Interviewed by Marie Odile
Bio: Lenore Fahrig has been a professor of Biology at Carleton since 1991. She conducts research on the effects of human-caused landscape change on biodiversity.
Lenore, you made the decision to stop flying for work. When did you make that decision and why?
I made the decision in June 2015 as I was flying home from a workshop in Spain. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years though. I am very disturbed that climate change is literally wrecking the biosphere, and putting millions of peoples’ lives at risk. I found I was becoming increasingly unable to justify the huge carbon emissions associated with flying. I decided the benefit to me was not worth the cost to the climate.
Was carbon offsetting not enough?
Carbon offsetting is “the counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” A big problem with carbon offsetting is that no-one is actually checking up and making sure that any reduction in carbon dioxide from carbon offsetting actually matches the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from my share of a flight. In any case, carbon offsetting can’t possibly work as a solution to climate change. With increasing droughts, fires, and floods removing more and more trees and other vegetation every year, planting a few trees to offset my flight is equivalent to the proverbial finger in the dike – good try, but not effective.
How are you able to continue your work without flying?
Actually, I think we are quite lucky that just when we need to stop flying, the technology for remote meetings and conferences has really taken off, so to speak. I have given several presentations using videoconferencing, even a keynote presentation at a conference. Of course I miss the social aspect of meetings and workshops but I don’t feel I can use that to justify the carbon emissions of a flight. And in any case I’m not missing out on meetings altogether. I have been attending meetings within rail or bus distance, and during my next sabbatical I intend to take a boat to Europe and spend some time catching up with colleagues.
Do you think there is a risk that this will negatively affect your career?
I guess I am in an enviable position in that I have probably already reached the ‘peak’ of my career so, no, it won’t negatively affect my career. In fact, at my age and stage I would say the biggest impact of my decision not to fly is actually on my personal life. No ‘travel bucket list’ for me, unless (ever hopeful) planes start flying on something other than fossil fuels.