Field of Science

Flying is Unsustainable

Today I am crossing Australia, the Pacific, and then the West Coast by airplane and I feel guilty. You see everything that I do in my daily life to be environmentally friendly is nullified by my airplane travel. Even if I was completely carbon neutral in my daily life the excessive amount of airplane travel that I partake in each year would place me me in the same ranks as the worst polluters in America. According to a green manifesto (also see this description of 'low-energy astrophysics') by astrophysicist P.J. Marshall and others the average energy consumption per day of a person in the U.S. is 250 kWh/day/person. An astrophysicist uses an extra 133kWh/day/astronomer, yet the vast majority of that additional energy usage, 113 kWh/day/astronomer, is contributed by flying. The key message of the manifesto is that while astronomers are not actually a significant energy consumer in the U.S. (they use 0.001% of the national total energy production) we are high profile scientists who must set an example. Astronomers believe global warming is real, and thus must act.