Should aid workers and academics fly? Time to vote on the best approach, please.

Thea Hilhorst’s post has generated a lot of traffic and interest, so it’s time to push you a bit. We’ve come up with 9 statements reflecting different views of the relative importance of the issue, and the kinds of measures development workers and academics should take. You can select a maximum of 4 of these – those you most strongly agree with. If you think the real issues and dilemmas are different from those presented here, please say so in comments. Over to you:

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5 Responses to “Should aid workers and academics fly? Time to vote on the best approach, please.”
  1. Peter Morgan

    There’s an unmentioned variable that makes a considerable difference to many of the options above: air travel to and from a one year-long assignment, with no travel back and forth in between, is not the same as a weekend half a world away. The first is perhaps always acceptable, the second is perhaps never acceptable.

    • Caroline Baker

      Agreed. I encourage fewer longer trips where more project visits and meetings are combined into one long 2-3 week trip, as opposed to frequent week-long trips where less is achieved, which can also be more tiring. This is of course leas feasible for parents with young children.

  2. Peter

    Duncan, this option was just not well written: “Cutting flying by development workers and academics will have no significant impact on climate change, and will undermine aid effectiveness”

    The first half is clearly true. If you define significance in a standard way – the impact of cutting flying by this group will be microscopic. Think about the effects of not buying those seats on the airlines/planes: (1) They sell the seat to someone else possibly at a lower price to induce increased demand – no net reduction in emissions; (2) they fly with the seats empty – minuscule reduction in emissions related to the weight differential of the plane without a passenger; or (3) over a sufficiently long time demand is reduced enough to reduce airline profitability enough to induce reduced flight schedules – this may have significant impact on aviation emissions. To achieve the third option is highly unlikely with the sort of voluntary measures for some NGOs/aid agencies/universities being discussed.

    The second half of the statement however is a different story as I don’t think flying places is related to aid effectiveness.

    • Adrian

      While I agree that the option lumps two distinct matters together, I would challenge you on the notion that the first half is “clearly true”. It may be true that the immediate, direct effects of development workers and academics cutting flying will not be significant. But given their critical position in society as opinion leaders and multipliers, I would imagine that their contribution could end up being quite significant by changing other people’s behaviour. New research shows that non-flyers have quite an impact on their surroundings, especially if they are high-profile. See e.g. the 2017 dissertation of Steve Westlake (@steviedubyu on twitter), has some quite interesting points

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