Graduating from Oxford

2008-09-27

in Daily updates, Oxford, The environment, Travel

Given the following:

  1. I am doing as much as possible to avoid air travel, due to the carbon emissions associated.
  2. If I were going to fly, it would be (a) to deal with some kind of emergency or possibly (b) for an extended visit to a previously unseen part of the world.
  3. You only get one chance to graduate at Oxford, either in person or in absentia.
  4. There is no particular urgency in formally graduating.

Should I apply to have my name read in my absence and receive my diploma in the mail?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

robin September 28, 2008 at 10:33 am

Oxford! Cool. But I think the answer is yes.

zoom September 28, 2008 at 10:36 am

If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have even crossed town to attend my boring, interminable graduation ceremony. But maybe Oxford graduation ceremonies are better than Ottawa U graduation ceremonies.

(Congratulations, by the way. That’s a major accomplishment.)

Mike Kushnir September 28, 2008 at 12:51 pm

i’d say “yes” – i wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Litty September 28, 2008 at 1:15 pm

I suggest sailing there.

R.K. September 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Does this mean you will never revisit the UK, France, etc?

Emily September 28, 2008 at 3:08 pm

How far ahead in advance do you need to book the graduation if you were going to go in person?

Milan September 28, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Does this mean you will never revisit the UK, France, etc?

It seems that way, at this point in time.

How far ahead in advance do you need to book the graduation if you were going to go in person?

About two years, I think. The people in my M.Phil class who graduated in person soon after finishing the program booked the ceremony as soon as they started the program.

Ben September 28, 2008 at 6:44 pm

If you really have no urgent need to graduate, then I’d say you may as well leave it in the hope that one day you’ll be in a position to do it in person. On the other hand, it’s not a particularly exciting event – it is really more for parents and the like – so that may restrict your choice. If your parents want to see it, you need to actually be there, but obviously that means further air travel (i.e. them flying too).

Sasha September 28, 2008 at 8:05 pm

I would advocate sailing across the sea. You already have the beard, now befriend a volleyball and build a raft and you will be good to go.

Emily September 29, 2008 at 2:12 am

If you didn’t go, you would forever have the opportunity to tell people that you shafted your Oxford graduation ceremony for the good of the environment and mankind.

10 trillion wilting intellectual eco-babes at cocktail party points.

R.K. September 29, 2008 at 8:50 am

Presumably, you wouldn’t just got for the ceremony. No doubt, there are people you met in the UK who you would want to see again.

tristan September 29, 2008 at 9:41 am

I think it’s foolhardy to say its “ethical” to never visit places across the world again. Partly because of the sailing solution – if you are not so busy, or if you can telecommute, sailing across the ocean is a real option. And partly because at some point flying will become sustainable – either that or we hit run away climate change and then the amount of C02 released by us really does become unimportant.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 9:54 am

There are definitely some people in the UK who I would be glad to see. Even so, I think I will be taking the degree in absentia.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 9:57 am

Tristan,

I didn’t say travel was inethical. I said that flying is.

[A]t some point flying will become sustainable

This really doesn’t seem likely. At present, flying requires burning large amounts of liquid fuels. Even if the quantity was decreased and the fuels were derived from biomass rather than refined from petroleum, I doubt the system would be sustainable, if only because of the production and processing costs associated with the biofuels. There are also issues like land use, fertilizer runoff, and so forth.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 10:03 am

Tristan,

More generally, on the ethics point: your ‘this might not be inethical, so it is probably acceptable’ style of argument doesn’t seem very convincing, whether applied to flying, eating meat, or something else. It seems akin to saying ‘stealing isn’t always inethical’ and then using that statement to justify thefts that serve no broader moral purpose. If the major purpose of flying or meat eating is personal enjoyment, there is a low bar for how much of an ethical violation it needs to be in order to be unacceptable.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 12:52 pm

The absentia bullet has been bitten:

“This is to confirm that your name has been entered for you to take your MPhil degree INABSENTIA on 25th October 2008.”

. September 29, 2008 at 2:20 pm

How can I travel between continents without emitting much CO2?
September 29, 2008 3:55 PM

I want to travel, but I think doing so by airplane is unethical because of the associated carbon emissions and the inadequacy of ‘offset’ schemes. Is it still possible to travel by sea from North America to Europe or Asia? If so, how long does it take, and what are the associated costs?

