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Fly around the world – or give up some of the privileges I’ve laid claim on

12 December 2018
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According to Carbon Brief, recent “calculations suggest aviation emissions between 2015 to 2050 will consume 27% of the remaining carbon budget to have a decent chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5℃ above preindustrial levels. The share of the remaining budget for 2℃ is smaller, at 7%, but still significant. This gives a new perspective to the oft-repeated claim that aviation is responsible for 2% of global emissions – a claim repeated in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) (2016 environmental) report and one the sector has been stressing since the early 1990s. While it is true that aviation may be a small slice of a large pie at the moment, as other sectors seek to reduce their emissions in line with the carbon budgets, aviation will come to occupy an increasingly large share, if it continues to grow.” (Infographic by carbonbrief.org)

by Andreas Carlgren

I belong to a global group of privileged, high consuming individuals, living in relatively stable parts of the world. Having benefitted from years of costly education I have spent a professional career among fellow educators, decision-makers, and people in academia who are expected to travel around the world.

We think of ourselves as being given the special task of networking and of constant outreach.

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Andreas (leftmost) joined the Ecojesuit 2017 Annual Meeting in Bonn, Germany and the Laudato Si’ COP23 side event that Ecojesuit organized. (Photo by S Miclat)

For several years flying around the world made me feel important. The more I was involved in environmental tasks, I thought of myself as being important and striving for a good cause.

Sometimes people asked impertinent questions about all the flying. Was it really necessary? Didn’t it cause a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, harming our global climate? Weren’t my actions just the opposite of my spoken message of ecology and greening?

I decided not to listen to these embarrassing questions, until I finally came to understand the brutal logic of carbon budgets, and the necessity of more radical action from people like me.

Within a highly constrained carbon budget, when we decide to fly, someone else has to reduce his or her emissions to compensate for ours. Given that the wealthy on the planet are the principal drivers of increased aviation, poorer communities are the ones who are forced to pay this compensation.

Every tonne of COfrom our flying (added to our already high emissions) is a tonne of COpoorer communities cannot emit, if we, as a planet, are going to stay within the budgets.

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Andreas (rightmost) in Mindanao, Philippines, with Jesuits and friends (Photo by A Ignacio)

As we buy another flight ticket to fly to another essential climate change conference, undertake fieldwork or visit family, we are telling poorer communities to cut back on the energy they use to provide basic needs.

So, I am having a real moral choice between my flying to another conference, meeting or holiday, or the access of poorer communities to energy for basic needs.

To make my talk about ecological conversion something real, this means I have to re-evaluate also my own behaviour.

Therefore, I have decided to give up private flying (and have just finished a year without any private flying) and to minimize the flying demanded by my professional work, which will be one flight it seems.
2018_12_15_Reflection_Photo4Andreas Carlgren teaches an educational program with a focus on ecology and justice at the Newman Institute, the Jesuit university college in Uppsala, Sweden in Scandinavia. He is also the Vice Chair of the Stockholm Environment Institute. Andreas was the Minister of Environment of Sweden from 2006-2011 and also served as a Municipal Commissioner, Member of the Swedish Parliament, as well as Director General of the Swedish Integration Board. 

Andreas is also part of the Higher Education for Social Transformation Ecology Cluster (HEST-Ecology), a group of scholars from European Jesuit higher education institutions working on sustainability concerns and promoted by the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials.

Andreas actively engages with the Ecojesuit network, providing valuable inputs in Ecojesuit activities and joining its gatherings such as the 2014 Conference on Transformative Land and Water Governance (Mindanao, Philippines), the 2015 Stockholm Dialogue (Stockholm, Sweden), and the 2017 Ecojesuit-COP23 (Bonn, Germany).  He has also contributed stories in Ecojesuit on the Anthropocene and humanity’s challenge to respond to the planetary boundaries.

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