There was an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times (Anthony Doerr, “We Were Warned”) that I applaud. Doerr jams in lots of facts relating to what we are doing to this planet; and it’s well worth reading for that reason alone. Where I would have to disagree, however, is where Doerr states “everywhere you look, people are trying.” I wish it were so; but I couldn’t disagree more. Perhaps in a couple weeks, when roads are so jammed with cars carrying this season’s holiday shoppers that you find yourself in constant gridlock, you’ll agree to disagree as well.
At the very beginning of the op-ed, Doerr points out that the first “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” manifesto, which was issued in 1992, was signed by more than 1,500 prominent scientists. Doerr later notes that “over 15,000 scientists” signed the new manifesto — “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” — which was released this month. That’s a nice improvement, but still, it’s also worth noting that just one annual scientists gathering — like the recently concluded Society for Neuroscience 2017 Annual Meeting, Nov. 11-15, in Washington, D.C., for example — brought together more than 30,000 scientists, from more than 80 countries. (Now imagine the carbon footprint that event created!) What we need is big, bold, paradigm-shaking action. Not more proclamations and manifestos.
This is a short but well-written piece, and I appreciate Doerr’s honesty. At one point, concerning the frustration he feels simultaneously wanting to take action but being prevented from doing so by being locked in the daily grind of daily chores and such, he writes:
Hour by hour, minute by minute, I make decisions that seem like the right things to do at the time, but which prevent me from reflecting on the most significant, most critical fact in my life: Every day I participate in a system that is weaponizing our big, gorgeous planet against our kids.
He also admits to having “hurtled through the troposphere on hundreds of airplanes,” and mentions parenthetically that “each round trip from New York to London costs the Arctic another three square meters of ice.” A report published last year in the journal Science revealed that for every metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the air, three square meters of Arctic sea ice disappear.
Air travel is indeed one perfect example of how we can easily alter our behavior, and should, but don’t. In just this past Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, besides what I’ve just cited regarding Doerr’s hundreds of flights, I’ll also point out there’s a whole Travel section, every single week, and that’s been the case for as long as I can remember. In fact, this week’s Travel section happens to include four full-page ads for trips listed under the heading “The New York Times / Journeys / 40+ itineraries, 100+ departure dates, 5 continents.” There are seven separate categories, including “Food & Wine” and “Activities & Sports”-themed trips. And in addition to that, in this same Sunday Times, in the Sunday Review section, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof announces his “annual win-a-trip contest,” in which he will choose one university student to accompany him on a reporting trip. “I’m thinking about a 2018 trip to the Central African Republic,” he writes, “or perhaps Bangladesh.” On the next page, Maggie Shipstead’s “Why Can’t We Protect Elephants?” op-ed mentions Eric and Donald Trump Jr.’s elephant hunting trips (flying there on their father’s private jet, I’d bet). On the next-to-last page of the Times’s Book Review section, Tina Brown writes “These days, the only place I really do my diary is on my laptop on a plane back from Davos or L.A. or London.” In the Book Review section, I often see reviews stating that the author flew all around the world (or all across the U.S.) to gather information for their book; and I always think: What, they couldn’t pick up a phone?
Anyway, air travel is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time — for years — and so I have a lot more to say regarding air travel. But for now, briefly, my message is this: If you care about this planet, don’t take JetBlue, take Skype! Or use something similar, instead.