Conferences and Flight Shame

Although I do like conferences I have not been to many of them for various reasons. EuroPython 2014 (Berlin), Code Mesh 2015 (London), Erlang User Conference 2016 (Stockholm) were the last three international ones. I enjoyed them enormously. Learned new things, met friendly people and got a good feel for what’s happening in their respective communities.

Last year I contemplated registering for BSDCan 2019 (Ottawa) and EuroBSD 2019 (Lillehammer). But in the end I did not. It would have been great to attend these two BSD focussed conferences especially as I’ve started working more with FreeBSD lately. But I just couldn’t stomach the idea of taking an airplane. See, I’ve got a bad case of flight shame. And from the signs of it, it seems permanent.

I’m a programmer by trade. As such I’m all to familiar with the concept of Technical Debt. For those of you that are not programmers this is what the Wikipedia entry on Technical Debt states:

Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy or limited solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

So every time I’m asked to develop something I always take a moment to think about the consequences. Whether it will incur technical debt and if so, how much. Each feature or bug fix will have this taken into consideration. And any technical debt taken on will need to be repaid some time in the future; generally rather sooner than later.

I might seem like a stretch but taking an airplane incurs a similar debt, albeit an environmental one. It is easy, preposterously cheap (from a monetary point of view) and fast. But the implied environmental cost of taking an airplane is massive. Hence, taking an airplane should consequently be subject to similar consideration.

Do I really need to attend BSDCan 2019 or EuroBSD 2019? I’m sure it will fun. It will definitely be educational. And meeting people with similar but sufficiently different interests might lead to new unexplored paths that could be of some professional benefit. Is that sufficient to be willing to accept the massive environmental impact of taking an airplane?

The debt incurred by taking an airplane needs to be repaid somehow. Offsetting the CO2 emissions of the flight by paying some organisation to plant trees is not enough. Our climate is warming up too fast for that to have any meaningful effect in time. It is mostly to make people feel less guilty. The only other means to ‘repay’ that debt is to accept the massive humanitarian, environmental and, yes, monetary consequences of global warming. I’m not willing to accept those consequences and hence I’m not willing to take on the debt incurred by taking a plane.

Maybe there are alternative ways to get me to my destination. For BSDCan that’s hardly an option; the conference being held in Canada and me residing in The Netherlands. For EuroBSD I seriously did consider taking a train. However it turns out that it takes at least a full day (24hrs) of travel and involves and least 7 transits. Not really an option for a conference that lasts only a few days.

That leaves only one option open: not attending.

I really hope EuroBSD 2020 will be held in a more central European location; one that’s easily travelled to by train.