I almost didn’t apply for Climate Summer because I knew it would require me getting on an airplane. I don’t like planes. Not because at hundred of tons they soar miles above the ground or because the adrenaline rush I experience as they land is equivalent to that of a rogue roller coaster, but because I despise the excess carbon emissions of air travel, and I find it incredibly unfair that the wealthy nations who do all the flying aren’t the nations that bear the immediate brunt of climate change. As Ben mentioned in his recent blog post, the IPCC estimates that 3.5% of climate change is due to the aviation industry. That terrifies me, and having had the privilege of traveling the world with my family throughout my childhood, it makes me feel very guilty.
And then there’s the fact that my dad is a pilot. He flies Boeing 777s internationally for FedEx and his usual routes between Memphis, Paris, Dubai, New Delhi, and Beijing sometimes amount to 20,000 miles. It’s worth considering that the Boeing 777 is one of the most fuel efficient airplanes with the least carbon emissions, but then again that only sounds appealing because it is relative. Planes emit millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. According to the FedEx’s 2012 Global Citizenship Report, the company alone contributed almost 15 million metric tons of carbon to global carbon emissions in 2011. My dad is a pilot, and I am a climate activist. Consequently, I can’t ignore the fact that the individual planes he pilots emit several tons of carbon each week as they carry cargo around the world.
If you think about it, this should be a source of tension in our relationship. I’m not at all angry with him though—it’s not his fault. The pervasiveness of globalization today demands that people like my dad exist to facilitate material exchanges across oceans and continents. Like all of us, my dad is a product of society, and as a pilot he is simply providing a service to that society.
The question, then, is whether or not he is frustrated with me. As a part of the climate movement, I want our nation’s excessive carbon emissions to significantly decrease, meaning a rapid shift away from the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas. I want to see the end of oil. This idea doesn’t scare me because I know we have the technology to responsibly transition to renewable energy sources and still live comfortably. I know that everything is going to be okay, and it’s this logic that I have been sharing with Vermonters and New Hampshirites all summer long.
What I’ve forgotten, though, is that aviation technology is not as advanced as the rest of the market for renewables. As Ben mentioned in his recent blog, given current technology, the aviation industry cannot continue to function if we are to address climate change seriously. While FedEx currently aims to use alternative fuel for 30 percent of its operations by 2030, the company will still depend on oil to fuel hundreds of transnational flights a day. Unless the end of oil is accompanied by an alternative and renewable fuel that can power a Boeing 777 around the world, my work to end the era of fossil fuels jeopardizes the careers of anyone within the aviation industry. Realistically the end of oil will probably happen after my dad’s retirement. But how much can that possibly mollify the fact that my work this summer seeks to terminate the pursuit of a resource that his job as a pilot currently depends on?
Yet, as counter intuitive as it may seem, this reality doesn’t seem to affect our relationship either. In fact, at the end of the summer I will be marching 70 miles in the Energy Exodus: March from Coal to Cape Wind for a transition from fossil fuels to local, renewable energy, and guess who is joining on the last day of the march to walk alongside me? Yep, you guessed it: my dad! 🙂
So, as we continue building the climate action movement, I remember to avoid making assumptions about people based on their careers, their interests, or their ties to industry. I remember to invite anyone and everyone to join me as I push for climate action, because you never know who may be willing to march next to you for a better future.