the neighbors or his family about the appearance of his lawn, he might find it easier to live with turning it into a meadow. If I felt that I could "waste" half an hour of my time on commuting (or even better, if I could effectively work from home), I might drive less.

If our goal is to change societal pressures such that people find it less costly to make higher impact choices, I don't think this kind of shaming and comparison sin tallying is effective. It puts people on the defensive rather than understanding and deconstructing the pressures that make them choose "less optimal" choices. And it often stems from an inability to honestly acknowledge that one's own choice of set point is completely arbitrary.
posted by arabidopsis at 10:30 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]


Okay. Let me put it this way. We all accept the climate crisis is real. Let's get that out of the way.

On the subject of air travel. The first instinct most people have had here is to search for some exception as to when/ why air travel is okay. We need it to be okay because it's the most convenient and efficient form of long distance travel ever invented.

So. Funerals was an example.

But wouldn't we all rather see our grandma's or older relations who live far away (in my case my mom) while they are still alive? Of course we would. And we don't all have weeks to drive or take a train. Flying is the only realistic option most of the time. Let's dispense with he role playing and scenario spinning where everyone is going to drive 13 hours or take a train for four days. Those are ridiculous privileges in time most do not have.

So why isn't flying to wherever to see your mom alive an exception? She's not going to be around forever. I'd like to see my mom. To talk to her. Mostly I'd like to touch her. This is not immoral. This is not unethical. But flying there to see her is suddenly not automatic choice but an ethical quandary that i have to feel guilty about.

My mother aways wanted to go to Paris and Rome. Her whole life. She's from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. And she put off travel for family.

So. Almost a decade ago when my mother turned eighty years old we decided to take her to Paris. We finally had the wherewithal to do it. We have relatives who work for airlines. We had miles. We had buddy passes. It was completely doable.

In total my two siblings, their kids and wives and my wife and I - 13 of us - flew to Paris for a week. It was seriously one of the most cherished experiences of my life. We stayed with Parisian friends. They took my mother under their wing and gave her an insiders view of that beautiful city. It was amazing being with your entire family that you only see once every two years.

So when my father tuned 84 a couple years later he offered to take us all on another trip. To Rome. And this time 14 of went. A new niece. And again the trip was incredible. After returning my father revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

This was out last trip with him. And it is entirely part of my being. We're not going to Skype or virtual tour Paris with our 80 year old mothers and fathers.

Anyway He died in my arms in July. And I'm so glad for every trip we took fishing, hiking, eating and drinking all over this beautiful world. He gave us his sense of incredible adventure. That's what was in my mind as he passed.

So according to some here any of these trips must be tainted with some level of guilt and shame. We must weigh these normally casual decisions to use this technology like we are carrying an infant over lava. Unless there is some ethical hall pass the super woke can issue us for everything we want to do, we must feel bad.

And I won't. I won't seek exceptions as to why these trips were okay and others are not. It's pointless self flagellation for which I refuse to indulge. It will not solve anything.

I will not plague my mind and torture my conscience desperate for exceptions for why this thing we all want to do is okay. Nobody should.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:11 AM on February 4 [20 favorites]


[...waking up in NZ to the expected shitshow of displaced greviances and moral finger-pointing...]

We need massive changes in emissions in all sectors. As xarnop said earlier, that massive change comes "from both systemic factors and the individuals making up that system".

We're failing to discuss how to deliver that massive change. We know the failure modes for that discussion and we're demonstrating them here. Discussions of individual change get deflected into claims of blame and shaming. Discussions of systemic change get deflected into claims about why capitalism is bad.

So let's see if we can do better, please?

Aviation is a particular problem, compared to other sectors, because:
1. Aviation is growing rapidly, much faster than the rest of the economy. The long-term trend is 5-6% growth per year.
2. There are no good technological solutions. Planes are getting more efficient by about 1% per year. This rate of improvement has held for the past four decades as a result of a huge amount of R&D. This rate of improvement isn't going to get much better. So taking into account efficiency versus simple growth of the industry, aviation's emissions are growing at 4-5% per year.
3. The aviation industry is setting up the world's biggest offset scheme and doesn't know where the offsets are going to come from.
4. Flying is now cheaper than ever so accessible to more people... but the vast majority of flights and emissions from flights come from rich Westerners and business travel. Hence the moral burden of flying is not evenly distributed.

Like every other economic activity, flying has benefits and costs. Those benefits are hard to compare because they are personal - someone may consider it absolutely necessary to fly to their grandmother's funeral, a different person may be estranged from their family and not even send a card. The costs are also hard to compare - work flies me around and I don't pay financially, but I work in climate policy so each flight costs me credibility with the people I work for. An immigrant worker doing an undervalued job on the other side of the world from their family is going to have a much harder time affording a flight home than an immigrant professional like me.

In that framing, the first thing we should do is to make sure that the costs of climate change are included in each decision to fly. Let's face it, the costs of the emissions from each flight will be climate damage in the future and we are currently not paying for that. Right now, some people are willing to voluntarily pay those costs by buying offsets. This should be mandatory and imposed by governments. It's going to be put in place by the airlines themselves (through CORSIA). (You can argue about whether CORSIA will be strong enough, but we've enough to argue about here.)

