Making space for divergence: Academics, plane travel and climate change. Insights from South Australia

A/Prof. Melissa Nursey-Bray1, Dr Robert Palmer1, Dr Thomas Wanner1, Dr  Cris Birzer1, Ms Catriona Bride Meyer-Mclean1

1University Of Adelaide, Adelaide, AU


This paper explores the rationales driving the academic community to undertake plane travel and in what ways theory and practice about climate change converge and diverge in the academe. What responsibility do academics have to both advance discourses of institutional and behavioral change, and become active participants in the processes of decision making about this issue? What processes for participatory input exist within academic institutions to influence core expectations about the requirement to travel? We report on a year-long study at the University of Adelaide that investigated the tension between academic requirements to travel and the University of Adelaide’s formal commitment to achieve carbon neutrality. While many academics were worried about climate change very few were willing to change their current practice and travel less; they are not institutionally incentivized to do so. The politics of participation mean divergence from travel norms are punished. We conclude with a discussion of the opportunities for individual academics to create spaces of divergence in their travel practice and entry points for greater participatory input into institutional climate policy. We explore how universities could become spaces of convergence and role models to the wider community in the context of effecting behavioral change.


Melissa is a human geographer who is interested in the relationship between people and place, and the ways in which communities become involved in environmental decision making. She has explored this relationship in the context of marine/coastal spaces, Indigenous country and urban settlements. Her current work focuses on the geographies of climate adaptation and what inhibits and drives community engagement in this space. She is the Director of the ACE (Adaptation, Community, Environment) Research Cluster, and Head of Department of the Department of Geography, Environment and Population.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

IAG Website

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