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A passenger jet lands at Berlin Tegel Airport. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

A study published this month found climate scientists fly more often than researchers in other fields, though they're also less likely to fly long distances for leisure.

Why it matters: Flying is in general the most carbon-intensive way to travel per mile, and the fact that even climate scientists have a difficult time cutting back on their air miles underscores the dilemma that can exist between fighting climate change and adding to it.

By the numbers: The survey — done before the pandemic brought air travel to a halt — asked more than 1,400 scientists in 59 countries across multiple disciplines how often they fly and why.

  • Climate scientists took five flights a year on average, compared to four for researchers in other fields.
  • While climate science often requires travel to remote locations for fieldwork, the study accounted for this difference and still found climate scientists flew more often, likely because the field features numerous global scientific conferences.

Yes, but: Climate scientists took fewer international flights for personal reasons and were more likely to pay for carbon offsets.

What they're saying: "I’d like to think these results are a wake-up call to scientists, and particularly climate researchers, to take significant steps to reduce their professional carbon footprint," says Lorraine Whitmarsh, an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath and the lead author on the paper.

My thought bubble: Air travel gets to the heart of one of the defining questions around climate action: how important is individual change to a massive global problem?

  • The fact that climate scientists appear to fly more often is less about individual ethics than the fact that it's difficult to work in the modern world without adding to climate change.
  • Altering that calculus will require major political and technological changes that go well beyond what any individual chooses to do.

Of note: The longest flight I ever took as a reporter was New York to Bali, via Frankfurt and Singapore, for the 2007 UN climate change conference.

  • That was 11,277 miles one way, or a little over 2 metric tons of CO2.

What to watch: Whether the shift to online scientific conferences will last once the COVID-19 pandemic ends, as many climate scientists are urging.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

Transportation's next big thing: flying taxis

Photo: Joby Aviation

The next big thing in transportation could be electric flying taxis — think of a drone crossed with a helicopter — that would ferry people and goods high above congested roadways.

Why it matters: Air taxis are billed as a cheaper, faster, cleaner mode of transportation, and an important link between remote areas and population centers. But there are still technical and regulatory challenges to overcome — not to mention public skepticism.

3 hours ago - Health

Meta removes over 600 accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China

Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Meta announced Wednesday it has removed over 600 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to a Chinese influence operation that claimed the U.S. was pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame COVID on China.

Why it matters: Though Meta said the network was unsuccessful, it marks yet another COVID disinformation campaign instigated by China in an effort to discredit the U.S.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.