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Academic flying, climate change, and ethnomusicology: Personal reflections on a professional problem



Continuing the tradition of reflexivity in ethnomusicological writing, this article represents a personal position statement on the practice of 'academic flying'. In the context of climate change concerns, I table the reasons for my discomfort with my own academic flying, present my options (as I see them), and reflect on possible career implications. By making public my stance on academic flying, I hope to motivate greater individual and collective consideration of the environmental impact of our ethnomusicological activities, and to encourage researchers and their institutions, universities and professional associations to consider ways of actively supporting a future in which the environmental impact of academic flying is an integral ethical and moral consideration in our work.
Academic flying, climate change, and ethnomusicology:
Personal reflections on a professional problem
Catherine Grant
Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University
Continuing the tradition of reflexivity in ethnomusicological writing, this article
represents a personal position statement on the practice of ‘academic flying’. In the
context of climate change concerns, I table the reasons for my discomfort with my own
academic flying, present my options (as I see them), and reflect on possible career
implications. By making public my stance on academic flying, I hope to motivate
greater individual and collective consideration of the environmental impact of our
ethnomusicological activities, and to encourage researchers and their institutions,
universities and professional associations to consider ways of actively supporting a
future in which the environmental impact of academic flying is an integral ethical and
moral consideration in our work.
What follows is necessarily personal. It has its genesis in my increasing sense of discomfort, over
the past year or two, with a certain aspect of my work as an ethnomusicologist. It can be read as my
personal position statement on what I see as a matter of professional concern. In this sense, my
reflections here reveal something of the ‘constant vacillation between the personal and the
professional and its uncomfortable truths’ in my own work and life (Rasmussen in Miller et al.
2016: 196).
However, I intend this article to be more than self-reflective, and something other than self-
reproaching. It is an intentional response to recent calls in our discipline ‘to disseminate our
research, teaching, and activism in ways that are more public and more political’ (SEM 2017). I
hope it may open up a wider intellectual and moral space for sustained, focused,
ethnomusicological discussion on a matter that, despite its relevance to our work, remains only
marginally addressed. I also hope it may act in acknowledgement, encouragement, and support of
those of my colleagues who are experiencing a discomfort on this issue similar to mine (and I have
been surprised and somewhat relieved to recently find several of you). And perhaps most
importantly, I hope it may stimulate greater individual and collective consideration—without shame
or guilt—of our responsibilities as ethnomusicologists in relation to the issue at hand. That issue is
If the aviation industry were a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters of carbon
dioxide (CO2) in the world (Aschwanden 2015). Moreover, emissions from flying are forecast to
double or triple in the next thirty years (ICAO 2017). Aircraft emissions are disproportionately
problematic for climate change, with around 2.7 times the warming impact of other emissions,
because they are emitted at altitude (ICAO 2017; IPCC 2014a). According to many leading climate
scientists, flying therefore needs to be urgently reduced if global warming is to remain within two
degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels (Becken & Mackey 2017; ICAO 2010; Rogelj et al. 2016).
That, in turn, is essential if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided (UNFCCC 2016).
This is an author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in
Ethnomusicology Forum. Until publication, citation information is:
Grant, Catherine (in press). Academic flying, climate change, and
ethnomusicology: Personal reflections on a professional problem.
In Ethnomusicology Forum.
Currently, only around two to three percent of the world’s population flies internationally
(Gössling and Cohen 2014) and many academics (particularly those living in developed countries)
are among these privileged few (Wilde 2017). Carbon footprints are generally higher for those with
a higher degree and higher incomes (Balmford et al. 2017), and flying may constitute a substantial
proportion of academics’ carbon footprints: according to one study on conservation scientists, for
example, the share was around two thirds (Fox et al. 2009).
One of the most obvious and effective ways, then, for academia at large, and the discipline of
ethnomusicology specifically, to reduce carbon emissions is by reducing ‘academic flying’—that is,
reducing plane travel for purposes of attending meetings and conferences, carrying out fieldwork,
and undertaking other professional activities. Scholars across diverse disciplines are beginning to
question whether frequent academic flying is necessary, sustainable, and even ethical (e.g. Bows-
Larkin 2015, who hasn’t flown since 2005; Nevins 2014; Rosen 2017; Wilde 2015).
Ethnomusicologists have long carefully considered issues of power, privilege, ethics, responsibility
and sustainability in their work. Yet for many of us, the impact of our air travel avoids scrutiny,
despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that flying is often inextricably linked to our professional
identities and responsibilities.
In the remainder of this reflective article, I offer myself as a case study to argue that the role of
air travel in ethnomusicology, and in our work as scholars more broadly, is deeply problematic. By
beginning the next section with an attempt to quantify my academic contributions to global carbon
emissions, my intention is not to jolt or cajole others to action, nor to incite change through guilt (as
much climate change advocacy has been accused of trying to do). Rather, it is to lay out as candidly
as possible the cause of my moral discomfort so that readers may understand why I feel the need to
take personal action, despite some criticism of such small-scale, individual attempts to mitigate
what is clearly a systemic global problem (e.g. Klein 2014). Later in this article, I suggest a
practical pathway of personal and systemic change that I believe optimises my chances of meeting
the expectations of an academic life while better aligning my scholarly activities with my values.
Personal reflections on a professional problem
Over the last few years, as I have attempted to become better informed about the challenges facing
our planet, I have made steady progress in mitigating my personal environmental impact. Small
changes in my behaviour have led me to be able to reduce my individual carbon footprint to around
two-thirds of that of the average Australian.
