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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.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate action on stimulus bill continues as Dems reach deal on jobless aid

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic leaders struck an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on emergency unemployment insurance late Friday, clearing the way for Senate action on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package to resume after an hours-long delay.

The state of play: The Senate will now work through votes on a series of amendments that are expected to last overnight into early Saturday morning.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.