In her message on September 27 to faculty and staff, Provost Eiko Maruko Siniawer announced the launch of a new program aimed to inform air travelers about the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with their trips. The program reflects recognition that travel emissions represent a sizable and growing share of the college’s total carbon emissions.
Williams is not alone in this situation. According to the EPA transportation emissions make up 27% of total national GHG emissions. and air travel is projected to recover from COVID-19 related declines, reaching 4 billion passengers in 2024 (an increase of 3% from 2019). It is thus important for systemic efforts to decarbonize transportation and for individual organizations and travelers to consider climate impacts in their travel planning.
Many faculty, staff, and students at Williams have expressed strong interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from college-sponsored air travel and it is one of several climate action goals in the Strategic Plan. At the same time, we recognize that air travel is essential to many of our educational and professional activities, including conducting research in geographically distant areas, pursuing professional development opportunities, and recruiting a diverse student body. As Provost Siniawer pointed out in her message, any initiative to reduce air travel emissions should not compromise essential work for the college.
The new program hopes to achieve the following objectives:
- Provide meaningful information to travelers about the GHG emissions of their recent travel, including equivalencies to relatable activities in daily life.
- Raise awareness of the concept of the Social Cost of Carbon by providing estimates of the climate damages of GHG emissions in dollar terms, which disproportionately burden low-income households and people of color.
- Offer useful advice on opportunities for greening travel, which together with the aforementioned objectives might lead to reductions in college air travel GHG emissions over time.
In October, the Zilkha Center, as administrator of the program, will begin sending monthly emails to travelers that contain the above information in customized form and track aggregate emissions over time to see if the program can contribute to meaningful reductions in GHG emissions. We have also set up a program webpage with more information.