Posted in Guest posts
Posted by on 20 March 2014 · · 1 comment
Waiting to board at yet another airport

Waiting to board at yet another airport

I’m writing this on board a flight, my fifth international journey in the last two months – this is unusual for me, as life and work in Cambridge does not normally involve this level of travel. It has been a particularly busy period, with each of the journeys relating to quite independent areas of academic life in which I am involved.

The point of this blog post is not to boast about the increasing numbers of immigration stamps in my passport, or to show off about my international links. It is to raise a very modern-day dilemma, one that I am acutely conscious of because of my own research, which tries to understand how our contemporary global society can live within the constraints of a finite planet.

The consensus within the climate science community seems pretty clear – human activities have a discernible impact on global climate change, and one especially important offender is our continued dependence on fossil fuels. Amongst these activities, international air travel is about the worst, in terms of its carbon emission impacts. It is also one of the activities about which we can make conscious personal choices – and we should. The College Environmental Committee, with which I have been closely involved, suggests that we think about sustainable transport options and promotes cycling to work (which I do). However, all of these attempts to reduce my personal impact on the environment are wiped out by the carbon emission consequences of a single international long haul flight – and, here I am, returning from my fifth such journey!

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“To rove about, musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a good way of spending time.” – Victor Hugo

Many Fitzwilliam graduate students will tell you of the importance of musing. Be it in the dining hall, hidden amongst the bookshelves of the library, or in the social spaces of the College, graduate students are often to be found engaging in academic dialogue with each other. It might be the biologist attempting to explain gene-splicing to the modern historian, or the geography student vigorously defending his research from the critique of a group of engineers. And, against the backdrop of looming deadlines and financial pressures, they seem to enjoy this simple act of musing. As Victor Hugo correctly identified in the quotation above, part of the art and skill of nurturing an inquisitive mind is the ability to loiter amongst like-minded individuals and simply enjoy the act of thinking.

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