In my professional life, though, my values and behaviour have remained markedly misaligned.
Between 2014 and 2016, for example, I made eight international flights and two domestic flights for
academic reasons (compared with three domestic flights for personal reasons) (see Figure 1). Over
that three-year period, this academic flying injected far more carbon dioxide into the earth’s
atmosphere than any other single activity I engaged in. In 2016, for instance, it was 4.14 metric
tonnes, representing an enormous 42% of my total carbon emissions for that year.1 That amount
(4.14 metric tonnes) is also more than double the projected globally sustainable level of total annual
emissions per capita: anything more than an annual average of two metric tonnes of CO2 emissions
per person is consistent with the earth’s temperature rising more than two degrees Celsius above
pre-industrial levels, and thus risks leading to catastrophic climate change (UNEP 2015).
1 Total 9.84 metric tonnes, as calculated on, which
accounts for house, transport, and ‘secondary’ emissions (including from food and clothing). The
margin of error for my calculation may be relatively high: the calculator does not account, for
example, for my vegetarian diet and certain other emission-reducing consumer practices I have
CO2 emissions
(metric tonnes)
Newcastle (Australia) TO Denpasar
(Indonesia) (transfer Brisbane); one-way
Presenting paper at International
Council for Traditional Music (ICTM)
Study Group Symposium
Denpasar TO Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
(transfer Singapore) TO Newcastle (Australia)
(transfer Brisbane)
Conducting research fieldwork (4
Newcastle (Australia) TO Washington DC
(USA) return (transfers Brisbane; Los Angeles;
Delivering invited presentation at
international cultural sustainability
symposium, Smithsonian Institution
Newcastle (Australia) TO Melbourne
(Australia) return
Presenting paper and participating in
panel at Musicological Society of
Australia conference
Brisbane (Australia) TO Phnom Penh
(Cambodia) return. (transfer Singapore)
Conducting research fieldwork (6
Phnom Penh (Cambodia) TO Astana,
Kazakhstan return. (transfers Bangkok,
Presenting paper and participating in
panel at ICTM World Conference
Brisbane (Australia) TO Washington DC
(USA) return. (transfers Los Angeles; Detroit)
Delivering invited keynote at
international cultural sustainability
symposium, Smithsonian Institution
Brisbane (Australia) TO Penang (Malaysia)
return. (transfer Singapore)
Presenting paper and participating in
panel at ICTM Study Group
Brisbane (Australia) TO Phnom Penh
(Cambodia) return. (transfer Singapore)
Teaching and conducting research for
my university’s International Mobility
(short-term study abroad) Program
Brisbane (Australia) TO Adelaide (Australia)
Presenting paper at Musicological
Society of Australia conference and
chairing annual meeting of ICTM
Australia-New Zealand Regional
Figure 1. My academic flights 2014–2016. Unless otherwise stated, all flights are return, economy
class, and the shortest route to destinations permitted by institutional regulations. Emissions were
calculated using the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Carbon Emissions Calculator
(ICAO 2016).
Figure 2 shows the average per capita CO2 emissions 1980-2015 for Australia and the three
other countries in which I have conducted ethnomusicological fieldwork: Vietnam (in 2011),
Cambodia (annually 2013-2016), and Vanuatu (in 2017). It is no coincidence that the average
emissions in each of the four countries roughly corresponds in order and degree with their
respective Human Development Indices (HDIs),2 a composite measure of quality of health,
education, and material standard of living (HDRO 2016). That is because Australians like me,
having on average considerably more money at our disposal than people from Vietnam, Cambodia,
or Vanuatu, are also more likely to expend our privilege on carbon-emitting activities, like flying.
Flying is a matter of privilege.
2 Vietnam, Vanuatu, and Cambodia rank 116th, 134th, and 143rd respectively, out of the 188
countries for which an HDI exists. Australia ranks second only to Norway (HDRO 2016).'
Figure 2. Average CO2 emissions per capita (metric tonnes) for Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia,
and Vanuatu, 1980-2015. Source: Human Development Reports Office (HDRO), 2016.
Australians currently emit an average of 16.3 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year,
compared with an average of around 11 tonnes per year for industrial nations, and a worldwide
annual average of around 4 tonnes (Carbon Footprint 2016). While my carbon emissions are lower
than those of the average Australian, my academic flying alone in each of 2014, 2015 and 2016 still
emitted more carbon dioxide than the average citizen of Cambodia, where I was conducting my
research fieldwork in those years. The difference is of an order of magnitude: in 2014, my academic
flying alone emitted 16.5 times the total annual emissions of an average citizen in Cambodia, and in
2016, nearly 14 times (see Figure 3). My comparatively lesser academic flying in 2015 was
primarily due to a 6-month research fellowship in Cambodia, which limited my travel for that
period. Even so, my two international return flights in that year emitted more than 5.5 times the
total average annual emissions of a Cambodian person.
Figure 3. CO2 emissions (in metric tonnes) for my academic flying in 2016, compared with average
annual per capita emissions in Cambodia (HDRO 2016).
These statistics give me pause to reflect: when we music researchers carry out fieldwork,
dissemination activities, and advocacy on issues such as the global refugee crisis, poverty, civil
unrest, and cultural endangerment (all topics of recent ethnomusicological research), how do we
account for the fact that, through our frequent academic flying, we are contributing to a global
intergenerational crisis that is set to tremendously exacerbate these and other issues of social justice
and human rights (UNHCR 2015; Carrington 2016)? Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki has
referred to climate inaction as ‘criminal negligence through wilful blindness’, and a ‘crime against
future generations’ (2013: para.11-12). Impacts of climate change are anticipated to be particularly
damaging in poorer areas of the world, areas that have least contributed to the problem of climate
change (Chancel and Piketty 2015) and that have fewest resources to cope with it (IPCC 2014b).
