A question for the internet

I don’t really do ambivalence. If I don’t feel strongly either way, then indifference makes more sense to me than ambivalence. Hence I’m rather out of practise and there’s a question I’m very ambivalent about.

I’ve the chance to go to Shanghai. is performing at the World Expo there for a week in September; if I go with her I just have to pay for the flight. Should I go?

So, in favour:

1) I haven’t been outside NZ for six years.

2) Bloody hell! Shanghai! Showpiece of China. 400 km/h maglev train from the airport to the city. Umm… and things like that.

3) The World Expo.

4) Umm… it’s somewhere that’s not Wellington.

5) It’s a week with . Then again, we see each other regularly, what with living in the same house.


1) It’s over six tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Given a globally fair quota would be three tonnes each, that blows my quota substantially. Then again, I haven’t been on an international flight since 2004.

2) It’s a city with big old stuff. Tokyo had big things, meh. Old? I’m British, I’m glad to be in NZ, where we haven’t got millenia of history weighing us down.

3) Expo? So numerous nations spend silly amounts of money on marketing themselves. The New Zealand pavilion seems to make a big deal out of the fact that NZ has the highest number of golf courses per capita of any country in the world.

4) I like Wellington.

5) It’s $2k that could be in the mortgage. It’s also a week when I could be working on the house.

Hence the ambivalence.

27 thoughts on “A question for the internet”

    1. ? It’s entirely possible for me to go. It’s also practical. The question is whether I want to or not.

      I’ll admit, I normally choose indifference over ambivalence and if I don’t feel strongly either way then I’ll just not bother to make a decision and not worry about it. Here, however, I’ve strong feelings pushing me both ways.

      1. For someone so smart, you can be incredibly dense.

        Everything on your plus side is about the possibilities of experience. Everything on the negative side is about practicalities and mundanity.

        So it appears to me that your dilemma is one of what’s possible vs what’s practical.

        I’m not going to tell you what I think you should do. It’s not as if you’d listen anyway. What I’m trying to do is help you clarify for yourself what values of yours the decision might be found in.

        1. Hey, the density helps when running into other objects at high speed.

          But yeah, I see your distinction there. I’m not sure I agree.

          1. I’m watching your responses to people who’ve replied to this post and thinking “Hey look, Happy gets argumentative when he’s trying to decide something!”

            I’m not interested in attempting to convince you of my point of view, it makes no difference to my life whether you go to Shanghai or not, so whether I’m right in my interpretation of your words is irrelevant. You obviously want people to argue with you so you can chew on the issues and make a decision. I was trying to see what values you have that might influence your decision.

            If your values weigh equally, you should do the thing you most desire. To find that out, toss a coin. How you feel about the decision the coin makes will tell you what you want to do most.

            Do that.

          2. A coin’s been bouncing off my desk for some of this morning. It hasn’t helped.

            Ideally, I’m hoping that someone will suggest a new way to look at the question, such that the answer is obvious. Your comment, so far, is the one that’s made me think the most.

  1. Shanghai

    Also on 5, might appreciate having someone to share the experience of being there in real time (somehow talking about it afterwards just isn’t quite the same). And “living in the same house” isn’t the same as travelling with someone, especially since there are fewer day-to-day obligations, projects, etc to absorb all the together time.

    On your cons:
    1. Yes, it’s a bunch of emissions. Don’t do it every month. Perhaps not even every year. Which is not the same as don’t do it. Based on those numbers every 2-3 years seems “fair” given the rest of your life is lived with care.

    2. The city has old stuff and new stuff. And lots of people. Who want lots of new stuff. Which could have environmental impacts. Consider it a research trip.

    3. Best I can offer here is that it’s a chance to see all the “marketing ourselves” stuff in one trip, rather than N trips. That’s got to be better for the environment, right?

    4. Guess what: you get to come back to Wellington. And it’ll be better when you come back. I found I felt my like of Wellington much more keenly when returning after a trip away.

    5. You can work on the house when you come back. The mortgage will get its $2k later. You can’t, easily, get another $2k trip to Shanghai with . Carpe diem.

