I’m not criticizing protesters at COP26. Maybe they’ll achieve more than I will, though the meaningful comparison is to what they could achieve optimally.
It seems to me that flying to Glasgow to protest polluting is like PETA practicing animal sacrifice to help animals or the Pope worshiping Satan to promote Christianity. I’m not trying to be coy. I think you need to practice the values you promote if you want others to follow.
My point isn’t about the magnitude of the emissions of their personal flights. It’s about their credibility and effectiveness. Again, the relevant question is how effective could they be without acting against their values? Could they have protested as effectively without flying there? If forced not to fly, what could they have come up with?
As it stands, everyone who pollutes needlessly can point to them and say “they’re polluting too. They say it’s okay because their work is important and helps the world. Well, mine too.” Few people pollute for the sake of polluting, if anyone. They visit their sick mom on the other coast or work at a company bringing goods and services to market that people want or need. From their perspective, their work is as important as anyone else’s.
What if tens of thousands of people sailed there, or even hundreds, combined with many others protesting around the world in unison? Maybe not being concentrated at the event would have watered them down. Maybe the could have found a way to make their global participation help their message.
I believe that constraints breed creativity and that they could have achieved more without flying. The results might have meant that event attendees would have realized they’d have to change their behavior, which, I believe, would have taught them beyond their academic approach.