Increasing the price means that individuals will look to change their behaviour, but just increasing the price does nothing if lower-carbon options are not available. Hence we need systematic change to enable new options. That means yes, biofuels (even though they can only play a limited role) and more R&D into efficient planes (even though we know that won't make much difference) and better videoconferencing (even though that's not the same as really being there) and better rail networks (I'm in NZ so nope) and electric planes (for short distances) and people choosing to live and work closer and people choosing more local holidays and and and...

(And yes, much of the change isn't driven explicitly by price, it's driven by habits and expectations and regulations and implicit prices and availability and... but this comment is too long already)

So where does the systemic change come from? It comes from individuals demanding change. Where does the individual change come from? It comes from systemic change that enables individuals to make new choices. You can call this a chicken-and-egg situation, you can call this a virtuous circle of positive reinforcement. Either way, we need both kinds of change.
posted by happyinmotion at 11:22 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]


EEtSI, I think I kind of get your point, but every time you clarify, I get less sure.

Maybe it’s not a productive line for this thread anymore?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:24 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]


Here's another dimension that I'm thinking about, in the context of a bunch of other threads that have been going on on this site.

I don't think I am a good person, or a moral person. I don't live up to my ethical values, pretty much at all. Sometimes I make choices that are according to those values, but I also fail to do so all the time, every day, in a million ways. Now, I can say that, and go on to live my life without totally hating myself, so maybe this is a certain amount of posturing - that I am claiming to acknowledge my own inadequacy, but not really internalizing it.

Regardless, I think that comprehension of myself, the self-knowledge that what I do is never going to be "good" on an absolutist scale is part of why I'm more willing to admit to having been racist than some other people. I am absolutely not saying that I'm good at this or it's easy or that I've achieved complete self-knowledge. But there are a lot of people who just want to focus on how they're good, they're one of the good ones, they do the right thing. And the moment they're confronted with how they've failed to be good in some context, they crumble. They become defensive or they lash out or they say "oh well I can't do anything right I guess you just wish I and every other CHWM were dead." And it's like...no. You can't be perfect, neither can I. But that doesn't mean that we stop trying.

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
posted by arabidopsis at 11:28 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]


So why isn't flying to wherever to see your mom alive an exception? She's not going to be around forever. I'd like to see my mom. To talk to her. Mostly I'd like to touch her. This is not immoral. This is not unethical. But flying there to see her is suddenly not automatic choice but an ethical quandary that i have to feel guilty about.


You're making an ethical argument here: you're saying that ethical reasoning is bad because it makes people feel guilty.

Saying that people shouldn't reason ethically about travel because doing so has a bad result (guilt, shame) is not a logically coherent position. You're making a utilitarian argument against utilitarian arguments. It's a no-go.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:28 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I will not plague my mind and torture my conscience desperate for exceptions for why this thing we all want to do is okay. Nobody should.

Also, look, if you're torturing yourself or your conscience, you can either learn to detach your own need to defend your behavior (a normal human feeling) from moral reasoning (a different activity) and admit that you're not perfect or you can align your behavior to your conscience. But both of those activities are about you, and the responsibility is yours, not everyone else's.

One of the worst parts of American culture is that people believe that feeling bad about what they've done---especially something they've bought or consumed---is a sign that someone else has a problem. That's not the case. If you feel guilty even when you've done nothing wrong, that is your problem to fix. If you feel that you have done something wrong and it weighs on your conscience, again, that is your problem to fix.

The moral truth is not, and should not, be designed for your comfort.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:33 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]


I don't see a problem to fix with anything EETSI has said.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:57 AM on February 4 [9 favorites]


I don't see a problem to fix with anything EETSI has said.

Finding that you are "plagued" and "tortured" by basic ethical reasoning being done in your general presence seems like a problem
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:17 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I feel it's more of a problem how you are behaving in this thread, honestly. It feels hostile and unnecessary. If you don't like his opinion, that is fine. But it seems you want him to feel wrong about it. Maybe it is what it is and you could let it go now?
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:21 PM on February 4 [7 favorites]


Also, you're not even reading what he's writing anymore. Emphasis mine.