These areas are home to peoples and cultures with which the discipline of ethnomusicology has
historically been most concerned. Some music researchers, perhaps most evidently those working in
ecomusicology, are keenly aware of the complex ethical concerns that arise from the relationship
between our work and the physical environment, and the ways in which our work is
environmentally political (Allen, Titon and Glahn 2014); some ecomusicologists have also
specifically explored the impacts of climate change through the lens of music practice and research
(e.g. Pedelty 2012, 2016; and several authors in Allen and Dawe, 2016). Yet any discourse about
climate change in relation to academic activity in general, or academic flying in particular, has
always been, and remains, both minimal and peripheral to our thinking as music researchers. Surely
the principle of climate justice should feature no less in our research ethics than those principles of
inclusion, respect, and mutuality that lie at the very core of contemporary ethnomusicological
approaches to scholarship?
I find these concerns particularly acute given my research focus: music endangerment and
sustainability. An ongoing research project of mine in this area explores the relationship between
cultural sustainability and social justice in Vanuatu, where climate change, an issue of social justice,
threatens the vitality and viability of traditional music and other cultural practices. In 2015, parts of
Vanuatu were devastated by Cyclone Pam, destroying homes, livelihoods, agriculture, community
infrastructure, businesses, and wreaking havoc with intangible cultural practices. As the climate
warms, such extreme weather events are set to increase in frequency and magnitude, placing
Vanuatu, its people, and its linguistic and cultural heritage at risk. Sea-level rise, coastal erosion,
and ocean acidification due to climate change present further risks to food security, tourism, and
sustainable development in Vanuatu, potentially leading to humanitarian crisis (UN n.d.). By flying
to Vanuatu to research how climate change threatens the sustainability of local culture (as I did in
November 2017), I am acutely and uncomfortably aware that I am, ironically, contributing to the
very problem my research seeks to understand and ultimately help mitigate.
While broader concerns regarding the environmental impact of academic flying are relevant
across all academic disciplines, some considerations are specific to ethnomusicology – most
saliently, the integral nature of fieldwork to our scholarly activities. Recent shifts in
conceptualisations of fieldwork in our discipline (e.g. Titon 1997, Nettl 2005) have both reflected
and instigated a greater tendency (and acceptability) for researchers to undertake fieldwork within
their own communities, or in the geographical proximity of their own place of residence. These
shifts have also seen the rise of the internet as a locus for fieldwork (Wood 2008), which (for such
research) reduces or even obviates the need for carbon-emitting travel. Rapid developments in
internet reach, stability and speed have meant that despite some limitations (for example, in terms
of real-time musical collaboration), the internet is increasingly viable as a site for fieldwork – for
example, through tools enabling performance live-streaming and video-based learning and teaching
(Alge 2011, Falk 2013, Stokes 2009).
Notwithstanding such travel-reducing shifts in fieldwork practices, much ethnomusicological
research still incorporates fieldwork in a physical location other than the researcher’s place of
residence. For many scholars, then, flying remains an integral part of what it means to undertake
fieldwork. If we accept that ethnomusicology is centrally concerned with understanding music and
music-making across the rich diversity of human cultures and societies (Nettl 2005), then until such
time as people from across that full diversity of cultures are enabled and empowered to participate
in academic research and discourse (including conference attendance and other forms of research
dissemination) on a level playing-field as those of us who are economically more privileged, it
seems that travel, including flying, will remain a core part of what it means to ‘do’
ethnomusicology. In this sense, concerns around the ethics of academic flying are inextricably
wound up in much wider and deeper concerns around the power imbalances inherent in academic
research in general, and ethnomusicological fieldwork in particular (as described in Titon 1997, 98-
99; see also Grant, Pettigrew and Collins 2017).
Possible pathways
In the face of these concerns, what are my options, overall? Here, I reflect on some possible
pathways forward for me as an individual—from stopping flying altogether, to moderating my
flying practices, to advocating for change within academic systems and institutions—and consider
their relative challenges and merits.
One possibility would be to simply cease academic flying altogether, the single course of action
that would obviously most shrink my carbon footprint. In Australia, however, with its vast overland
distances and geographical isolation, this would be a radical decision in career terms. While
researchers in certain other locations (such as the UK or Europe) may have overland travel options
available to them (particularly for networking-related travel such as conference attendance, given
proximity to leading academic institutions and the head offices of professional organisations
including British Forum for Ethnomusicology and International Council for Traditional Music),
restricting my academic activity to the 8-hour road- or train-travel radius around my home city
doesn’t even get me as far as the nearest state capital (Sydney). Even if my university deemed this
acceptable according to the terms of my employment, it would surely soon lead to career demise.
