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Climate Watcher Says He's Done With Flying


Eric Holthaus has made a career out of monitoring the Earth's climate. But lately, the meteorologist hasn't been liking what he sees.

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a bleak report assessing the effects of carbon emissions on the Earth's climate. After reading the IPCC report, Holthaus vowed to dramatically reduce his own carbon footprint by giving up airplane travel for good. He joined me in the studio to talk about this decision and why he's making it now.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: It struck me that morning, the morning the report came out. If I'm talking about the weather and I'm writing about the weather every day, I need to kind of put my money where my mouth is. Scientists are now more confident about the fact that humans are changing the climate than they are that smoking causes cancer. So I brought that down to my level, the human level, and say, what does that mean for me?

And when I plugged in my lifestyle into a carbon footprint calculator, I was kind of shocked to know that flying was about 50 percent of my emissions. So I thought I need to do something big here. And I decided to not fly again.

RATH: So, Eric, I mean, I'm sure this has occurred to you, but there's obviously a big problem, which is that most people aren't going to have the same reaction as you. Most people aren't going to even have read the IPCC report. So if it's just a handful of people like you that are changing behavior, how are we going to fix this problem?

HOLTHAUS: You know, that is a very good point. We don't all have to give up flying. For a lot of people, it may be something else. For example, an animal-intensive diet uses more carbon emissions because you have to have food for the animals and then the animals become food themselves. So it may be cutting back on meat one day a week, or it may be carpooling to work, doing something that makes sense to you. And to me, it makes sense to put the climate ahead of flying.

RATH: Is jet fuel particularly inefficient or particularly bad? So if I were to say travel from Los Angeles to Washington, if I were to drive and burn (unintelligible) of gasoline versus flying across the country, is one especially worse than the other?

HOLTHAUS: Flying from San Francisco to New York is about the same as driving a Hummer the entire way. If you had four people in the Hummer and drove cross country, then you would be four times more efficient than flying.

RATH: Well, I think for a lot of people, it almost feels kind of impossible. I mean, I would say even for myself, looking at my life the way it is, I can't imagine not having air travel. So what do you do? I mean, have you - do you just travel less? How have you adjusted?

HOLTHAUS: Yeah. I think that's going to be a lot of it is just traveling less. Flying in a plane always felt a little bit unnatural to me. It's just a miracle to me that you can go 800 miles an hour and cross a continent in the span of a morning. I really honestly feel like these past 100 years are kind of a special time in human history, that we have been able to do those things.

Right now, we are learning the cost of those technologies. And in order to have a healthy climate, in order to have a healthy planet, we will have to make smarter decisions.

RATH: Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist, and he has decided to stop flying in order to reduce his carbon footprint. Eric, thank you so much.

HOLTHAUS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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