I will not plague my mind and torture my conscience desperate for exceptions for why this thing we all want to do is okay. Nobody should.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza

posted by tiny frying pan at 12:23 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


[Enough on EETSI; please let this drop. If people have things to say about the actual subject of the links, go for it.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:33 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


(I thought the subject of the links contains travel shaming?) But I agree that let's please not fight about it.
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:35 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


I can't see ending air travel or tourism as having any positive carbon effects, unless you are one serious nationalist and don't care about the offsetting and unknown military effects of never seeing another culture except in a negative light. The idea of shunting populations away would be considered insane in dealing with any other social issue. Honestly, so would forcing changes on lifestyles for a one-time 8% gain.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:37 PM on February 4 [6 favorites]


Has anyone run the numbers on the differences between "tourism travel costs" vs "personal travel costs" vs "business travel costs?" I found some stats on business-vs-leisure - business is 12% of passengers but 75% of profits - but nothing that sorted the difference between "vacation for fun" and "visit family/go home from school."(Looks like yet another case of "plz tell individuals to curtail their use of a resource and don't let anyone look at what corporations are doing with the same resource.")
"Some frequent-flier programs are now worth many times the value of the airlines that own them, in fact. For most airlines, these incentive programs are an essential source of revenue and profitability that allow them to offer better pricing on tickets and more routes."
Get rid of "frequent flier" programs, and replace them with a tax based on how much air travel a person has done in the last year. Corporations who want their VPs to bounce between offices spread around the country can absorb those costs; people who travel from school to family for the summer and winter holidays, won't be hit with those surcharges.

Discounts in other transportation areas are much, much smaller: Gas discounts are things like "5 cents/gallon per 100 gallons" or "up to 15 cents/gallon with 20 gallons + app + other purchases." They're not "half price with this discount." They're not even "buy 10 get 1 free."

I don't know how frequent-flier programs get to be profitable enough that they can be worth more than the airline itself, but there's something very wrong with the finances involved. Whooole lot of externalized environmental costs there.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:12 PM on February 4 [6 favorites]


Even if we ended air travel entirely, most of the planes currently making international trips would continue to do so. The money for most international routes isn't actually in moving people, it's the cargo sitting below deck that keeps the route going. (And enables the ridiculously cheap airfares. The price of cheap tickets is often 50-80% taxes and non-airline fees)

If you buy flowers for your SO, they got here on airplanes. Same for pretty much every laptop, PC, cellphone, cable modem, etc. Even if you don't fly, your stuff did.
posted by wierdo at 2:18 PM on February 4 [8 favorites]


Neither of the links about the ecological effects of tourism linked in the OP are actually intended to directly shame people into not flying for pleasure. Both, in fact, acknowledge that a) no matter how much shame you pile on, it's probably not going to change people's behaviors, and b) there's no obvious short-term solution that seems likely to work at the moment, including magically convincing everyone to stop flying. From the Guardian piece:

Individuals altering their habits, even in large numbers, will not avert disaster. In a sense the opposite is true: collective action by whole countries, led by governments, to push entire economies into a clean era is the answer. But “flight shame”, along with movements to restrict other carbon-intensive forms of consumption, is still a force for good. The point is not to show that you are better than other people, or to displace anxiety from the public realm into the private one. It is to show the world’s leaders, in business and politics, that we get it: life must change.

It mentions that the U.S. is one of the biggest consumers of air travel, while the country where "flight shaming" apparently originated, Sweden, has seen rail travel rise as a replacement for air travel, rather than all forms of leisure travel dropping. Why don't Americans fly less? It's a big country, for one, much larger than Sweden. Flying takes less time than trains too. But at some point you're going to notice that rail travel in the U.S. is in a weird spot: too expensive to compete with buses, not appealing enough to overtake flying as the default option for most people. That's a fixable solution, and all it requires is the political will to decide that the nation's rail infrastructure is important, vital and even desirable, and thus needs to be funded and supported properly.

Some forms of air travel are going to be unavoidable, and everyone will have to decide for themselves whether they're important enough to accept the costs to the planet. But many forms of air travel could potentially be replaced, and I think it's the replaceable trips that we should be most angry about: not necessarily at consumers that don't use them, but at the structural factors that make them unattractive. In other words, apply the same thinking we use for public transit to leisure travel.

(But maybe also don't, because inexplicably, the attitude I see towards public transit from government these days is dismal at best, a boondoggle that's only worth throwing random windfalls at to get a random line half-built that then fails to receive the operating budget it needs to be viable long-term.)

Shaming people out of their cars only seems to go so far, and often has the opposite effect. Making public transit more affordable and more attractive has been a successful strategy in the past. Maybe the same could work for long-distance travel.
posted by chrominance at 2:35 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


There will undoubtedly soon be large visitor taxes on tourism.

FI Venice, inundated with cruise lines (a pleasure that escapes me, personally), has been debating as much as a €100-400 head tax per day. Which frankly is a good idea.

It’s inevitable that the price for travel will have to more accurately reflect the costs. Costs we’re unsure how to begin even calculating.

Depending on how that may be done, largely, I’m for it. But then again I have the income. So that’s easy for me for me to say. And that’s something I’d actually feel guilty about. Because for The poorer Millennials and younger? Well. Sorry kids. I guess the world isn’t for you. Just your very wealthy friends. Another thing you got screwed out of.

Therefore once punitive pricing and tax incentives are placed on things like air travel, I look forward to the predictable articles once again bemoaning about the ethical quandaries of how travel is just another unfair dominion of the wealthy elites.

Of how only the very rich can experience directly the heritage, culture and history and natural wonders of humanity and the world.

