Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 28, 2020

Uncivil behavior and saving our planet

We Americans now live in a world where many of us have distinctly carbon-intensive lifestyles that are considered to have been fairly and honestly won by the hard work that created them. Feelings of this sort are so strong in many quarters that those lifestyles often are considered to be one of our fundamental ”rights” not to be disturbed by anyone including our government.

But then along come new scientific insights into how the world really works and some of these new insights constitute a threat to some of those lifestyles. A clear example of our resistance to new scientific information has been provided by the Covid-19 pandemic during which too many of us have not strickly followed the prefered guidelines for containing its spead.  Another example is that many of the means of transport we have fallen in love with are now  known to be responsible for the emission of huge amounts of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) that contribute significantly to global warming.

Long distance travel by aircraft is a particulary problematic issue because it requires the transport of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel for propulsion. We are now so thoroughly dependent on transport by air that long-distance air travel has come to be considered an absolute necessity, in spite of the harm such travel does to our environment. This view of essential flying is so strongly felt that anyone who expresses an opinion concerning the clear relationship between long-distance air travel and global warming runs the risk of being labeled “uncivil” or “disruptive” in our present social and commercial settings.  After all, the argument goes, huge investments in the airline and travel industries have been made in recent decades in order to accommodate what is claimed to be the insatiable need of the public to travel.

In recent decades even our colleges and unverisities have eagerly responded to this need by setting up countless “studies abroad” programs that seek to get as many students, faculty, alumni and parents as possible to all corners of the Earth. For example, my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota, has embraced these educatiomal travel endeavors so strongly that  they simply ignore the comments of “uncivil” people such as myself whenever we remind them that a college’s financial investments in fossil-fuel-related industries and replacements of on-campus courses with studies-abroad programs contribute to global warming.

You might have also noted that whenever the subject of climate change comes up in polite society that well-meaning individuals might share some of their efforts to address global warming via the electric cars they now drive or the solar panels they have added to their homes. But if you ask those same individuals how they have modified their travel plans so that they will require less air travel in the future, you are unlikely to get any responses. Instead, the fliers of that influencial  group are likely to be offended by the question and suggest that it is the examiner that is the uncivil party here, not the frequent flyer.

A recent article from the United Nation points out that the top 1% of our world’s population (with respect to wealth) emits about twice as much greenhouse gases as does the entire bottom 50%.  One reason for this, of course, is the excessive use of air transport and other carbon intensive activities by that wealthier group. So, do the relatively wealthy among us contribute disproportionally to global warming? Note that if you provide the obvious answer to that “uncivil” question, you are likely to be branded a “troublemaker” within our “technologically advanced” society.

I often wonder what our planet will be like in 30 years when my seven grandchildren will have reached their middle ages.  I sincerely hope that the most dire thoughts of our scientific communities concerning the impending changes to our planet caused by its warming will turn out to be much overstated or just plain wrong.  The great problem with this sincere wish, however, is that there is absolutely no scientific support for that happy outcome – unless human beings can make enormous changes in the way they live. Therefore, as someone who is cursed with a thorough knowledge of the science involved here, my only option seems to be to continue to speak what I believe is the truth to the power of the status quo – in the fading hope that what needs to be done will be done. For this reason, it seems to me that we actually need far more “uncivil” behaviors of the type described here than we presently have.


  1. Keep making “Good Trouble” Eric and hopefully someday soon more people will start to listen before it’s too late!!!

  2. I believe travelers can buy carbon offsets to compensate for airline travel. The cross-pollination of cultural experiences helps to build relationships that can lead to a more peaceful world in my opinion. Rick Steves is buying carbon offsets for his travelers. We could do it on an individual basis too.

    (response by Eric: Janet. Yes the benefits of travel are well known. But I’m afraid that buying offsets to compensate for travel is badly flawed and is used mainly the sooth consciences (see my Rick Steves post of some time ago). So Al Gore flew his private jet and bought offsets to compensate. But how are those 100 trees he arranged to plant in Asia doing today? )

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