Tristan September 29, 2008 at 7:55 pm

The notion that any industry is “sustainable” on its own is actually a relatively strange derivative notion. In reality, humanity at large is sustainable or not, and we call those parts of it which contribute to its sustaining sustainable, and those which contradict it, not sustainable.

By flying “becoming sustainable” I mean that either we will prevent run away climate change or we will not. If we do, then as part of the whole, flying will be sustainable. Maybe it could be said to contribute to anti-sustainability, but insofar as it can be sustained by the world, long term, then it would be ethical.

Also, it does seem quite likely that flying could become sustainable given existent technologies. However, its doubtful that if this became the case, you would actually want to fly. It would be slow and exceedingly expensive.

On the other hand, travel by ship could get a lot cheaper. Using the Queen Mary 2 as a comparison is like using a Ferrari as a representative sample for car travel – it goes about twice as fast and probably burns twice as much fuel per ton as a ship built for efficiency (i.e. a freighter).

Also, I believe that if the world does become sustainable, its at least possible that part of this will be to slow down the pace of life – and this would mean more time for a ten day journey across the atlantic.

Also, you missed my point about the catagorical sustainability of flying. It follows from the premise that the time period in which the world may or may not become sustainable is finite. This might not be the case – we may remain on the edge of the abyss continually, but this seems unlikely. If we do get run away climate change then the notion of “sustainability” ceases to be meaningful. So I suppose it would be incorrect to say flying would “become sustainable”, but certainly it would become “neither sustainable nor non sustainable”.

Also, I do not understand how my argument takes the form of “this may not be unethical therefore it is not unethical”. I said that I believed it was foolhardy to make remarks about sustainability in the future, because the future concerning the climate is relatively unknown. Also, I didn’t even object to the idea that it is unethical to fly currently.

Tristan September 29, 2008 at 7:58 pm

“Tristan,

I didn’t say travel was inethical. I said that flying is.”

Isn’t this what you said?:

“Does this mean you will never revisit the UK, France, etc?

It seems that way, at this point in time.”

Now, you might have meant you will never revisit these places “at this point in time”, but strictly speaking you said that “at this point of time it appears that I will never visit these places again”. Which does mean, never to travel again.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 8:02 pm

1) My present situation doesn’t allow me to spend weeks and thousands of dollars traveling.

2) Going to England or France by a means other than flying would involve both.

As such, it is not possible at this point in time.

I agree that there is a slight lack of clarity in the involved discussion. A condensed correction would be: “UK / France, never again?” “Not for now.”

Milan September 29, 2008 at 8:02 pm

I think it would be amazing to sail across the Atlantic.

Thinking about low-carbon travel and the impacts of climate change gave me an idea for an interesting consciousness-raising exercise. A group of people could undertake a very media-savvy sustainable voyage from North America to a coral reef. It would highlight (a) the special vulnerability of coral reefs to climate change (b) that travel is a significant cause of climate change (c) that sustainable travel is very different from what we do and (d) that it is nonetheless possible.

They could grow their own food for the journey and arrange some sort of sustainable travel. One option would be sailing. Another would be growing enough biomass to make enough fuel for a carbon-neutral journey in a conventional vessel.

Milan September 29, 2008 at 8:09 pm

The notion that any industry is “sustainable” on its own is actually a relatively strange derivative notion. In reality, humanity at large is sustainable or not, and we call those parts of it which contribute to its sustaining sustainable, and those which contradict it, not sustainable.

True. Industries are very artificial things, from an environmental or energy perspective.

Also, it does seem quite likely that flying could become sustainable given existent technologies

I disagree. At present, only hydrocarbon fuels are viable. Even if we could make planes and engines that burned biofuels, the production of most biofuels is not presently sustainable. To sustainably grow enough fuel to run a fraction of the flights that happen now would be a major challenge in terms of land and water.

Using the Queen Mary 2 as a comparison is like using a Ferrari as a representative sample for car travel

I agree. It uses space poorly and has nearly as many crew as passengers. The floating equivalent of a youth hostel would score enormously better on fuel efficiency.

Also, I believe that if the world does become sustainable, its at least possible that part of this will be to slow down the pace of life – and this would mean more time for a ten day journey across the atlantic.

I agree. Slower travel is one likely consequence of a world in which we abstain from using hydrocarbon fuels, out of concern for the climate.