Academic career advancement—maintenance, even—is predicated on a level of national and
international activity; for early- and mid-career scholars at least, international flying (to deliver
invited keynotes, for example) is an important indicator of success and esteem. Flying enables
career opportunities that are currently not accessible to an academic who chooses not to fly: the
conferences of the major professional societies in my discipline (including International Council for
Traditional Music [ICTM] and the Society for Ethnomusicology) typically require in-person
delivery of papers, panels, and keynotes; regulations about roles on committees and executive
boards stipulate that meetings and conferences must be attended in person; and so on. It therefore
seems to me that the likelihood of failing to build an outstanding academic career due to a decision
to quit or significantly limit flying is considerable, particularly in the case of early-career
researchers, for whom tenure and a strong international profile are not yet secured. In fact, this risk
seems roughly inversely proportional to academic seniority. Geographer Alexandra Ponette-'
González, who has cut back on her own academic travel to reduce carbon emissions, acknowledges
that her tenured professor status allows her to be selective in conference attendance and to turn
down speaker invitations without marked career repercussions; she advises against early-career
researchers adopting this strategy (2011).
Here I am reminded of ethicist Peter Singer’s wry observation about pacifism: just as ‘we
cannot embrace complete disarmament while others stand ready to use their weapons’ (2010: 263-
4), for early-career academics to reduce their academic flying to sustainable emissions levels while
others go about business as usual may be a noble but unwise and ultimately self-defeating ideal, at
least in career terms. It is also extremely difficult to do. I was reminded of this in early 2016 when I
was asked to convene my institution’s mobility (short-term study abroad) program for that year. As
a newly appointed lecturer on a 12-month contract, to decline the request on moral (or any other)
grounds would have been injudicious. The program ultimately saw 17 undergraduate students and
four staff members travel for 10 days to India, China, or Cambodia, collectively contributing well
over 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere. (My own return flight to Cambodia for
the program amounted to over three times the amount an average Cambodian emits in a year; and I
had five students in tow.)
It is only due to my resolve throughout 2016 to limit my future flying that my academic flying
emissions for 2017 were low in comparison with previous years (though still involved an
international flight, to Vanuatu, for research fieldwork). As one example of several, I chose not to
attend the 2017 ICTM World Conference in Limerick, despite the acceptance of a panel on
academic flying and climate change that I proposed with two other early-career researchers: the
irony would simply have been too great for the three of us to fly to Ireland from Australia, New
Zealand, and Canada, to make the case for the need to reduce flying. Our request to present
virtually was granted following considerable negotiations with the conference organising committee.
We were ultimately offered (and accepted) two time-slots allocated between the three of us, with
the proviso that one of us attend the conference physically; we offset the carbon emissions of the
attending presenter through a Gold Standard offset provider. We used Google Hangouts to connect
and present in real-time and participate in discussions. The panel—we believe the first virtual panel
in the history of the ICTM—was featured on national Irish radio following the event (available at, and led directly to the
resolution of the ICTM Applied Ethnomusicology Study Group to accept remote presentations ‘for
environmental or economic reasons’ at its 2018 Symposium in Beijing (H. Schippers, personal
communication, 2 September 2017).
Bigger-picture questions arise here about the key global loci of ethnomusicological discourse
and debate, and the implications for fostering a truly global scholarly discipline. With its first ever
conference in Central Asia (Kazakhstan) in 2015, the International Council for Traditional Music
laudably continues to counteract the Eurocentric tendencies that characterised some aspects of our
discipline past decades. Yet in terms of carbon emissions, a conference less geographically
proximate than usual to the majority of ICTM members risks increasing the total flight mileage
(strong local delegation notwithstanding), and therefore the total carbon emissions generated by the
event. I am not arguing here either in favour of or against this choice of venue – it had major
advantages in terms of inclusivity and access for scholars from that region – but rather, I wish to
suggest that environmental impact be one explicit consideration in such decision-making, alongside
inclusivity, accessibility, cost, and many others.
The possibilities for more environmentally sustainable conference practices are many. A glance
at the practices of some other scholarly disciplines reveals various tried and tested models for
conference design that allow for extended real-time informal discussion and networking, and that
result in vastly reduced carbon emissions when compared with more conventional conference
models. One example is the ‘Signs of Change’ sustainability conference in New Zealand in 2010,
which had one central in-person meeting location with high-definition video links to six regional
centres, This ‘mixed’ model, involving face-to-face participation alongside online technologies,
offers a response to any concerns or criticisms about the lack of opportunity for informal, in-person
interactions in technology-mediated conferences. The conference purports to have reduced
emissions by 85,000 kg compared with a similar size conference held in a single meeting location
(‘Signs of Change’, 2018).
Another charge that is sometimes raised against efforts to reduce academic conference flying is
that it appears to deny scholars from less developed countries something that those from more
affluent (and/or freer) locations have enjoyed for decades: namely, the ability to participate in
academic events and discussions. Such an argument is misguided: the key concern is not ensuring
that scholars from developing countries have the opportunity to fly – it is ensuring they have the
opportunity to participate in academic discussions. In that regard, our current models are far from
ideal (Grant, Pettigrew and Collins 2017). Low-emission conference models using digital
technologies can embrace participation by scholars across dispersed geographical locations,
including those in developing countries, far better than many ‘standard’ conference formats. One
example is the ‘nearly carbon-neutral’ conference (with an accompanying practical guide for
implementing such a model) that was developed and delivered in 2016 at University of California,
Santa Barbara (UCSB 2016). That event enabled easy information-sharing among participants
(including via text, web links, audio, and video, allowing for varying internet strengths and access),
strong informal networking (virtual chat rooms / ‘hangouts’), and structured ways to engage with
presentations (for example, via moderated, extended discussion forums on keynotes and papers). If
our academic music conferences were carefully designed from the outset to enable full participation
by those who are unable or choose not to attend physically, this would be a major step toward
greater accessibility and inclusion, rather than a step away from it.