And the everyone else can just put on some $19 goggles and see a simulation or suck it.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 3:32 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]


Because for The poorer Millennials and younger? Well. Sorry kids. I guess the world isn’t for you. Just your very wealthy friends. Another thing you got screwed out of.

It could be refunded as a limited tax credit on one's income tax. It's the business traveler who would pay the most for airline travel, and presumably they pass it on to customers, so we would stop subsidizing global warming with zero tax on the damage, and incentivize alternative travel modes with every related purchase (and directly fund development and improvement from the tax itself).
posted by Brian B. at 3:49 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


It could be refunded as a limited tax credit on one's income tax.

An intriguing idea. But I’m trying visualize 20 year old me saving receipts from backpacking through Europe and filing them with my minimum wage job tax return. It doesn’t seem very realistic. But again that solution may be technological as well.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 4:18 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


One other point that I don't see in addressed in either of the OP articles is a plan to deal with the economical impact a major reduction in tourism would have.

And I'll add the caveat that I should have added in my last comment - none of this is to say we should do nothing instead, but I think this falls under the "it's easier to break things than fix things" problem in that tackling energy-consumption by cutting tourism will have many tangential effects that we should also be conscious of.

For example, many smaller declining "main street" business sectors around the world would be gone without tourists as local residents have already turned to big box chains and Amazon.

Even agriculture - there's a farm near my hometown who have taken over a lot of local land as other farms vanished, and now own about a 4x4 mile area of farm land, yet I hear they currently make more money from an annual Halloween corn maze than from their crops. I assume there are many other similar forms of agri-tourism serving as stopgaps for dying industries. I have no idea if it makes more energy sense to have these die out faster or slower, or try to save them some other way, but I think a lot of these side issues are still missing from many of the conversations/articles that I see.

I think visitor tax is one good way to address these issues as it naturally reduces visitor numbers through pricing and (ideally) uses the money to support the local community instead. The small-scale private tours I've helped in Japan already follow this model, incorporating a portion of the customer price for a fee that goes directly to the community &/or local government. But this is not mandated right now, and there are definitely some bad players in eco-tourism just paying lip-service to the concept to reach younger customers.

This thread has at least gone a lot deeper than the OP articles and given good food for thought to change habits and take action.
posted by p3t3 at 4:24 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]


It could be refunded as a limited tax credit on one's income tax.

In Washington State, WA I-732 attempted this in 2016. It was rejected by the voters, because they (we?) wanted the monies to go to inclusive, targeted projects for carbon reduction and environmental protection instead of into our pocket.
So then in 2018 we tried WA I-1631, which used the money raised for direct environmental projects and a just transition in affected communities.
They (we?) rejected it because it didn't put money into our pockets.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:26 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]


rail travel in the U.S. is in a weird spot

Why Doesn't The United States Have High-Speed Bullet Trains Like Europe And Asia?
* Population density or lack thereof
* Our unique model of urban and suburban development
* The strength of our property rights
* Car culture, or America's lingering obsession with the automobile
* The lasting power of network effects
* An existing rail network is geared towards long-haul commercial freight traffic

I suspect the biggest part of that is "car culture" - auto manufacturers have spent a whole lot of money convincing the US that every adult needs a car of their own, and making sure cities are shaped to support that assumption. We don't have a network of rails connecting the parts of every major metropolitan hub because people believe rail travel is crowded, uncomfortable, and inconvenient - rather than quick, simple, and less stressful than rush-hour traffic and parking hassles.

(Also, no doubt due to some combo of car culture & weird property rights issues, a whole lot of commuter train stops are in economic deserts: there's nowhere nearby to shop, so why would you take a train?)

So of course people don't even think of train travel as an alternate to planes, so there's no push for funding, so there's no new development, so...
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:48 PM on February 4 [5 favorites]


Population density is a problem for the USA as a whole, in a sense — a train from LAX to NYC is unlikely to ever be super practical for most people — but there are tons of smaller regions that could be WAY better connected by rail than they are. We don’t even have real “high speed rail” in the corridor connecting DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, and Boston (Acela does not count, and our regular speed rail is in seriously bad shape). That’s such crazy low hanging fruit.

And because so much fuel is expended during takeoff and landing as opposed to cruising, short hop flights are by far the most inefficient per mile — and these happen to be precisely the flights that make the most sense to replace with trains. There’s so much business air travel between cities that are painfully, stupidly close.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:14 PM on February 4 [13 favorites]


Population density aside, one other reason rails work in Japan at least is that most highways are tollways. The math usually works out that trains are cheaper for 1-2 people but cars/highways are cheaper for families.

It would be a huge battle to sell the public on an idea like that in the US, but tollways would be one way to both subsidize the rail infrastructure, and to help trains compete with driving. Tolls also helps governments control traffic flow as the tolls change with days and times.
posted by p3t3 at 5:26 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


The "economic" costs of most policy changes are pretty much irrelevant if they have a significant effect on climate change because climate change is really, really expensive
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:29 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


While that’s true, it’s tough to convince, e.g., suburban commuters that they should pay more to drive into work when the whole reason they moved to the suburbs is that they aren’t rich enough to afford the city (or, increasingly, a suburb that’s on a train line). It ends up looking like a kind of regressive tax.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:45 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


What is the breakdown of the sources of emissions? And why does air travel, at 2.5%, dominate so much of it?
posted by Ouverture at 5:49 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


A colleague and I raised this topic in a couple of academic groups. These tend to be populated by left-oriented faculty and staff. Mostly Americans.

