October 5, 2013
The aviation debate
Eric Holthaus wrote a piece for Quartz, explaining his Damascene conversion in San Fransisco airport, and his decision to quit flying:
So I guess last week’s report hit me harder than I expected. My profession is meteorology, which is all about data, but my heart is drawn to people and how we interact with the planet. Together, we can reverse the damage that we have already caused. We can all do something.
A day later, William MacAskill, an ethicist from Oxford wrote a reply, suggesting that Holthaus wasn't thinking this through:
You say you flew 75,000 miles last year, emitting 33.5 metric tons of CO2—which is a lot for a household. But you said that “a lot of that is travel to Africa and the Caribbean, where I work on projects to reduce the impact of climate change.” How much of a benefit do you think you produce through those projects? If it’s not several hundred times the negative impact of 33.5 tons of CO2, then you’re doing something wrong. But if it is more than that amount, then the cost from you not flying—the detrimental effect that your partial absence has on those projects—is likely to be much greater than the benefits of saving those 33.5 tons.
The response enriched the original article by giving nuance to the key ideas. This is such a richer way of expressing debate and reply that just slapping comments on the end of the article - why don't we see publications do more of this?
(An aside: it's a terrible shame that Quartz don't flag up the reply from the original article page - I only found out about it through the morning newsletter.)
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