I take more flights than I should. I try to be a good person in other ways, but I definitely take way too many flights. So far in 2022, I’ve been to Barcelona, Tenerife (which I don’t recommend at all!), and Vienna. Later this month I’m going to Turkey, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I went on another holiday later in the year. I also expect to do quite a bit of travelling next year - I could tell you that I really intend to cut down, and I definitely want to take fewer flights than I did this year, but I still know I’ll take at least two. So clearly, I’m pretty selfish when it comes to how much I travel. (A quick aside: all this jet-setting might leave you with the impression that I’m extremely rich. In fact, I earn a good salary but nothing exorbitant, the main privilege I have is the fact that I pay very little rent because I live with my parents).
Hi Sam, really enjoyed reading this.
I think there’s an issue with time horizons here. The latest IPCC Report is clear that emissions must peak by 2025 and halve by 2030 if we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees and avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Beyond that, any emissions cuts will have diminishing returns as a number of tipping points bake in higher temperatures for the long term (e.g. loss of ice coverage in the Arctic, deforestation of the Amazon). So the emissions savings you link on your spreadsheet which are spread over the period 2030-2045 do not compare like-with-like on the immediate savings you might make by avoiding flights.
And even then, I’m still not sold on the methodology found in the Founders Pledge Report you linked for quantifying emissions savings. You say that you do not see any reason to doubt their numbers. But the report itself talks of the inherent difficulty of disentangling CATF’s impact from myriad other factors (pgs. 130-131) and numbers later appear as though plucked from the air. Where are the workings behind the “12 months” figure that appears on page 134 for instance? And how exactly did Founders Pledge establish a “90% confidence interval on a range of 6 months to 2 years”? I’m sure the calculations exist, but I’d be keen to see more of the inputs before buying into them.
The moral issue is also still troubling to me. We are on track for a level of warming that causes widespread famine and makes areas of the world uninhabitable. We should be doing everything we can to limit its impact. Even if, as you say, it’s preferable to fly and donate a bit extra, it’s even more preferable not to fly and still to donate a bit extra. Flying and donations don’t have to come as a pair. In fact, paying to undo the harm that you’ve done doesn’t seem like the kind of transformative change of thinking that we need. And need fast!
Couple of reasons spring to mind for this behaviour:
1. People have heard the message 'you might think you're trying to help but actually you're just making a token gesture without actually sacrificing anything' and updated too hard on it. Now anything that doesn't involve real hardship triggers this instinct.
2. More cynically: people want to make lifestyle changes mainly as a to signal to others about their integrity and political beliefs. Most people also don't realise this is what they are doing. When you make changes that maximise for impact rather than signal, they sense that you are missing the point even if they can't articulate why. They may also see your, more effective efforts, as a kind of countersignal that you *actually* care about your carbon emissions, which subtly weakens their signals.
Alternatively, they object because it makes them confront their own rationalizations and hypocrisy ... never a pleasant thing. Maybe they don't object to visiting foreign places places, and maybe even aspire to travel more themselves. But also they care about climate change in an abstract but not tangible way. Bringing up your proactive approach to offsets triggers cognitive dissonance - they must now reconcile their own inaction.
I think it's common for vegans to want people to do things for the right reason I. e. because it's the most moral choice. This doesn't seem to apply to everyone e. g. pro-life people typically want to ban abortion, not just want people not to get them.
Could be because vegans are clearly making sacrifices to be vegan and they might resent people achieving the same ends - no animal suffering - without having to make any.
I agree with your last point, unfortunately; this is also why nearly all the activist energy against the pandemic ended up funneling into ~useless community masking instead of what would be far higher-impact: vax/booster penetration. Not much energy for air quality improvement, which is somewhere in between, either. And I’m convinced it’s because there’s too little showy everyday individual behavior involved.
I was a bit slow to see this but found it interesting, thanks for writing it. I don't think I agree with the Founders Pledge analysis - they seem to estimate CO2e emissions averted by CATF and divide this by CATF's budget to get the cost effectiveness. However, what CATF seems to do is influence policy, and thereby how *other money* is spent to reduce emissions. It seems to me that the cost effectiveness should be based on the total amount spent to achieve emissions reductions - this would be of the order of $100/tonne. Else it's like saying all the other investment that was made to reduce emissions achieved nothing.
I think the comparison between harms done by flying and the benefits of donating both being based on expected value is also not quite right - the former is basically a frequentist calculation based on "normal uncertainty" i.e. we can be pretty sure what the expected damage is, but the benefit is calculated based on multiple very uncertain parameters and is affected more by "deep/Knightian uncertainty". Many people have issues with trying to use expected values for the latter - I'm not one of them, but it might help explain better why people feel uneasy with using that expected benefits calculation.