Specifically, we asked if academics should curtail long-haul travel for conferences and other professional events. Later on, we asked about short-term study abroad.

The responses were all over the place, interesting, and tending to the negative. Some echoes to this thread:
-No, academics shouldn't curtail travel because the impact is tiny. Instead, academics should focus on broader forces and much bigger actors (people named the energy industry and the military).
-No, because this gives aid and comfort to rising anti-academic sentiment in the US.
-The idea actually targets a small proportion of academics, since adjuncts - the American majority - have no travel support. Related: the richer the institution, the greater the resources for air travel.
-No, because research/professional development is vital and can't be done online to anywhere near the same degree.

This wasn't that large a sample size - maybe 50 - but might be of use here.
posted by doctornemo at 5:50 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]


So all flights won't led to Rome.

How about a increase federal tax on gambling junkets, have the airlines collect it.

Problem is, gambling folk just won't admit it, so hard to collect, unless the casinos take a small percentage from pay outs and gave to the government I'm going to be re-think that.
posted by clavdivs at 7:42 PM on February 4


If you had carbon taxes, and kept cranking them up until you get the results you want, people would figure out for themselves which trips were essential and which were not.

If you want to reduce carbon, you have to tax carbon. And tax it enough that people decide on their own to use less of it.
posted by JackFlash at 8:04 PM on February 4 [4 favorites]


Re train; I have looked at booking train travel. To get from Dallas to Tampa, I have to go through Chicago. Now, Tampa is straight east from Dallas. Chicago is the same distance away, but directly north. There's existing rail structure that runs from east to west. If I were a cow, I could get to tampa pretty quickly, all things considered. But as a human, I have to go to Chicago first, then over to NYC, then down the east coast. As I remember, it would have taken 5 days to get from here to there.

I've also looked around getting from Texas to anywhere in Europe, and my choices are airlines or cruise ships. Nobody is sailing from point A to point B. (Well, I mean, people with their own boats may, but there's not like a schooner that makes regular trips from NYC to London.)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:07 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]


Why don't Americans fly less?

Because it's cheap, I guess?

Airlines are basically public transport, just like buses, and not like cars. And they can be as cheap, or even cheaper. Southwest Airlines - thrived for 46 years without making a loss, in sharp contrast to its competitors, who struggled with persistent losses and bankruptcy - famously built its business model not on competing with other airline routes, but competing with bus routes.

They would identify bus traffic between two cities, then model whether they could operate a flight between those two cities and undercut those bus fares. If they could, they bought a plane and began operations.

Depending on which study and what figures you use, you could make the case that flying is now more efficient than driving or even using the bus, per passenger mile. (partially because many buses are run at low capacities with the mandate of providing service and coverage rather than efficiency and maximizing utilization)
posted by xdvesper at 10:30 PM on February 4 [2 favorites]


If you had carbon taxes, and kept cranking them up until you get the results you want, people would figure out for themselves which trips were essential and which were not.

Or more realistically, you'd price a bunch of people out of travel they would consider essential, while leaving a bunch of really rich people to shrug and jet-set around as usual. Flying a private jet is more expensive than getting an airline ticket, but we don't tend to see that private jet owners fly significantly less than people reliant on airlines, after all.

Consumption taxes are inherently regressive.
posted by Dysk at 11:19 PM on February 4 [9 favorites]


The fact is if casual airline travel ended or even reduced by any appreciable amount as suddenly as some here want the world would be thrown into economic chaos.

This is already happening with coronavirus flight shutdowns and quarantine Tree farms in New Zealand have been shut down because there's no one to buy then right now (the wood normally goes to China). A car factory in Korea just shut down. There will be more soon.
posted by rednikki at 2:24 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


"Or more realistically, you'd price a bunch of people out of travel they would consider essential, while leaving a bunch of really rich people to shrug and jet-set around as usual. Flying a private jet is more expensive than getting an airline ticket, but we don't tend to see that private jet owners fly significantly less than people reliant on airlines, after all.

Consumption taxes are inherently regressive."

I really agree with this sentiment, yet I feel that educating people about consumption and asking people to reduce when possible is exactly the next best thing. Is it possible to do this education at all without it being tied to shaming and judging? I feel that it is, and we need to ask people to refrain from making judgements about others while also asking people not to have defensive reactions to even thinking about how our behaviors are harming the earth and each other. At the place we're in now, since we need so hard to talk about this and to change and because the nature of systems is to preserve themselves, I believe there is a crucial element of individuals learning about and changing their own behavior since the system is failing us. I have low income and functional difficulties and I know I can't make most of the "personal chances" that wealthy people claim we should make.