Also, I do not understand how my argument takes the form of “this may not be unethical therefore it is not unethical”. I said that I believed it was foolhardy to make remarks about sustainability in the future, because the future concerning the climate is relatively unknown. Also, I didn’t even object to the idea that it is unethical to fly currently.

Fair enough, though many of the key dynamics that will determine the climate of the future are well understood.

I also agree that “do not fly” cannot be a rule that is universally true. As ever, it comes down to “are the moral consequences of taking this flight worse than the moral benefits?”

tristan September 29, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Your point about flying requiring hydrocarbons is fair enough, although there are certainly those who would like to see them fly on hydrogen made from cleanly produced electricity.

However, the idea of a world where nothing runs on hydrocarbons, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine.

Milan September 30, 2008 at 9:17 am

As discussed before, hydrogen has a lot of problems as a possible fuel – not least among them, the energy is takes to convert it into a relatively energy-dense state. Planes running on the stuff are thus either likely to be too bulky to fly, or to require a massive energy contributions just to make their fuel into a liquid.

It’s not that we need to build a world where nothing runs on hydrocarbons. Anything you can convert to syngas, you can convert into a hydrocarbon of your choice. What we need is a world where those hydrocarbons are formed from carbon already in the atmosphere, not pumped up from an airless void deep underground. For example, biomass-to-liquids.

Tristan September 30, 2008 at 11:49 am

If hydrocarbons arn’t your thing, you can always run an airplane with a nuclear reactor.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft

Milan September 30, 2008 at 11:54 am

Low mass, flying nuclear reactors? What could go wrong?

. September 30, 2008 at 11:56 am
R.K. October 1, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Nuclear aircraft are not the same as nuclear weapons.

Milan October 1, 2008 at 5:26 pm

No, they aren’t.

We treat nuclear weapons very carefully, yet there are still many examples of accidents when bombs and planes exist in combination.

Civilian nuclear aviation would involve a lot more accidents than the military transport of nuclear materials, and their consequences may be correspondingly worse.

Alena Prazak October 1, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Congratulations on your graduation! I wish that you could go to your graduation because such experiences become more and more important as you get older. Going to Oxford to study was a major achievement and it would be a nice closure. I am happy to pay to have your trip carbon neutralized. Could you wait a few years and perhaps go with someone special as a part of a longer journey, by boat if necessary?

Milan October 1, 2008 at 7:08 pm

I could see flying and using offsets for some important purpose, but I don’t think attending this ceremony fits the bill.

Re-visiting Oxford as part of some later voyage is quite possible, though I think it would either need to be (a) a low-carbon trip or (b) a trip serving a purpose of sufficient importance to justify the emissions.

Milan October 1, 2008 at 7:09 pm

That said, I certainly appreciate the offer.

. October 3, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Biodiesel, Green Diesel, and Jet Fuel

By Robert Rapier

The novelty of what is being reported upon in the story seems to be the jet fuel aspect. The freeze point of conventional biodiesel is quite high, which makes it unsuitable for use as jet fuel. Green diesel has a much lower freeze point, and while I am not sure if Neste or Petrobras have produced jet fuel (which needs an even lower freeze point than diesel) with their hydrocracking process, they certainly could do so.

Milan March 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm

In the end, I had my name read in my absence.

My diploma is on my office wall.

. May 26, 2009 at 1:58 pm

“For a time, I thought that the way to solve the long-distance-transport problem was to revert to the way it was done before planes: ocean liners. Then I looked at the numbers. The sad truth is that ocean liners use more energy per passenger-km than jumbo jets. The QE2 uses four times as much energy per passenger-km as a jumbo. OK, it’s a luxury vessel; can we do better with slower tourist-class liners? From 1952 to 1968, the economical way to cross the Atlantic was in two Dutch-built liners known as “The Economy Twins,” the Maasdam and the Rijnsdam. These travelled at 16.5 knots (30.5 km/h), so the crossing from Britain to New York took eight days. Their energy consumption, if they carried a full load of 893 passengers, was 103 kWh per 100 p-km. At a typical 85% occupancy, the energy consumption was 121 kWh per 100 pkm – more than twice that of the jumbo jet. To be fair to the boats, they are not only providing trans- portation: they also provide the passengers and crew with hot air, hot water, light, and entertainment for several days; but the energy saved back home from being cooped up on the boat is dwarfed by the boat’s energy consumption, which, in the case of the QE2, is about 3000 kWh per day per passenger.”

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