Climate scientists take MORE flights than others, study finds

Climate change scientists take MORE work and leisure flights than colleagues in other fields, study finds

  • Study found climate scientists take one extra flight per year compared to others 
  • This is likely due to fact the climate scientists attend more global conferences
  • Research, involving 1,400 scientists and 59 countries, said climate scientists more likely to take steps to reduce or offset the emissions from their flights

Climate change scientists fly more often than any other researchers, a new study has revealed.

Researchers at Cardiff University found that scientists specialising in climate take around one more flight a year for work than their contemporaries.

The revelation has sparked calls for environmentalists to ‘look in the mirror’ before preaching about reducing emissions.

A study has found that climate scientists fly on average for an extra flight per year when compared to others after researchers surveyed 1,400 scientists from 59 different countries

The study, reported in The Times, found that climate scientists take around five flights a year on average for work while other researchers took just four.

Climate change professors also take around nine flights each year while the average for professors in general is eight.

The study’s authors said the disparity was likely because climate scientists attend more global conferences.

But climate scientists also took an average of three international flights a year for personal reasons – which was the same average as researchers in other fields.

The study noted that climate scientists did have ‘higher levels of awareness and concern about the impact of aviation on climate change.

It added that they were more likely to take steps to reduce or offset the emissions from their flights.

Director of CAST Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, who led the study, said the findings were ‘unexpected’ but said it also suggested ‘knowledge alone is not enough’ to tackle global warming.

‘Our findings highlight that climate scientists, like many other professionals, can struggle to square their environmental commitments with competing professional and personal demands, and academia itself is not doing enough to change this culture,’ she said.

‘Crucially, our research demonstrates the need for policies and ways of working to encourage and enable low-carbon travel and use of virtual alternatives – something which is already happening in light of Covid-19.

‘Travel restrictions have required businesses, including universities, to replace a lot of physical travel with virtual interaction, such as online conferencing.

‘These virtual options can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings, but at a fraction of the cost, as well as being more accessible for those with caring commitments.’

Campaigners have said the findings should be a catalyst for change that should encourage climate scientists to look in the mirror as the study makes for ‘uncomfortable reading’

Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said it made for ‘uncomfortable’ reading.

‘This paper must be a catalyst for rapid change. We need to take a long hard look in the mirror, reflect on our research, and rapidly transition to an academia fit for the 21st Century.

‘Perhaps then governments, businesses and wider civil society would take more note of our research and conclusions,’ said Professor Anderson, who was not involved in this research.’

The study, published in Global Environmental Change, involved an anonymous survey in 2017 of 1,400 university researchers from across 59 countries.

Around a fifth of those surveyed specialised in climate change.

The research highlighted the need for more virtual alternatives to academic conferences which reduce the need for flying.

At Cambridge University, academics already face permanent restrictions on flying to conferences as part of the university’s plans to become carbon neutral.

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