CU Climate Researcher Forgoes Flying to Reduce Carbon Footprint

Climate scientist Joep van Dijk is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder. When he got the appointment he made the decision to not fly from his home in Amsterdam and instead to travel by boat, bike, bus and rail to Boulder, a journey that took 87 days.


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Van Dijk left Amsterdam by train Jan. 2 for Almeria, Spain and then sailed through the straits of Gibraltar to Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria and on to Barbados where he arrived on Feb. 10.

From George Town, he took three ferries to Florida, where he boarded a red-eye Greyhound bus for New Orleans. There, he bought a bike and began the final, 1,400-mile leg of his journey on March 11, arriving in Boulder three weeks later.

Van Dijk, who specializes in paleo-oceanography and paleoclimatology, says he became aware of his own carbon footprint connected to air travel while on a plane to Argentina.

“Being in that plane to Argentina doing my field work, I felt bad, so slowly I started thinking how to change this behavior, how I could do that, if it would make any difference and at one point I think I just realized, it makes me feel better not doing it.”

He says climate researchers who travel internationally for their work should examine their own carbon footprint and its impact on climate change.

“I think these people could definitely convince their bosses to take a freighter to Europe instead of taking a plane.”

But van Dijk says that everyone can examine their own carbon footprint and reconsider air travel.

“Traveling in your neighborhoods, in your bordering states, can be just as satisfying as taking a plane to Spain and making a trip there. Really try to think for yourself, is there a possibility for me making a trip that I really enjoy without having to use a plane. If you really feel uncomfortable by having to take a plane for external reasons, just have the conversation, you can still step on that plane but I would say start talking about it. I think sometimes people feel immobilized. But if you feel bad about something and you’re going to do it anyway, who is going to win in the end? You’re not going to win, you need to listen to yourself, what makes you feel happy? If you don’t want to step on a plane for a job that you’re doing, then maybe you should reconsider that job, is that really making you happy? Have the conversation.”

Some studies estimate that a round-trip flight from New York to Europe can create a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person, or nearly 16 percent of the average American’s annual carbon output. In addition to eliminating air travel, van Dijk says he has made other changes like becoming a vegetarian. A 2016 study by scientists at the University of Oxford found that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would reduce carbon emissions by as much as 63 percent, and a vegan diet by as much as 70 percent.

Van Dijk is currently i crowdfunding to raise funds to produce a documentary based on his journey from Amsterdam to Boulder titled, “Carbon Dioxide? That’s Not Right!”

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