I also don't find it to be a problem to continue talking about making these changes and asking people, even people like myself who currently have zero dollars and live off charity, to think about what we can do to change our behavior. Knowing all the options is empowering and I know I can choose WHEN ABLE to make those changes. Sometimes there are real judgmental statements made, and sometimes people are reacting defensively to the idea of considering we should change at all. I believe we should, each in our own ability and within our means, even radically change our relationship with the means of production. I also think this requires stronger community networks both at the national and local level to build supportive community that helps us access ethically created resources and essential items and services. Wealth starting with local communities understanding their local resources and maximizing sustainable production, then participating in trade from there is the direction I would love to see this go.

I am one hundred percent in favor of making the system start doing better regulations. I think in the meantime we should also do our part to make what changes we can while we continue asking the government and large businesses to change. Sometimes pressure from the people in the form of changing spending behavior helps make these larger systemic and even governmental changes. Sometimes wealthy people who have real meaningful power are reading in places like this, so having these conversations may be more meaningful than one might think.
posted by xarnop at 7:41 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Consumption taxes are inherently regressive.

Not if the taxes are used to develop and subsidize mass transit and cleaner industries for those displaced by being outmoded. It is almost purely progressive when considering who travels by air and how often. In any case, a tax rebate solves the problem. It's about time the tax code reflected carbon expenses and encouraged people to consider the relative impact of their choices. And it's not just carbon either, but chemicals and plastic and impacted commons and water.
posted by Brian B. at 8:09 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


Consumption taxes are inherently regressive.

It's not a consumption tax. It's a fee that reflects the true cost of carbon. Right now carbon intensive travel is subsidized by taxpayers. That's crazy. People should pay the true cost of travel. Many would choose to do less of it at its real price.
posted by JackFlash at 9:27 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Even consumption taxes on luxury goods are inherently regressive?
posted by Selena777 at 9:28 AM on February 5


That’s a big “if,” BrianB. One big issue beyond the necessary costs of re-engineering transit here is that transit projects in the USA are hideously expensive compared to other developed countries (see e.g. subway construction in Spain vs. in SF). I’ve grown to believe that a lot of that is actually just good old-fashioned feather bedding and corruption: Tutor-Perini winning contracts despite its long history of screwing the state over comes to mind, as does shit like this, but it’s a general problem. I don’t agree with Alon Levy about everything but his piece on subway costs in the USA is very much worth reading for anyone who is interested in actual specific reasons why transit remains so dismal in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

More and more I think we have to address corruption and mismanagement decisively if we want middle and low income people to actually trust that they’ll get anything at all in return for giving up the convenience of their current travel patterns.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:30 AM on February 5 [6 favorites]


Even consumption taxes on luxury goods are inherently regressive?

I’m not sure, honestly. Define what you think “luxury goods” are?

The manufactures of all goods don’t just hire millionaires. So ultimately anything the profit taking owners of industries feel is too burdensome for themselves or their customers will get passed down to workers in the form of lower wages, cut benefits, off-shoring, etc.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:36 AM on February 5


> Why don't Americans fly less?
Because it's cheap, I guess?


This. And fast. I'm going to a convention later this month on Southwest. Oakland to LA is about a 6 hour trip by car... but I don't drive. Amtrak has trains (or rather, a combination of trains and buses, with multiple transfers) that make the trip in 11 hours. The plane is about two hours; even adding the "get there two hours early JUST IN CASE" bullshit, it's faster and less hassle than driving.

It costs more. Driving is about $45 for gas + wear and tear on the car (each way); Amtrak is $70 each way; the flight was about $200 round trip.

If plane fares were double what they are now, I'd spend the energy to find a carpool group. (And I'd deal with arriving tired from being social for 6 hours, and having to listen to other people's music on the way, and coordinating schedules and so on. It's not just about the extra time.)

Even consumption taxes on luxury goods are inherently regressive?

Pretty much, yeah, because of they way "luxury goods" are often defined. If it's "normal clothes = normal tax; silk clothes = luxury," then people with extreme fabric sensitivities are stuck paying extra for clothes they can comfortably wear, on top of the expense of the fabric. Diamond jewelry? Rich people get diamonds in wedding rings; poor people don't. Gaming laptops? So much for that budding career as a game developer.

We don't have a way of categorizing "items that cost a lot just because someone thinks they can get rich people to pay more for them." We could list items, but we're not going to institute a tax that involves specific brands of champagne or designer clothing.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:53 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Going back to my earlier point, though, climate change is so costly (and regressive) that it doesn't really matter.

Distributional effects can be a huge problem with various policies, but at this point w/climate change the assumption has to be that any meaningfully helpful policy is going to be better than the alternative in terms of overall welfare.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:17 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Not if the taxes are used to develop and subsidize mass transit and cleaner industries for those displaced by being outmoded.

Yes, the tax is still regressive in that instance. The overall sentiment perhaps not, but the tax itself is. You could just as happily subsidise mass transit and cleaner industries out of general taxation, ideally with a greater and more aggressively progressive income tax.


