Science, Tech & Environment

A climate reporter declares his own 'no fly' zone



Marc A. Garrett/Flickr

After reporting on climate change for years, Eric Holthaus made a tough and sudden decision. He quit taking airplanes.

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It happened when he was in San Francisco airport, waiting to board a flight. He had been reading the latest UN report on climate change [pdf] when it suddently hit him on an emotional level: he started crying. 

“It's like watching the end of the world in front row seats, to be a scientist and watch this data come in,” he said.

His mind raced to, "where will we be in 50 years if we continue on the current path?"

"What will we feel like when the endangered species die? What will we feel when Mumbai is overwhelmed by tidal flood surges?" Holthaus wondered.

A meteorologist by training, Holthaus said he had to do something — something more personal than writing about the problem. "So when I cover those severe weather stories, at least I will know that I cut my carbon footprint in half with that one action."

He crunched the numbers for his own family and discovered that their carbon footprint — a measure of greenhouse gases generated by different activities — was greater than the average footprint in the US.

Now, he’s recycling more, he changed all the light bulbs in his house, and he canceled a visit to friends in Denmark.

Holthaus said it is 95 percent certain that climate change is caused by human behavior, similar to the certainty we have that smoking causes cancer. Just like he wouldn’t want to be a doctor who defends cigarette smoking, he said he doesn’t want to be a meteorologist or climate scientist who’s not doing everything he can to reduce his carbon footprint, knowing that this is the cause of increased extreme weather.

"People are dying now and it’s only going to get worse," he said. "So, I want to do whatever I can — immediately — to reduce that impact."