Fieldwork raises its own set of questions as regards minimising carbon impact. For now,
fieldwork seems likely to remain a core part of ethnomusicological practice, for reasons outlined in
the previous section. In my case, having flown to Cambodia on fieldwork five times in the past six
years, my relationships there are such that I feel a moral responsibility (and a wish) to maintain
them, which I feel is only possible at sufficient depth in person. My desire to limit my carbon
emissions from academic flying therefore must be weighed against my values around honouring
these existing relationships. This challenge is likely to arise for all carbon-emission-aware
ethnomusicologists with well-established relationships with a geographically distant community.
Such researchers (myself included) might consider emission-reducing strategies such as longer but
fewer fieldwork trips; supplementing in-person fieldwork with virtual research approaches where
possible; and simply carefully and critically reflecting on the purpose, intentions, and value of each
fieldwork-related flight we make. Early-career researchers without such long-established
relationships, on the other hand, might be encouraged by their research mentors and professional
organisations to consider carbon emissions from academic flying as a factor in their decision-
making on fieldwork sites, and career-building activities more generally.
Taking these possibilities for systemic change into account, a realistic alternative to ceasing my
own academic flying could be to advocate for change from within: to seek opportunities to raise the
issue within institutions and professional organisations, and propose ways to address it (some of
which I suggest later this section). If done skilfully, this may entail low relative risk to my career.
Choosing to advocate for systemic change in place of taking individual action would also capitalise
on the consideration that reducing my own carbon emissions (by stopping flying) will obviously not,
in itself, meaningfully reduce global CO2 emissions or halt dangerous climate change, given the
vast scale of the problem and my minuscule relative contribution to it. I find this logic very
seductive, because it effectively absolves me from personal responsibility. It is also a kind of ‘moral
self-licensing’ (Merritt, Effron and Monin 2010): it sees my advocating for change as an excuse for
my continuing to fly. However, advocacy without a level of personal action seems to fall
somewhere between insincere and hypocritical—quite aside from it being emotionally and
psychologically arduous (I find) to believe one thing and do another. Moreover, in my experience,
witnessing and understanding the behaviours of those around us can be a powerful agent for
individual change: my own stance on academic flying, if well-articulated and backed with action,
may influence to some degree the thinking and actions of my colleagues on the matter. In time, with
a critical mass of like-minded academics, this may eventually facilitate systemic change too.
For these reasons, it seems to me that the most ethically defensible course of action for me to
take is to reduce my own academic flying to the extent that permits me to fulfil (if not to exceed)
the requirements and expectations of an academic career, while simultaneously advocating for
systemic change. In terms of personal action, I am therefore aiming to limit my academic flying
emissions for the three-year period 2017–2019 to under 1.8 metric tonnes per year on average—that
is, a reduction by 50% of my average academic flying emissions in 2014–20163. Toward the end of
this period, I will re-evaluate my emissions reduction target from 2020, with an eye to further
3'My total CO2 emissions from academic flying for 2017 equalled 0.32 metric tonnes, generated by
a single return fieldwork trip to Vanuatu (calculated via ICAO 2016).'
reduce my academic flying as I move into mid-career. Both these approaches—an initial effort to
cut academic flying by half, and further effort to reduce flying as a researcher becomes more
established—are recommended by the Tyndall Travel Strategy, an intra-institutional code of
conduct to support a low-emissions research culture that may serve as a useful blueprint for
researchers and institutions generally (see Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research 2015 for
further details, including practical tools to help guide travel-related decisions).
I also intend to make more intentional choices around my academic travel: choosing conference
attendance judiciously, prioritising those events likely to yield best outcomes; requesting video-
conferencing for others (even if the request is declined, it may raise academic climate awareness);
maximising benefits and outcomes of each trip through careful preparation; and making fewer but
longer trips where possible, and multi-leg rather than return ones. I plan to offset all carbon
emissions from my remaining academic flying through a Gold Standard offset provider. As a way
to raise consciousness within academia of the environmental impact of academic flying, I have
begun (with some success) to invite my institution or funding body to cover the costs of those
offsets (for example, by requesting and carefully justifying offset funding in any grant applications I
make that involves air travel). Reducing flying does not equate to scholarly disengagement, and I
am motivated to explore the extent to which new technologies may facilitate my international
engagement in academic discourse and networking in alternative ways. I also strive to further
reduce my personal carbon footprint in my non-academic life, commensurate with my professional
efforts to that end.
At the level of advocating for systemic change, the possibilities are many. While respecting
that others may have different priorities and values, as a way to open up conversation I plan to seek
opportunities to share with my institutional and disciplinary colleagues the reasons for my own
choices around academic flying—for example in articles like this one, or the post recently published
on the Society for Ethnomusicology’s blog Sound Matters (see Grant, Pettigrew and Collins 2017);,
conference presentations (like the earlier-mentioned ICTM panel); meetings; and informally. I have
begun to encourage consideration of carbon emissions and climate change in the development,
funding, and evaluation processes surrounding my institution’s student mobility schemes,
international visiting scholar programs, and other initiatives involving air travel.
More broadly, I continue to seek opportunities to advocate within my university and
professional organisations for greater consideration of the environmental impact of academic
activities, particularly flying, and strategies for mitigating that impact. Possible actions that research
centres, tertiary institutions, and professional bodies could take include:
measuring and reporting on the carbon emissions generated by conference travel and other
developing guidelines around academic travel that take into account its environmental
impact, and that actively discourage inveterate, immoderate flying;
establishing benchmarks for reducing flights while still maintaining collaboration;
easing the academic imperative to fly by reconfiguring academic measures of success to
better acknowledge and respect individuals’ choices around flying;
choosing central meeting locations, to minimise air travel legs and distances; and
supporting robust videoconferencing technologies, to reduce unnecessary air travel.
