I had plenty of reasons to go to Shanghai.
I love teaching entrepreneurship. I'm not bragging to say that my reviews say I'm exceptional at it.
As an adjunct professor, Ivy League teaching experience helps my career.
I had worked on making this opportunity happen for years and could expect more offers to follow.
I like making $10,000 doing what I love.
I loved living in Shanghai for a year in 2011-12. I miss my friends in China. I would love to visit elsewhere Asia after the week.
I love Chinese food in China.
I had the time on my schedule to go.
With five degrees from Columbia, contributing to my community would increase its value and my value in it.
I could go on, but the point is I had a lot of reasons to accept.
Instead I declined.
Why decline a lot of money to do what I love?
Before continuing, I recommend reading "I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech," the first post I read in the Mr. Money Mustache blog, which I've read ever since.
What looked like giving up money was, for him, keeping his freedom to speak as he wanted. If all you see is the money, you don't see the point.
If all you see about flying is the parts you like, you don't see the point. If you look at only the good parts of anything, anything is good.
A few years ago, watching this lecture, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air at Harvard with Cambridge University's David Mackay, which I highly recommend, I learned that flying across the Atlantic and back polluted about a year's worth of driving.
A year's worth in a few hours!
I thought living in New York City without a car meant I polluted less. Looking back, I realize I suspected flying polluted more than I would have felt comfortable with and purposefully didn't look up the numbers.
In other words, I kept myself ignorant, and not completely unconsciously. I lowered my self-awareness. I've never heard anyone suggest lowering self-awareness improved your life.
Learning the numbers meant I could no longer blissfully ignorantly fly without taking into account my externalities. What I do affects others. I live in a world polluted by people before me. I don't like the pollution and global warming they left me with and I don't want to do the same to others.
Responsibility, accountability, empathy, and compassion
As a child I avoided responsibility and accountability. I'd avoid them by saying, "It wasn't my fault" or "It wasn't me." Didn't all kids?
Contrary to my childhood expectations, I've found that responsibility and accountability improve my life--mainly by improving my emotional well-being and my relationships.
People trust those they see behaving with responsibility and accountability. Taking responsibility enables me to act to improve problems, as opposed to blame, which disempowers me. Accountability motivates me.
Figuring out whom to be responsible and accountable to leads you to develop empathy and compassion, looking at the world beyond your own limited perspective.
Isn't expanding your horizon the point of travel?
Doesn't reinforcing ignorance undo the point of travel?
I looked up the numbers. Here they are for flying round trip between New York and Shanghai per person--not per flight--flying coach:
That's for coach: nearly 2.5 times the emissions the IPCC suggests a person should produce per year in just the flying. I looked up the IPCC 2014 report. It recommend 1-2 tons so the graph above shows the upper end of their limit. So that trip contributes nearly 5 times the lower end.
First class contributes more since fewer first-class seats fit in a plane. Here are numbers for a round trip flight between New York and Shanghai, flying first class:
How can you criticize someone for pulling out of the Paris Accords if you did the same?
If you've flown across the Atlantic or farther, you've gone over the Paris accords. How can you criticize others for doing what you did?
Lies we tell ourselves
When I tell people about avoiding flying, people consistently reply with three specious, fatuous responses they know they're just lying to themselves about to sleep better.
The first: "The plane was going to fly anyway."
That's not how supply and demand works. Every fare motivates airlines to fly more planes.
The second: "Planes will be solar one day."
They aren't now. Any plane you board today will burn jet fuel, which pollutes more than just CO2.
The third: "You barely add any weight compared to the 500,000-pound plane."
My ticket makes me responsible for my share of the plane's weight.
These lies are like telling ourselves that ice cream is healthy when it has only five ingredients. No, we just like the taste and don't want to acknowledge that eating it goes against our goals to eat more healthily.
Carbon credits don't pull CO2 from the air
Carbon credits sound nice, but don't reduce CO2 levels.
Some programs may plant trees, but they can't use more CO2 than from other trees we cut down. They can't compete with the fossil fuels we released from underground--the source of the jet fuel I would have been responsible for.
A better life polluting less
I know the value of $10,000, of visiting Shanghai, and of all I declined.
I chose what I value more.
If I like something and I choose something over it, I've improved my life.
If your first reaction to not flying was to associate it with sacrifice and deprivation, I recommend rereading I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech, asking yourself if he sounds like he's sacrificing or depriving himself. On the contrary, he sounds more happy for living by his values when tested.
In my mind, I didn't choose to give up the money. I chose to embrace living by my values.
Before my experiment of a year without flying, I would have seen not flying as deprivation and sacrifice, but my experience taught me that my happiness, joy, adventure, cultural exploration, and so on didn't depend on flying. I improved my life more by staying in one place than by traveling.
If you haven't deliberately tried a year without flying, you haven't had the experience to learn from.
However you see the situation, from Mr. Money Mustache's perspective he chose freedom. What price do you have for your freedom?
I've put it this way lately:
How much would someone have to pay you to vote against your conscience?
A more stark example, slavery, the opposite of freedom, was once the law in the U.S., so
How much would someone have to pay you to vote to reinstate slavery?
or, closer to modern times,
How much would someone have to pay you to vote for Trump or Clinton, whichever you didn't vote for last time?
I suspect many of you answered something like, "There isn't enough money in the world."
That's how I feel now about flying. Well, I expect I'll fly again some time, but only after seriously considering my effects on others.
However you see the situation, from my perspective, I'm acting with responsibility, accountability, empathy, and compassion, all things that have improved my life. For that matter, in the 14 months or so since I started my 365 days without flying, I've learned to create more joy, happiness, adventure, cultural exchange, and so on by staying here.
Mr. Money Mustache, who wrote I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech, sounds like he improved his life more keeping his freedom than he would have with the money.
I have no doubt I will improve my life more by staying here.
I'm living better, by my values, than ever, and my year-and-counting without flying contributed as much as anything to that improvement, decoupling my emotional well-being from the ignorant craving I succumbed to before, and creating more reward here.
Personal growth happens through overcoming struggle. When you look back after, you're glad you did.