    Ewen (arguing for the “travel” side — does it show? 🙂 )

    1. Re: Shanghai

      1) I might live with care, but my normal emissions are still far higher than the three tonnes per year that might be equitable. This is taking a great big crap on top of an already steaming pile. That other people’s piles are larger isn’t relevant.

      2) What? Sorry, but that makes no sense.

      3) One big trip would indeed be better than N, but it’s not like I was planning on going to Cape Verde in the near future. Or the distant future. And anyway, visiting the NZ pavilion isn’t like visiting NZ, so how will visiting any other pavilion do anything other than make me want to travel more?

      4) But I know I like Wellington already. I’ve the qualifications, passports, and experience to live in pretty much any city in the world. I choose here for a reason.

      5) Actually, given interest payments, the mortgage will get 2k now, or about 6-8k later.

      Jez (sufficiently confused by his own desires to disagree with everything that anyone says)

  2. Do it.

    International cultural exchange prevents wars. Wars are *big* carbon emitters.

    It’s also unpleasant and limiting to resource-save your way out of existence. It’s better to use resources and contribute to advancing the state of the art in clean tech.

    1. I’m not planning on starting a war against China, and given what a grumpy bastard I can be, me visiting China is probably going to increase the chances of war between them and NZ.

      How does me getting on a plane and burning lots of jet fuel contribute to advancing state of the art in clean tech? As opposed to paying off the mortgage faster then putting a humongous solar array on the roof?

      1. I’m not saying your travel directly helps clean tech. I’m more suggesting that as a general life philosophy, investing some of your money in clean tech companies may be the biggest thing you can do for the environment. I know too many people who basically sit at home and do as little as possible (and make themselves miserable) in order to minimize their carbon footprint. I think there’s a happy medium involving releasing somewhat more carbon, having a more awesome life, and spending money to advance the state of clean tech.

        Maybe I’m unfairly applying my stereotype of these people to you.

        The trouble with conservation and environmental consciousness is that 95% of people won’t do it unless it’s really easy and saves them lots of money or is required by law. So individual conservation by environmentally conscious people isn’t as important as pushing the clean tech market forward and pushing for policy change. (Of course, being an early adopter of clean tech products may also have a larger impact as it helps these companies and products succeed in the startup phase)

        1. Thing is, I’m not miserable at home. I’m either building a house that’s as environmentally friendly as I can, or I’m making tiny bits of electronics do shiny stuff. (One reason for making shiny electronics, rather than say shiny cars, is just that they’re small, therefore emissions are inherently low.)

          The theme of the Expo is environmentally-friendly development and it’s hard to think of a better development than an electrically-powered 400 km/h maglev, but do I really need to get on a plane and see it for myself?

          Maybe I’m just fantastically bad at being a tourist? Slaw-jawed gazing isn’t a good look for me.

          1. Being a tourist in the strictest sense is kind of boring. Participation in stuff and connecting with people in other countries is much more interesting and valuable.

            If the mag lev is what you’re interested in, can’t you wave your qualifications and job position at some people in charge of the mag lev and ask to meet someone involved with it? I guess this might be more difficult in non-English speaking areas, but I personally found the most enjoyable/interesting parts of visiting the Bay Area to be going to places like NASA Ames and other areas that are not open to tourists.

            There’s also a difference in intellectually knowing about the mag lev and experiencing it (at least until we have immersive VR)

            I don’t expect my comment will make any difference to your decision, but if you DO go, then to maximise what you get out of it, then my suggestion is to contact people before you go to see if you can get more than just the tourist experience… although I guess it depends on just how busy and preplanned the EXPO will be.

  3. Shanghai


    And, having been there, it’s actually a city of a lot of big, NEW stuff. Plus it’s awesome. But we’ve had this discussion…

    (this is aimeew, btw)

  4. i think you should go if only for the reason that i beleive you will enjoy hanging out with Tikek and exploring a different city together.


  5. Go.

    Noting that the plane consumes more or less the same fuel and spits out the carbon if it’s empty or full (and, it *will* be flying that route regardless, since as you no doubt know, they have to move planes around all the time), it’s whether you chose to do something to offset it which matters.