Most of these have precedent, for example in the academic flying reduction strategy of the Tyndall
Centre for Climate Change Research (2015). Institutions and professional organisations may also
mitigate the adverse impact of any academic flying that is deemed necessary through carbon
offsetting and fossil fuel divestment. All these actions are already being agitated for in some
institutions and academic disciplines (see, for example, the ‘’ petition that calls for
universities and professional academic bodies globally to take specific action to reduce academic
flying; Wilde 2015).
Driving all these personal deliberations and decisions around my academic flying is the
thorny question posed by Allen (2011: 392), which in my view warrants broader disciplinary
consideration in relation to climate change: ‘Is musicology part of the problem or part of the
Closing reflections
Allsup and Shieh write of an ‘apprehension’ that early-career music researchers in particular will
abandon efforts to notice and name inequities and injustices ‘because of a fear of being labeled
“radical,” or the fear of facing rejection by entrenched journals and editorial boards because their
research is too political or theoretical’ (2012: 49). Indeed, publicly articulating my stance on this
issue takes some nerve. It sets me up for scrutiny and judgement of my flying behaviour, and of my
moral standpoint on this issue more generally. It risks eliciting defensive reactions from those who
interpret my statements as an attack on their perceived right to enjoy the privileges of academic
travel. It risks my disciplinary colleagues making assumptions about my willingness to accept
speaking invitations or otherwise participate in academic activities. And it is likely, I believe, to
directly and substantially affect both the perception and the reality of how I will—or will fail to—
meet the expectations and demands of an academic career, including the terms of my still-
probationary appointment.
So I expect to meet considerable challenges in attempting to excel against the usual
institutional and scholarly measures of success, while limiting my flying. That this undertaking
should be so difficult suggests that for those of us entering academic life in this second decade of
the 21st century, the notion of a highly successful and highly environmentally ethical academic
career remains frustratingly contradictory. It seems likely to remain so until scholars across all
levels of seniority, educational institutions, and professional organisations collectively commit to
systemic change.
Until such time, despite risks and possible—perhaps even probable—costs to my future as an
academic, I choose to take personal action, starting with the immediate commitment to reduce my
academic flying. For whatever good might otherwise come from my research and other scholarly
pursuits, I have simply reached a point of intolerance for my own complicity in that ‘criminal
negligence’ of which Suzuki speaks, negligence primarily against the very groups of people I wish
to most benefit from my academic endeavours.
Many thanks to Jeff Dyer, Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, Leah Coutts, and anonymous peer reviewers for
providing feedback on an earlier draft of this article.
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... Flying, 2020; Grant, 2018) towards the practice of academic flying, in the context of the present global ecological crises. I have aimed not only to reduce my own air travel but also to actively look for alternative and more sustainable ways for internationalisation, networking and collaboration in higher music education. ...
... Although human air travel constitutes too less to the carbon footprint, emission from aircraft has a far significant impact, [7] almost 2.7 times, on climate change because of the altitude where their emission occurs [8] which has given the serious alarm on reducing the number of aircrafts flying. Travel by economy class contributes approximated 1 kg of carbon dioxide per 10 km, however, efficient their flights may be. ...
... Flying is in fact one of the largest sources of CO 2 emissions at a research-intensive university, and flying is most certainly the single largest source of CO 2 emissions for any researcher who flies regularly. The topic of academic flying is nowadays being discussed more often and a number of different studies have examined specific aspects such as the carbon footprint of an academic conference [15], the carbon footprint of shifting academic conferences to online [16][17][18], the carbon footprint of a research paper [19], the carbon footprint of a research project [20][21][22], the carbon footprint of a research lab [23,24], the carbon footprint in specific academic disciplines [25][26][27] and the carbon footprint of a university [28][29][30][31]. A large-scale cooperative effort in France is developing an set of open-source tools to calculate the carbon footprint of a research laboratory (which typically has tens or at most a few hundred members) ( [32], see also [33]). ...
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CO2 emissions from aviation have been predicted to increase over the coming decades. Within the academic world, flying is often perceived to be a necessary prerequisite to being a successful researcher. Many Swedish universities have ambitious climate goals, but are simultaneously among the top emitters in the public sector. Reaching stated climate goals could feasibly be met through a combination of measures, including decreased flying. One way to address the challenge is to support behavioural interventions with the help of interactive visualizations of CO2 emissions from flying. Those few examples that exist in the research literature are generally directed towards management and are less applicable to universities, given the large autonomy researchers enjoy and their discretionary control of research project funds. This paper uses a design-oriented research approach to present an analysis of the problem space at the intersection of interactive visualizations using air travel data to reduce CO2 emissions from business air travel at our own university, KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Through a number of design experiments, evaluations and investigations, we have unearthed needs, challenges and opportunities for the creation of visualization tools to support more sustainable travel practices at universities and in other knowledge-intensive organisations.
... Academics' networking, outreach, and trained ability to understand and explain complex issues allow them to relatively easily change their travel behaviors and in so doing to inspire others to follow their lead (cf. Anderson, 2013;Waring et al., 2014;Fraser et al., 2017;Glover et al., 2018;Grant, 2018;Middleton, 2019;Middleton, 2021;Quinton, 2020;van Ewijk and Hoekman, 2020;Levitis et al., 2021). ...
