The Road to Brighton Pier (is paved with good intentions…)

flying by?
Even flying by on the motorway…

I am sitting on a coach at the moment, being chauffeured down to Brighton for the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Conference, which is due to start tomorrow with the Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Events (PCEs) – if there is one thing that our profession isn’t short of, it is acronyms.

I shall be attending the PCE organized by the Teacher Training and Education Special Interest Group (TTEDSIG).  To my shame and embarrassment, i cannot recall what precisely it is that I signed up for, but it must have seemed a good idea at the time.  Considering I work in teacher education, and that this blog is all about the same, I am sure that I shall have something interesting to report on it.

Let’s get trussed up

On the way down, I noticed the following signs.  Being under normal circumstances a rather liberal language maven, I amused myself by putting on my prescriptive pedant hat for a while to pass the time.

The first sign was on the slip-road into Heathrow Terminal 5, it said:

“Low Emission Zone”

The semantician in me couldn’t let this pass; in what sense can an AIRPORT be appropriately described as a “low emission zone”?  Answers on a postcard, please, to this confused blogger.

Along the motorway, by the wooden sidings with doors in them that punctuate the M25, I saw this rather ambiguous sign:

“Pollution control Valve”

Perhaps I was simply being obtuse, but I failed to see the wisdom of installing a valve to enable an authority to increase or decease the level of pollution – but if it were actually to work, how great would that be?  Simply solve the environmental crisis by turning off the tap.  And that’s when it hit me.

I had just jetted across from Germany and was now taking the coach, thus avoiding taking the more environmentally friendly train not once, but twice.  You would be correct, Dear Reader, in thinking that the blogger doth protest too much, methinks as I took issue with these two signs in particular.

Taking the path less travelled by?  No thanks – flying’s quicker

Recently, a fellow blogger raised the thorny question of whether it is ethical to attend a conference in a country whose regime does not respect human rights – you can read the post here.  It was thought-provoking, but for me nothing more than a thought-experiment, as I don’t generally find myself going to conferences in such countries.

However, what I do find myself doing – with increasing frequency these days – is hopping on a plane to jet off to some conference or event.  I’ll have taken at least three short-haul flights (all for professional purposes) by the time this year is out, and even this modest number concerns me.

You see, if I so chose, I could invest more time, and a bit more money, in traveling in a more sustainable manner.  I could have taken the Eurostar for this conference; I could take the train to more or less all of my destinations.  But I chose to fly, simply because it is faster and more convenient.

In a very real and serious way the choices we make about how we engage with the other members of our profession have impacts on the world.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a materials-light approach to hop on a plane to attend a conference – quite the opposite.

Teaching unplugged saves trees – but what about flying to conferences?

This is more than a facetious parallel I am drawing with Dogme here.  Dogme can legitimately be positioned within environmental movements, in that it espouses a minimal impact approach through its eschewing of pre-fabricated materials (or single-function materials of any kind – to twist a term from Ken Robinson’s daughter).  Apart from the pedagogic advantages of teaching materials-light, we save the planet one lesson at a time by not deforesting for the paper to make the coursebooks or photocopies that others use – and thus we contribute to saving the planet and can feel virtuous.

Follow this logic a little further and it perhaps isn’t all that unreasonable to ask whether teachers who ascribe to an unplugged approach should be undoing the positive impact that their classroom choices may make over a a year by booking one avoidable flight.

There will be somewhere between 1500-2000 delegates at the IATEFL conference in Brighton this year (and the numbers at TESOL are about ten times this number) and I suspect that the vast majority of them arrived by plane or road, or a combination of the two – just like me.

Leave no trace?

I wonder what the carbon footprint of the IATEFL conference is, and whether there is anything that we can do to reduce it.  Simply paying carbon-offset isn’t good enough – it’s like paying someone to breed a dog so that you can feel comfortable continuing to run other dogs over on the street whenever you feel like it.

So the question I have for you all is this: how can we as a community take more personal responsibility for our professional activity?

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