    But maybe I’m biased as I haven’t actually had that many chances to go far overseas 🙂

    1. Noting that the plane will be flying anyway, but if I don’t go, then the airlines income will be less. And considering that if enough people don’t fly, then there will be less planes flying, resulting in less emissions.

      Maybe in part my ambivalence is coz I come from Overseasland, and quite a bit of it sucks.

      1. While the micro-level changes in behavior sound like they can do some good, I’ve never been convinced that self-selected micro changes will actually do any real good. One person cannot fix – or even make a substantive dent – while the macro-scale attitudes and usage are still going on.

        Airlines aren’t going to notice small edge users shifting in behavior, it’s the business and bulk usage which really affects them. The economic downturn did more to change airline profits and routing than anything else.

        IMO 🙂

        (But I’m aware that’s not a popular or well supported argument 🙂 )

  6. I think the fact that you are even posing the question means you actually really, really, really want to go – but feel massive guilt about wanting to go because of the carbon emissions, and are putting it to your friends so you don’t feel so bad about wanting to go, because all your friends are awesome people, and by being okayed by your peer group (as opposed to the whole of humanity who are selfish dumbasses you have no desire to emulate), your guilt is somewhat assuaged.

    What do I think? I’ve travelled far too much in my life and it doesn’t look like I’ll be stopping any time soon, though I look forward to stopping in Wellington when that happens. So I can’t in all conscience tell you not to go. So I guess I’m on the side of the pro-travellers. Experiencing other cultures is always a good thing.

    1. No, if I wanted to go, I’d go. You’ve met me, do I really look to other people for validation and the assuaging of guilt?

      In part, I’m interested in the reasons that other people come up with. I know I’m asking this of a group of very well traveled people, who are also aware of their own excessive footprints, hence I note the assorted reasons/excuses that people have been raising.

      1. Well, you are a Climate Scientist. As such, you are in a position of responsibility and you will cop more flack if you do things seen as not envirnomentally responsible. So I do think you fit into a special category compared to the rest of us, and if I were you, I’d be struggling with a lot of guilt about wanting to do something like this, if I were in your professional position.

  7. OK, argue your way out of this one:

    – That’s a stupid amount of carbon emissions, that you really don’t have to cause. Even if, relatively-speaking, it’s less than what other people in similar situations to you emit, it’s still an absolute amount that you don’t have to cause/pay the airline for. The world’s CO2 status would be better off if you didn’t.
    – You may find yourself cringing at the commercialism/propaganda/waste of money aspects of EXPO. Why bother when you can get the same info and probably a more balanced version of it from the internet?
    – $2k is a substantial amount to take out of the mortgage, and like you have pointed out, when you calculate interest, $2k spent now hurts the mortgage more than $2k spent in 5 years’ time.
    – Wellington is great and you have lots of fun, interesting, productive things you could be doing here for 10 days instead.
    – Tieke will be happy if you are happy. Tieke thinks it would be very nice if you came, but doesn’t need you there. Tieke will be unhappy if you decide to come and then spend the whole time bored or disgusted, or hating the fact that you have compromised your principle.

    1. Tieke will be unhappy if you decide to come and then spend the whole time bored or disgusted, or hating the fact that you have compromised your principle.

      There is also this…

  8. Devil’s Advocate says

    1) The plane would be going anyway, with or without you.
    2) These are different Old Things.
    3) Yes, but you can also go around having a look at other countries and seeing if their golf courses stack up to ours.
    4) It’s COLD and RAINING here. If last year is anything to go by, come September, it’s still going to be shit, so you might as well go for a visit somewhere that has weather that doesn’t suck.
    5) Hm. You have me there.

  9. No

    It sounds like you feel that you should want to go, but in your heart don’t.

    Your reasons to go do not sound that convincing – the best is to see the maglev, but is seeing that first hand $2k compelling? It’s more of a nice to have if you were going anyway.

    Tieke has answered a fairly fundamental question – that she would be happy either way, as long as you are happy.

    There is no point in traveling just because you have the opportunity. You should only go if you actually want to, and if that was the case you would not be asking the question.


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