Travel by Mouse Instead of Jet?

09/14/2011 03:42 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011

On the list of paradoxes, not many beat flying around the world to give talks about climate change. I can justify my carbon footprint if I have to -- with myself as the main moving part, we've managed to build into the first big global climate campaign, organizing what CNN has called the "most widespread... political activity in the planet's history." If you want to be active in every country on earth except North Korea, you better be prepared to fly.

But I'd rather not justify it, and I'd rather not fly. So in recent years I've learned to tell an increasing number of the people who ask me to speak (about ten a day, most days) that the only way I can "be" there is via Skype video. I sit in my kitchen, turn on my Macbook Pro, line up the camera, and when the moment comes I talk. In this way I am able to say "Yes." to speaking to a multiple of the people I could speak to if our only option was being physically present.

It's not perfect. You don't get the same kind of feedback from an audience that you do in person. I pride myself on trying to really communicate with audiences; something inherently falls away. But especially for overseas speaking, when you're working through a translator anyway, very little is lost. And much is gained by example -- you're demonstrating the world we need to live in, where more and more travel is accomplished by mouse instead of jet. (You can do a thousand Google searches for the energy it takes to drive six-tenths of a mile!) I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Rob Hopkins, who runs the wonderful TransitionTown initiative, has all but given up flying, speaking instead via video. I hear others who are experimenting as well.

And the good news is that the technology is improving all the time. (I've already had one venue send out a special camera that allowed me to appear as a three-dimensional hologram!) The social custom will change over time too, until it becomes more common to have a speaker-and maybe even an audience-working from home.

Businesses, schools, and global leaders that embrace working from home are learning just how efficient and effective remote work can be. To be sure, people will continue to commute some days and travel, but there will be a higher bar for judging if taking that plane flight is the best use of time and resources.

Much like our families and our bodies, the planet simply can't deal with the demands we're making on it -- Skype video is a remarkably good (and free!) way to dial back a little today.

This blog comes from and and presents innovative ideas to strengthen 21st Century American families through public policy, business practice, and cultural change.

BIO: Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.