Even consumption taxes on luxury goods are inherently regressive?

Leaving aside the issue of defining what a "luxury good" is in this context, yes. Let's say we put a special tax on Rolex watches. A millionaire buys a Rolex, and pays, say, ten grand in Rolex tax. A billionaire buys two, maybe even three, and pays twenty or thirty grand. You've now taxed the richer Rolex buyer a smaller percentage of his income than the less wealthy buyer. That is what a regressive tax is. You might not care because they're all rich. But the tax is still regressive.
posted by Dysk at 2:46 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


If plane fares were double what they are now, I'd spend the energy to find a carpool group.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to find any way to convince myself that I could make an upcoming cross-continent business trip by train. I love train travel and have always wanted to take a cross-country trip. I think I could likely even have convinced my employer to let me take a few extra PTO days.

It was the cost that did in the plan. Work will reimburse me for the cost of the cheapest plane ticket I could find, which was about $400. But if I need a sleeper train car - and I do, I have a sleep disorder and sleeping upright in a coach seat for several nights in a row is not possible for me or the poor person stuck next to me - then even getting the mini-sleeper with shared shower/restrooms, I was looking at $1600 for the trip. I can't currently justify spending $1200 and several extra vacation days for a business trip.

So I'm flying, even though I won't enjoy it as much and it will be worse for the environment, and I'm cranky about it. If plane fares were higher, or my employer had some sort of travel expense policy that would somehow encourage train use - a higher reimbursement allowance? extra paid travel days for non-plane options? - the math might have worked out differently. If I weren't running a workshop at the conference maybe I'd have skipped the whole thing and waited for next year's to rotate to somewhere a bit less daunting to get to without a plane. But I am, so I gotta go.

...actually, I'm suddenly very into the idea of a better travel reimbursement policy that might encourage more environmentally friendly travel options university-wide. I'm gonna go find a way to suggest that, I think. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by Stacey at 6:08 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


Yes, the tax is still regressive in that instance.

On one flight, yes, but if the distribution of flyers over a year was logarithmic to wealth like a progressive tax graph, compared to a one time personal flight for the average wage earner, it becomes progressive, because the wealthy flyers paid a flying tax on a progressive scale as they normally travel a lot more. Regardless, it would be easy to refund up to a hundred bucks or two on a tax return as a one-line claim to be made.

Wikipedia: The regressivity of a particular tax can also factor the propensity of the taxpayers to engage in the taxed activity relative to their resources (the demographics of the tax base). In other words, if the activity being taxed is more likely to be carried out by the poor and less likely to be carried out by the rich, the tax may be considered regressive.[8] To measure the effect, the income elasticity of the good being taxed as well as the income effect on consumption must be considered. The measure can be applied to individual taxes or to a tax system as a whole; a year, multi-year, or lifetime.
posted by Brian B. at 8:57 AM on February 6


I'm not convinced that number of flights does scale so neatly with wealth. I also don't think that being one or a couple hundred quid out of pocket for a tax year is going to be meaningfully affordable to a lot of people. That extra hundred quid on a fifty quid ticket is the difference between being able to afford it or not for a lot of people.
posted by Dysk at 9:12 AM on February 6


Arguing over the contributions made by individual choices is silly, as I'm glad many people in this thread have realised. Ultimately carbon emissions need to be taxed, either at the point where fuels are produced or where they're combusted. It really doesn't matter if you tax Exxon at the point it extracts oil, BP at the point it refines it to petrol, Shell at the point it sells it to an end user, or a driver at the point it is combusted. You can even put part of the tax into the after-taxes and tax-credits cost of the car it is being burned in.

This is just a logistical question. Whether one or more of those parties are somehow morally culpable for the emissions but others aren't is not a question that leads to effective policy. Pretending that companies are people and have agency might be ok for Mitt Romney but I'd prefer not to waste my time with it.

As long as emissions cost a substantial amount of money and the mechanism does not allow for leakage, it will achieve a reduction. Either through efficiency, replacement of fossil fuels with alternatives, or reduction of the taxed activity. That taxes on consumption are regressive just means that (at a minimum) they need to be offset with adjustment to other taxes and spending.

These taxes need to be incorporated into international trade as well to prevent leakage of emissions to countries not implementing carbon taxes.
posted by atrazine at 9:56 AM on February 6


internet fraud detective squad is right:
Going back to my earlier point, though, climate change is so costly (and regressive) that it doesn't really matter.

Distributional effects can be a huge problem with various policies, but at this point w/climate change the assumption has to be that any meaningfully helpful policy is going to be better than the alternative in terms of overall welfare.
It's hard to avoid thinking about climate mitigation & adaptation policies relative to the status quo. This is an error because there is no longer any way of keeping the status quo - I think the difficulty of imagining this is a big part of why we are doing so badly at tackling the problem.
posted by larkery at 4:39 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


From today's Financial Times:
The only way to hit net zero by 2050 is to stop flying
posted by happyinmotion at 3:49 PM on February 7


That FT piece is perfectly illustrative of the problem here: the report in question has a bunch of findings, like we need to stop using cement, we need to stop eating beef and lamb, we need to stop using ships to transport goods(!), we need to stop using internal combustion engines altogether, 60& reduction in car use, etc, etc. But let's not talk about any of that - it would be unpalatable to people. Let's instead laser-focus on aviation (again, 2.5% of emissions, paling in comparison to pretty much everything else mentioned).