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New conference formats are emerging in response to COVID-19 and climate change. Virtual conferences are sustainable and inclusive regardless of participant mobility (financial means, caring commitments, disability), but lack face-to-face contact. Hybrid conferences (physical meetings with additional virtual presentations) tend to discriminate against non-fliers and encourage unsustainable flying. Multi-hub conferences mix real and virtual interactions during talks and social breaks and are distributed across nominally equal hubs. We propose a global multi-hub solution in which all hubs interact daily in real time with all other hubs in parallel sessions by internet videoconferencing. Conference sessions are confined to three equally-spaced 4-h UTC timeslots. Local programs comprise morning and afternoon/evening sessions (recordings from night sessions can be watched later). Three reference hubs are located exactly 8 h apart; additional hubs are within 2 h and their programs are aligned with the closest reference hub. The conference experience at each hub depends on the number of local participants and the time difference to the nearest reference. Participants are motivated to travel to the nearest hub. Mobility-based discrimination is minimized. Lower costs facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion. Academic quality, creativity, enjoyment, and low-carbon sustainability are simultaneously promoted.
... Flying, 2020; Grant, 2018) towards the practice of academic flying, in the context of the present global ecological crises. I have aimed not only to reduce my own air travel but also to actively look for alternative and more sustainable ways for internationalisation, networking and collaboration in higher music education. ...
Conference Paper
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It is important that the philosophies of equitable co-existence that emerge in the lived contexts of music-making by professional musicians be applied into music education, not least due to today’s prevailing worldviews that are increasingly favouring an uncomfortable opposition of nature and reason. In this article, I draw on the philosophies of Zygmunt Bauman that urge us to seek ways of being for one another before seeking to be with the other. I adopt a qualitative instrumental case study methodology with an aim to analyse a slice of musical life and experience from the careers of professional migrant musicians living in Brisbane, Australia. The study is undertaken in the context of Lullaby Land, a compact music ensemble of four members including myself. Drawing on semi-structured interviews and rehearsal commentaries as well as my own reflexive insights as participant-researcher, I thematically analyse the data and derive implications for diversity and inclusivity in musicmaking from the professional context of Lullaby Land. The analysis revealed patterns of meaning across three key themes: Culturally contingent differences are central to musicians’ identity and are to be celebrated; learning stems from qualities of respect and empathy; music is a powerful language of belonging and a means of active self-representation in a foreign land. I then extrapolate the above themes that have been identified from a professional music-making context into a model for intercultural higher music education. The model proposed here is grounded on understanding how we, as a collective humanity that today grapples with issues of ethics and politics in diversity in multifarious ways, can adopt a philosophy of being for one another before being with one another. The theorised model is predicated on action and features a series of verbs—narrate, empathise, celebrate, explore, connect, and crystallise—that culminate in ethical learning. I offer this model as a counter- narrative to the widespread ethos of inaction on the one hand, and of oversimplification of subtle differences that constitute the bedrock of diversity, on the other. Theoretically, the model presents a recontextualisation of professional musicians’ lived experiences within the systematic constructs of higher music education, thereby calling for meaningful correspondences between these two entangled spheres of operation in the broader field of music research. The model is yet to be trialled in a pedagogical context, however, I propose that it would hold relevance for both music educators and music professionals who engage with cultural diversity in their practices.
Purpose Numerous higher education institutions have created policies that aim to reduce their carbon footprints. Most policies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to energy production and consumption. One area that has received less attention has been greenhouse gas emissions from university air travel. The purpose of this paper is to understand how US higher education institutions address university air travel emissions. Design/methodology/approach The present research used qualitative document analysis to examine the climate policies of 44 doctoral institutions. The analysis sought to establish themes across a range of climate policy documents from the sampled institutions. Intercoder consensus, peer review and member checking were used to increase the reliability and validity of the analysis. Findings Five major themes emerged from the documents: no consideration of air travel, lack of quality data for accurate consideration, recommendations to offset air travel emissions, support for videoconferencing and other suggestions for mitigation. These themes are discussed in detail, as are practical suggestions and implications stemming from this and related research. Research limitations/implications The research is based on a sample of US doctoral institutions and their public documents. It is therefore limited in its generalizability. Practical implications Institutions need to create a culture in which individual behavior changes toward lower travel are supported. Though problematic, institutions in the USA need to strive to implement suggested offset programs. Given the ubiquity of virtual presence, institutions need to further support videoconferencing. Originality/value To the best of the author’s knowledge, this paper is among the first to examine how higher education institutions in the USA address air travel emissions.
As primary producers of knowledge, academics are required to create and disseminate research. The advent of internationalisation has given great emphasis to the importance of travel as it pertains to the success of an academic career and the international standing of an institution. However, academics who are highly aeromobile—particularly researchers working in the field of climate change—are now facing allegations of hypocrisy that in some cases may compromise the efficacy of their (climate) research. The novelty of this chapter arises from the application of the cultures framework to the study of academic air travel. It highlights three key elements—cognitive norms, practices and material culture. In this chapter, the cultures framework is adopted to provide a structure within which to consider individual and institutional pathways to achieve a reduction in academic flying. By exploring the interplay of cognitive norms, practices, material culture, support and barriers, the gap between academic theory and institutional realities and practices can be systematically explored and fully elaborated. Furthermore, in doing so, academics may be encouraged to engage in critical self-reflection of the cognitive dissonance between personal intentions to reduce air miles and behaviours to the contrary.
