What's going to happen to Vancouver's economy when it becomes increasingly shameful to fly?

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      One of the world's leading climate activists, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, has no misgivings about embarrassing adults who casually hop on airplanes.

      With the hashtag #istayontheground, she's focusing the world's attention on greenhouse gases created by the aviation sector.

      "Recently I've been invited to speak in places like Panama, New York, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, Vancouver, British Virgin Islands," Thunberg tweeted in December. "But sadly our remaining carbon budget won't allow any such travels.

      "Adult generations in countries like mine have used up our resources," she continued. "My generation won't be able to fly other than for emergencies, in a foreseeable future if we are to be the least bit serous about the 1.5 ° warming limit."

      One of the leaders of this movement in her country is Olympic gold-medal-winning biathlete Björn Ferry.

      He's also a vocal opponent of flying.

      Profs speak out against flying

      This week at the Congress of the Humanities 2019 conference at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus, academics flew in from a multitude of locations.

      But one of them, Ryan Katz-Rosene, told Georgia Straight writer Travis Lupick that he hopes this will be his last flight for a few years.

      Katz-Rosene is president of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada.

      He described the carbon equivalency of his flight from Ottawa to Vancouver as comparable to "chain-sawing down an acre of mature forest".

      "That would strike people as completely insane," Katz-Rosene told Lupick. "Like, ‘Why would you do that?’ And yet we seem to justify having that same impact on the climate when we fly."

      Last year, Wired reported that several universities are encouraging researchers to avoid taking airplanes to reduce unnecessary carbon emissions.

      Meanwhile, more than 600 academics have signed a #flyingless petition initiative.

      They include four people connected to Simon Fraser University: molecular biology and biochemistry professor Lynne Quarmby, computing science associate professor Arthur Kirkpatrick, biological sciences professor Lawrence Dill, and adjunct professor and environmental writer David Boyd, who also teaches at UBC.

      There are 10 other UBC academics who've signed the petition, including high-profile political scientist Maxwell Cameron and geographer Simon Donner. Emily Carr University of Art + Design professor Rita Wong is another signatory.

      There's even a Twitter feed, @flyingless, which features updates on this movement around the world.

      And it credits Thunberg for drawing attention to this issue.

      The airlines will never admit it, but for those who are paying attention to the climate, it's becoming cool not to get on jets. 

      In fact, it's one of the biggest steps an individual can do to reduce his or her carbon footprint.

      It's not going to address other significant contributors to the climate crisis, like the expansion of pipeline systems and bitumen production in Canada.

      But it's a very visible undertaking to pledge to never get on an airplane again. This is especially so for upper middle-class academics who love attending conferences, meeting their out-of-town peers face to face, and staying in posh hotels in other cities.

      Vancouver's economy tied to aviation

      This raises a troubling question for Vancouver, which is relatively isolated geographically without airplane access.

      The city is far from Ontario's heavily populated Golden Horseshoe, the New York City-to-Washington, D.C. corridor, and Southern California, let alone the booming metropolises of Asia.

      The passenger train connections are grim from Vancouver to most big cities in North America.

      That's why when people come to Vancouver, including to attend TED conferences, they often fly. 

      Right now, the region has an airport that's the envy of cities around the world. Forgive the pun, but that is fuelling the local economy.

      There's also a brisk convention business in Vancouver.

      Tourism contributes $4.8 billion to the regional economy, according to Tourism Vancouver, and supports more than 70,000 full-time jobs.

      But what's going to happen if there's a much larger stigma against flying because of the efforts of Thunberg and others?

      Simply put, it means that Vancouver residents and business leaders will have to adapt their economy to cope with this.

      The math is clear. Carbon emissions are going to have to decrease dramatically in the coming years if humanity will survive on Earth into the 22nd century.

      We're already seeing the effects of high greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere in the form of hurricanes, longer forest-fire seasons, and extreme flooding.

      It's only going to get worse before it has a chance of getting better.

      It will inevitably mean less flying. Inevitably.

      Last month, Guardian writer Sonia Sodha even raised the prospect of rationing air travel as a way to address this issue. Sooner or later, a political party will seize on this idea.

      Keep in mind that we've already seen smoking rates fall sharply in North America.

      In 1965, 42.4 percent of adult Americans were smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control, whereas only 14 percent smoked cigarettes in 2017. It resulted from attitudinal change.

      We've also seen a major attitudinal change around how gays and lesbians were being treated in society.

      These shifts can occur quite rapidly.

      What if we saw a huge decline in the number people willing to get on planes because of climate-induced stigma and shame associated with flying?

      British Columbia's decision makers—the premier, mayors, city managers, and chairs of regional governments—should start thinking about this.

      They need to consider what the economy might look like if air travel in and out of the province were to drop by 25 percent, 30 percent, or 50 percent in the next 10 or 15 years.

      It's not that far-fetched.

      Especially considering that there are already 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalents in the atmosphere.

      That's the greatest amount at any time in the last 800,000 years. 

      Watch Greta Thunberg's TEDx talk in Stockholm.