The report itself is guilty of this as well. From their section on travelling:

The impact of our travelling depends on how far we travel
and how we do it. The most efficient way to travel is with a
large number of people travelling in a vehicle with a small
front and we can all reduce our total annual mileage.
1. Stop using aeroplanes
2. Take the train not the car when possible.
3. Use all the seats in the car or get a smaller one
4. Choose an electric car next time, if possible, which
will become easier as prices fall and charging
infrastructure expands.
5. Lobby for more trains, no new roads, airport closure
and more renewable electricity


So "stop using aeroplanes" isn't put alongside "stop using a combustion engined car" but rather, "choose an electric car next time, if possible" and "take the train not the car when possible". It's not "stop flying if possible". The report imagines that you can't or won't give up driving your diesel, but can and should give up flying altogether. Why? There are feasible alternatives to the car, but not to the plane. The cars contribute more emissions. But we only feel comfortable asking people to give up flying.

The priorities make no sense with respect to emissions.
posted by Dysk at 10:40 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


(And there are all kinds of non-travel areas where it does the same thing: "Next time you replace the boiler, choose an electric air or ground-source heat pump if possible" - it's apparently fine to buy a new gas-burning boiler (if the alternative isn't possible) just like it is to buy a new gas-burning car (if the alternative isn't possible) but you may not fly. Fuck you if the alternative isn't possible. "Aim to reduce the total weight of material you purchase each year" - it's okay if you can't, just like, aim to. "Choose more locally sourced food if possible, to reduce food miles, particularly aiming to cut out air-freighted foods" but it's cool if it isn't possible. And on and on. It hedges its statements about everything for fear of asking for too much. Except with flying, where it is utterly absolutist.)
posted by Dysk at 10:45 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I've been trying to figure out what "necessary" flights are, and I'm not coming up with anything other than "emergency response," which may include organ delivery.

Everything else is a matter of "our society doesn't allow for the time of train/bus travel." Our vacations assume it's 3-8 hours to get to your relatives (maybe 15 if they're overseas, but the point is: only one day on each end lost to travel) and then you have a weekend with them for short vacations or a week for long ones. Nobody thinks it's reasonable to spend 2-3 days on a train, 2-3 days visiting for the holidays, and 2-3 days returning--and businesses don't want to adjust so that's "5-7 days visiting" rather than "12 hours in transit, including time to get to the airport."

Business trips on the same coast sometimes assume "leave home early in the morning; get to branch office by noon; give presentation at 2 pm; go out to dinner with team; take midnight flight home." Sometimes it's "leave home in morning; get settled in at hotel by 2pm; meet team for dinner; go to hotel; check out in morning; go to all-day meetings/mini-conference next day; fly home at 6pm." They don't build in travel time for train or even car trips.

I do worry a bit about emergency travel issues. I have a friend whose wife gave birth at 7.5 months in Hawaii; they were rushed by helicopter to a hospital. I know organs are delivered by plane because their shelf life is measured in hours. And when there's a big earthquake or fires or floods, we want rescue workers there in hours, not days. (Presumably there are also military emergencies; that's a whole separate kettle of tentacles.)

If we stop all non-essential plane travel - which really is what we need - I'm pretty sure the infrastructure to support emergency trips will unravel. Nobody's going to maintain thousands of airports that have two flights a month, if that. We won't have tens of thousands of trained pilots available, years after commercial flights end. It'd mean a return to "sorry, but there is just no help available in range" for a great many emergency services.

And absolutely no politician wants to be on record supporting that.

It doesn't matter that we will get there anyway, with a lot less control over the process, if we don't sharply curtail air travel starting now. Politicians are much happier dealing with "well, it's a disaster and now I guess we gotta react to it" than "here's the policy that will cause a great deal of privation, but will avoid catastrophic disasters."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:55 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I feel like I have to signal-boost Dysk's point here. Even in the USA, where passenger rail is barely on most people's radars compared to the UK or Europe, aviation is only 9% of all transportation emissions. And around half of Americans fly at least once every year. Cars, vans, and trucking are 82% of emissions. (Also, most freight is shipped under 100 miles.) We need to be talking about what people can do to eliminate their daily commutes and how we can quickly electrify short- and medium-haul trucking wayyy more than we need to be talking about whether it's morally acceptable for someone to visit a dying relative.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:42 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Everything else is a matter of "our society doesn't allow for the time of train/bus travel."

There's also the bits where you need to cross seas. Short of sailing (which is very time consuming) you're looking at pretty bad emissions for sea travel with existing infrastructure, especially for longer trips.
posted by Dysk at 12:52 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]


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