Conference Paper
Over the past decade, research on IS solutions for environmental sustainability evolved and produced a modest but firm body of knowledge. Despite this progressive understanding about ICT’s solution potential for environmental sustainability, our research practices seem widely unaffected by these insights. Most of us travel by air for work several times a year, to conferences, research stays, or guest lectures. Our community meetings do not seem well aligned with ecological goals. We research and apply technologies, such as blockchain or artificial intelligence, without sufficiently acknowledging the enormous amounts of energy they consume. It raises the fundamental question: Do we practice what we preach? While recognizing the good intentions IS research pursues, should we no longer ignore the environmental ‘elephant in the room’? In this inclusive panel discussion, we openly debate these issues. Thereby, we intend to capture the status-quo of the sustainability of our research practices and develop recom-mendations on how to improve it and ways of measuring the carbon footprint of some key activities.
Although climate change is recognized as a threat to individual and global health and well-being, the climate crisis has not previously been explored within music therapy. This article presents music therapy’s engagement with the climate crisis as a disciplinary imperative and lays the initial foundation for such engagement. The responsibilities and roles of music therapists in this context are discussed with reference to the relevant literature and practices. The development of a new approach that directly addresses the climate crisis, eco music therapy, is proposed. Eco music therapy is presented as the intersection between the discipline and practice of music therapy and the climate crisis, including political, environmental, and cultural elements. Music therapists are invited to re-consider and re-configure their work at the individual, associational, and disciplinary levels—thereby contributing to a global multidisciplinary effort to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis.
Researchers should learn to travel better to mitigate their climate impacts. Institutions can help by facilitating and rewarding sustainable travel behaviour, rather than fuelling the pressure to attend conferences, say Olivier Hamant, Timothy Saunders and Virgile Viasnoff. Researchers should learn to travel better to mitigate their climate impacts. Institutions can help by facilitating and rewarding sustainable travel behaviour, rather than fuelling the pressure to attend conferences, say Olivier Hamant, Timothy Saunders and Virgile Viasnoff. Red hair young woman using her laptop on a train
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In this paper, we construct a global distribution of individual CO2e emissions, taking into account within country inequalities and use it to examine different strategies to increase the volume of climate adaptation finance, based on the principle of progressive carbon taxation.
Many conservationists undertake environmentally harmful activities in their private lives such as flying and eating meat, while calling for people as a whole to reduce such behaviors. To quantify the extent of our hypocrisy and put our actions into context, we conducted a questionnaire-based survey of 300 conservationists and compared their personal (rather than professional) behavior, across 10 domains, with that of 207 economists and 227 medics. We also explored two related issues: the role of environmental knowledge in promoting pro-environmental behavior, and the extent to which different elements of people's footprint co-vary across behavioral domains. The conservationists we sampled have a slightly lower overall environmental footprint than economists or medics, but this varies across behaviors. Conservationists take fewer personal flights, do more to lower domestic energy use, recycle more, and eat less meat - but don't differ in how they travel to work, and own more pets than do economists or medics. Interestingly, conservationists also score no better than economists on environmental knowledge and knowledge of pro-environmental actions. Overall footprint scores are higher for males, US nationals, economists, and people with higher degrees and larger incomes, but (as has been reported in other studies) are unrelated to environmental knowledge. Last, we found different elements of individuals' footprints are generally not intercorrelated, and show divergent demographic patterns. These findings suggest three conclusions. First, lowering people's footprints may be most effectively achieved via tailored interventions targeting higher-impact behaviors (such as meat consumption, flying and family size). Second, as in health matters, education about environmental issues or pro-environmental actions may have little impact on behavior. Last, while conservationists perform better on certain measures than other groups, we could (and we would argue, must) do far more to reduce our footprint.
Creative minds are shrinking research's big carbon footprint.
Scientists across the globe recognize the importance of reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. At the same time, we have increased our carbon footprint through air travel to the growing number of scientific society “mega-meetings” that host thousands of attendees. Although alternative solutions have been proposed to reduce the environmental impact of annual conferences, these have yet to be evaluated against the business-as-usual scenario. Here, we use 9 years of annual meeting attendance data from the Ecological Society of America and the Association of American Geographers to assess the efficacy of two additional solutions: 1) alternate large national meetings that require significant air travel with smaller regional meetings that do not; and 2) incorporate geography into the meeting location selection process. The carbon footprint of annual mega-meetings ranged 3-fold, from 1196-4062 metric tons of CO2. Results indicate that an alternating schedule of national and regional meetings can reduce conference-related CO2 emissions up to 73%, while improved spatial planning may result in further reductions. We discuss the benefits and tradeoffs of proposals to green scientific meetings, with a view to spark further debate on how to increase the sustainability of scientific conferences.
The Paris climate agreement aims at holding global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to “pursue efforts” to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To accomplish this, countries have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) outlining their post-2020 climate action. Here we assess the effect of current INDCs on reducing aggregate greenhouse gas emissions, its implications for achieving the temperature objective of the Paris climate agreement, and potential options for overachievement. The INDCs collectively lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to where current policies stand, but still imply a median warming of 2.6–3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. More can be achieved, because the agreement stipulates that targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are strengthened over time, both in ambition and scope. Substantial enhancement or over-delivery on current INDCs by additional national, sub-national and non-state actions is required to maintain a reasonable chance of meetin
The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option. In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now. Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.