In his 1962 book that gave us the word “paradigm,” “The structure of scientific revolutions”, Thomas Kuhn observed that ‘Novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by … lifelong resistance’ from those ‘whose productive careers have committed them to an older tradition’.
It applies, of course, to a far more comprehensive range of changes.
I have been reflecting on this when it comes to travel, as I considered what I would do to reduce my contribution to carbon emissions. I set myself a twelve-month budget of 5000 flying miles, 3000 car miles and committed to using trains and technology. It is not a scientific budget – I just felt a need to set a number as a start. I suspect the flying one will be easy ( I have not needed to fly anywhere during the last two years), the car one less so. However, the challenge of using technology more effectively intrigues me.
I have noticed the enormous amount of travel-based advertising, from cars to air travel, as the “industry” looks to recover what it has lost during the pandemic. What part of the IPCC report did we not get, I wonder?
Climate change is not a technical problem, it is a culture problem, and it is down to us, individually and collectively, to address it starting now.
When we have increasingly effective alternatives, why do we travel? Clearly, it can be a pleasure, but as I look at queues of pasty commuters on trains and motorway queues, that doesn’t gel. It can be exciting, or a habit, which brings me back to Thomas Kuhn and the lifelong resistance of those whose productive careers in travel make them resistant to an essential change. Yes, we might mitigate some carbon via technology, but that’s a very long odds gamble with a terminal short term problem.
What I have learned in the last eighteen months is that I can have wonderfully productive conversations around topics whose potential excites me with people I have not, and may never, meet in person.
Part of that feels weird (etymology: 14th Century Scots verb “to preordain by decree of fate”) because I grew up in a time when options for dialogue were in person, by mail, or by very clunky and expensive landlines. In a very short space of time, technology has changed to give us high quality, versatile, and just about free virtual face to face options, and we are still coming to terms with its potential.
So it begs a complex but essential question. When high carbon travel exacts a high price in terms of climate change and takes up considerable amounts of our time, and we have developable alternatives, exactly why are we travelling?
What is it about the way we live and work that requires us to travel somewhere else for temporary respite from it?
I suspect travel has become just another manifestation of consumption addiction, which we find easy excuses to justify, even though they do not stand up to objective examination. Travel is only the tip of the iceberg if we are to retain icebergs.
I think we have some major work to do on our paradigms, and it is personal.