For years, Kim Cobb was the Indiana Jones of climate science. The Georgia Tech professor flew to the caves of Borneo to study ancient and current climate conditions. She jetted to a remote South Pacific island to see the effects of warming on coral.
Add to that flights to Paris, Rome, Vancouver and elsewhere. All told, in the last three years, she’s flown 29 times to study, meet or talk about global warming.
Then Cobb thought about how much her personal actions were contributing to the climate crisis, so she created a spreadsheet. She found that those flights added more than 73,000 pounds of heat-trapping carbon to the air.
Now she is about to ground herself, and she is not alone. Some climate scientists and activists are limiting their flying, their consumption of meat and their overall carbon footprints to avoid adding to the global warming they study. Cobb will fly just once next year, to attend a massive international science meeting in Chile.
“I feel real torn about that,” said Indiana University’s Shahzeen Attari, who studies human behavior and climate change. She calls Cobb an important climate communicator. “I don’t want to clip her wings.”
But Cobb and Hayhoe are judged by their audiences on how much energy they use themselves, Attari said.
Attari’s research shows that audiences are turned off by scientists who use lots of energy at home. Listeners are more likely to respond to experts who use less electricity.
“It’s like having an overweight doctor giving you dieting advice,” Attari said. She found that scientists who fly to give talks bother people less.