Geoscience Reference
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biosphere doesn't really care all that much about how we feel; the reality
is what it is, and we must bear with it.
Our first reaction might be that we should simply stop travelling by
air. For many of us, that is no doubt the best option. We may be lucky
enough, or smart enough, to live near all those we wish to see. Most of
the rest of us should be able to visit with family members or colleagues
using phone calls, Internet video links, or videoconferencing. If we do
need to travel, we might be able to do so by bus or train. In fact, given the
harm that air travel does, we should set this as our default response: we
should determine to ly as litle as possible, regarding it as a harmful act
that we should undertake only when we have no other options.
But for millions of us, adopting such a response seems to ask too
much. The most crucial part of this discussion thus arises when we must
decide how to adjudicate between the harm of air travel and its appar-
ently necessary place in our lives. It may be useful to pause here to pon-
der a series of motives for travel and imagine a plausible response to each.
Many of us use air travel as a way to take a break. What happens to
the family vacation, the weekend getaway, the mid-winter trip to see
sunshine? What about that week in Hawaii or the visit to the Caribbean
resort? These outings are pleasant, but scarcely necessary, especially in
the midst of the climate crisis; we would be wise to forego them entirely.
Changing our habits in this regard will not be easy. It will alter our
relationship to the very idea of geting away from it all; we will have to
rethink our sense that the biosphere exists in part to assist us in enjoying
leisure time.
Cuting back on air travel also raises a number of tougher questions.
Should students apply to the best colleges, wherever they may be; should
workers relocate to wherever the jobs are good; and should seniors retire
to Arizona or Florida—if doing so requires that somebody travel by air
to join the family gathering at Thanksgiving and Christmas, if not the
summer holidays? What must give way: personal ambition and satisfac-
tion, the notion of family, and the satisfactions of retirement, on the one
hand, or the threat of climate change on the other? If we care at all about
the survival of the biosphere, the answer over the long term is clear: we
must learn how to become a far less mobile society, to abandon our belief
that something fabulous will happen to us if we setle hither and yon or
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