The Tyndall Travel Tracker: cumulatively changing our travel behavior one flight at a time

For climate researchers to be in personal support of the UK Climate Change Act’s ‘intended path’ requires immediately flying less by 50% compared to their 2010-2015 level. Photo: BernalSaborio via Flickr
Jan 2016
19

Instead of flying around the world, or even locally, to attend meetings about the latest evidence of climate change and the potential solutions, is it time that high flying academics put their feet back on solid ground and start to walk the talk?

Researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK think that the research community should reduce their emissions in line with or beyond country commitments. To help this quest they have designed the Tyndall Travel Tracker, a simple app designed to record and analyse your travel emissions year-on-year to help bring your behavior in line with the recommendations of your and others’ research.

To fly or not to fly.

At every stage of academia there are strong incentives to fly. Early-career researchers need to build an international reputation and do their own fieldwork in far-away places, also an incentive behind our chosen careers. Newly tenured academics are expected to further develop their international collaborations and funding. Looking at your cumulative travel emissions over a year can help you identify alternatives to getting on a plane.

Flying less is a challenge. The main one is cultural – a big motivation in your career and for your attending meetings is that you enjoy visiting new places and meeting new people, naturally. There is also your FOMO – your Fear Of Missing Out. You need new, reliable and creative ways to participate from your own home institution, as well as to lose your FOMO.

There are many benefits to online meetings. They allow contributions from a wider group, provide a long term record of the meeting, save money and time, and people who cannot travel can participate, making for a more inclusive meeting. Or, you can get the train. 45% of air journeys in Europe are less than 500km. At the Tyndall Centre we each fly 2.3 trips per year on average. The UK employee average is 0.5 trips by air.

Supporting Behavior change

The Travel Tracker is a simple app that allows researchers working at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to track the hours they spend travelling to meetings. Time travelled is converted to emissions of carbon dioxide by a simple equation. Once you have logged your travel you can compare your travel emissions to your past years, against the average of all researchers, researchers at your own career stage, your location. You can also set your own annual emissions target so that you reduce your emissions year-on-year – just like countries are or have pledged to do.

And now the important bit – encouraging your behavior change. How essential was your trip? The Travel Tracker wants you to justify your travel, in a friendly way. Though if you think that all of your trips were essential, then ask your office mate to rate your travel justification for you. The Travel Tracker does though recognize your professional needs – your justification is weighted by career level and so an early-career researcher presenting their research at a conference is more essential than a senior academic presenting their research paper, again.

The Travel Tracker periodically reminds you about your emissions target and visualizes it for you against your actual travel emissions. Some Tyndall researchers have set their annual travel goals to be reduced in line with UK emissions reduction targets. When asked to travel long haul to give a plenary, they now have a professional reason not to travel. This has then led to online alternatives being offered.

Making visible positive behavior influences everyone’s engagement in low carbon behavior. Climate and sustainability researchers need to be in the lead, doing and talking. A first step is flying less as a community; we each have direct control over our travel. Leading by example is a very convincing position for the climate change research community and essential for continued public support.

 

Further information:

The Tyndall Centre’s Travel Strategy

Tyndall Centre Working Paper 161 ‘Towards a culture of low carbon research for the 21st Century’ 

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