I recently became aware of the fact that all of my departmental colleagues who teach and do research on sustainability drive sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). It shocked me. When SUVs first became very popular, sometime in the 1990s, there was a considerable backlash from the environmental block—both activists and intellectuals. The SUVs’ miserable fuel efficiency was considered fair game for public shaming, as were their owners. I took it as given that “we,” the right-thinking people who care about the environment and sustainability, do not drive SUVs as a matter of principle and symbolism. I was wrong. So what happened? Is it the fate of all our righteous indignations that after a while we simply join the newest social practice and consumer preference?
But that should not be all. When I commented to one young SUV-driving colleague with a wife and no children on this matter he pointed out to me that I fly around the world to professional meetings more than anyone else in my academic department and thus probably have the highest ecological footprint of us all. He is right. But I am not sure if the comparison is correct. If I stop attending international events and decline the nice invitations that I receive, my professional life as I know it will end. It is not the same for SUVs. And besides, what about the symbolism and the principle?