Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flip the switch

When setting up my Blogger Profile I had to compile a list of my interests. And I recall myself putting down "collecting airmiles" towards the end, to somewhat offset the sophisticated impression that comes with being interested in "cosmopolitanism" and "architecture".

Anyway, half-way through a new batch of exams which I have to grade, I feel like elaborating a bit on this rather odd interest.


I was 21 years old when I first boarded an aircraft. I still remember that I was dead nervous on that windy Danish morning in December 1999. My girlfriend at the time had persuaded me to fly down with her to Madrid. After a rather tense take-off from Copenhagen I remember that somewhere over France I began to relax and really enjoy it, especially the scenery with Mont Blanc at the horizon.

Since then I have, at least according to http://meine.flugstatistik.de/rasmus, flown 306 hours and 44 minutes, enough to take me 4,50 times around the globe or 180 457 kilometres. That is pretty far, about half the distance to the Moon.

Yes, it is weird to put down every flight you made in a database. And no, the list is not complete, I have flown a few more domestic sectors and a few more roundtrips to Vienna. But anyway, why this obsession with flying?

Perhaps because it defies the elements. It points towards a new spatial understanding of our planet, in which we share a common global living-room on equal terms. Still deep into the future, still so much ignorance and spatial/temporal-chauvinism to overcome. At the same time, and especially in these carbon-aware times, we have to take seriously the environmental aspects of flying. Though aviation currently accounts for only 2-3 percent of all emissions of green house gases, the exponential growth of the industry threatens to undermine even the Kyoto treaty. Last year, at a summer school in Keele, U.K., I presented a paper called "Fly me to the end of the world?" on this very topic, arguing that we urgently need an aggressive research agenda if we are to be able to keep flying beyond peak oil. To simply wait and see is not a sustainable attitude.

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