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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Walking the talk, not driving it and not flying it
September 15, 2010 - 9:15pm

One of the behaviors I try to account for when I'm doing a greenhouse gas inventory for Greenback U is commuting by faculty members. Faculty commute less often than staff, and typically shorter distances -- they're more likely to be able to afford decent housing near campus. Professors who live the closest to campus tend to walk to the office, but most faculty still drive. Then, there are the others. The ones who fly.

A surprising number of faculty -- some of them with "visiting" appointments but many of them tenured -- fly between Backboro and some other city, where they live. Often, they fly in for three or four days, then return home for the other half of the week. Few classes are taught on Fridays, even fewer senior faculty members teach them, and flights can be cheap if you buy them far enough in advance.

This sort of long-distance commuting isn't unique to academe. In other jobs I've had, where everyone worked a minimum of five days per week, there were the occasional bi-coastal marriages. You know, the kind where there are apartments on both coasts and spouses/partners travel on alternate weekends. But my impression is that the incidence was lower. And that the industry in question fostered a work-hard-play-hard, take-no-prisoners financially motivated set of attitudes. The kind of place where an executive might say that if your kids weren't screwed up, you weren't working hard enough. And mean it.

What's struck me about the fly-over commuters at Greenback U is that many of them claim to be concerned about climate change. Several hold seats on committees which direct or administer the University's efforts as a signatory to the President's Climate Commitment. And they claim to see no problem with flying thirty-some round trips every year. Not counting vacations.

I don't mean that all business air travel is evil, but it strikes me that there's a difference between "I need to go to a convention in San Diego" and "I really like living in Atlanta, but my job for the past twenty years has been in the northeastern USA, so I've racked up a lot of frequent flier miles."

Just by way of contrast, I recently saw part of an interview with the Chief Economist for the International Energy Agency. He's successful, he's in his 50's, and he's never owned a car because he doesn't think they're ecologically responsible. I'm sure he travels a fair amount and sometimes rents cars in his destination cities, but his actions and choices still make a statement. As do the actions and choices of Greenback's farthest-commuting faculty members. Regardless of what they say in the classroom or the committee room.


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