Can We Fly-less? An immersive visual-audio exhibition

The question of how advocates of flying less should engage the broad public is certainly not an easy one. What is clear is that there cannot be a single approach. In that spirit, we share with you here a very innovative production that takes an unorthodox approach. The result is a highly thoughtful and provocative virtual exhibition developed for the “Festival of the Mind,” which took place in Sheffield, England, United Kingdom in September 2022.

Titled “Can We Fly Less?” this “immersive visual-audio exhibition” explores and responds to different attitudes towards efforts to reduce flying. It emerges out of a cooperative effort involving an interdisciplinary group of scholars at the University of Sheffield who conducted the research on which the exhibition is based–Doctors Stephen Allen, Judith Krauss, Renee Timmers, and Matt Watson. They worked in collaboration with Gina Allen, a visual artist, and Kitty Turner, a digital producer, the two of whom created the video below. The podcast that follows the video is comprised of a discussion, one in and which Stephen Allen interviews Gina Allen and Kitty Turner about the video they have produced and how it speaks to questions around flying less in a time of intensifying climate breakdown.

Click on the image above to access the podcast.

What a flying-less academia could look like – and how to get there: a workshop

Workshop: Exploring low-flying academia

Do you struggle to identify concrete practices and polices to bring about an academia characterized by low amounts of flying? If so, you should strongly consider participating in an online workshop on September 14, 2022, Hosted by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and supported by the research project “Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations,” the three-hour, virtual gathering will take place 09:00–12:00 CEST.

If you would like to participate in “Exploring Low-Flying Academia,” you should register for the workshop via this link.

Academics from around the world are welcome!

Stan Cox’s latest book explores climate breakdown and its ties to other crises

Review of Stan Cox, The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic, San Francisco: City Lights Books (Open Media Series), 2021.

            By Joseph Nevins

Anyone concerned with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions associated with flying, or with climate change as a whole, soon realizes that the necessary reductions will not come about simply as a result of what individuals choose to do or not. Like any activity, flying is embedded in a web of social and ecological relations. Central to these are matters of power and associated inequities. As the growing literature on flying makes clear, capitalism and class, empire, gender, and race, for example, all inform who flies and why, and who does not.

For such reasons, efforts to radically reduce flying or to drastically cut emissions across society more broadly cannot succeed if we only “follow the science.” Nor will it suffice to focus simply on technological innovation, or, worse yet, see the remedying of the climate crisis as just another opportunity for economic growth. Indeed, as suggested by the subtitle of Stan Cox’s compelling book, The Path to a Livable Future, the climate crisis is inextricably tied to racism, not least in terms of the degraded environmental circumstances many members of negatively racialized communities live and labor, and to the growing threat of pandemic disease. These three crises are all born of “exploitation of ecosystems and mineral resources,” asserts Cox, a research scholar in Ecosphere Studies at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas in the United States. As such, we can only resolve them together, “or they will never be resolved.”

Despite the ties between, and the deadly manifestations of, the various emergencies, delusions persist. Cox points to the year 2020 as an example, a time when wildfires were “scouring much of the [U.S.] West Coast and Rockies” and “supercharged hurricanes . . . were slamming into the Gulf Coast. Nonetheless, during this time, “most liberal politicians and activists were talking more and more about climate policy as if it should be no more than a vehicle for delivering good jobs and cleaner technology.”

A plant geneticist in terms of his academic background, Cox insists that a deeper and broader transformation is required. It necessitates serious discussion regarding “the hard collective decisions that must be made regarding which goods and services must be produced and which should not be produced at all.” In other words, society must lessen consumption, starting with energy: “Our entangled ecological crises compel us to use less energy and reduce exploitation of resources and ecosystems by producing and importing less and limiting unnecessary services.” (Cox further develops analysis in his 2020 book from City Lights Books, The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can.)

“Our entangled ecological crises compel us to use less energy and reduce exploitation of resources and ecosystems by producing and importing less and limiting unnecessary services.”

In making such a recommendation, Cox harkens back to his previous work on the history and necessity of rationing. (See his Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, New York: The New Press, 2013.) The radical transformation of society that he champions requires not only ending the pursuit of growth without limits (and, with it, the compulsion to ravage ecosystems), but also remedying the gross inequality that scars the world, and thus allocating goods on the basis of equity. “We can have ecological sustainability, or capital accumulation, but not both,” he writes. Similarly, we “can have economic sufficiency for all or wealth for the few.”

Cox also challenges many of the myths surrounding “green energy.” As he asserts, if we decarbonize our energy sources, but reproduce the high-energy world of today, we’ll create large “green sacrifice zones”—places and populations that are disproportionately burdened by the resulting detriments—that technologies such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power necessitate.

Stan Cox: ” “Freeing ourselves from fuels and technologies that abuse the earth . . .  will require wholesale changes in infrastructure and living arrangements—changes on a massive scale.”

In insisting that “the path to a livable future must be one with public health, ecological balance, racial justice, and democracy at the center of policy,” Cox draws on research in the social and physical sciences. He does so while exploring three key sectors of the economy: energy, land use, and food. In the process, he challenges mainstream shibboleths that suggest that changes at the margins will be adequate to the task. “Freeing ourselves from fuels and technologies that abuse the earth . . .  will require wholesale changes in infrastructure and living arrangements—changes on a massive scale,” he boldly asserts. Meanwhile, he calls “net zero”—a goal embraced by the IPCC, many institutions of higher learning, and even various fossil fuel corporations (e.g. Shell) and airlines—”a mirage,” suggesting that it is a dangerous diversion from what we really need to achieve: zero emissions in an absolute sense.

In terms of how to realize such ambition, Cox offers concrete ideas as to what to do locally, nationally (especially in terms of the United States), and globally. His proposals include limits on wealth and income, the nationalization of fossil fuel companies and their reserves, and the formation of citizen assemblies charged with making policy proposals and decisions. He also calls for the dismantling of the cruise industry, the denial of funds to the Pentagon for buying fossil fuel, and passage of a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

In the end, Cox follows Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, who argues that the world we must fight for “is one that meets the needs of all who have been marginalized.” Embracing this goal, Cox says that “the path to a livable future depends on our ability to wage multiple struggles at once.”

Stan Cox is certainly aware of the daunting nature of the powerful forces that stand in the way of the realization of his ambitious proposals. Nonetheless, he champions them as a necessary response to the times in which we find ourselves. In this regard, his book is a powerful and inspiring call to radical collective action. “A just and livable future can be ours,” he says, “but only if we organize, resist, imagine and forge the path there together.”

“A just and livable future can be ours, but only if we organize, resist, imagine and forge the path there together.”

As I write this, the (U.S.) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that carbon dioxide levels at its Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked for 2022 at 421 parts per million last month. This, NOAA reports, has pushed “the atmosphere further into territory not seen for millions of years.” For Charles David Keeling, a scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measurement shows that humanity is “racing at top speed towards a global catastrophe.”

Neither that “catastrophe” nor associated ones are destiny. As Stan Cox contends, we have the power to pursue and achieve a fundamentally different world, one that is just and sustainable. A Path to a Livable Future is an invaluable tool in the struggle to bring it about.