Intended for healthcare professionals

Head To Head

Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 26 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1466

Flying: a moral or statistical matter?

James Drife seeks to justify continued flights to medical conferences on the grounds that stopping “will have a minuscule effect on global warming”. He correctly states that although the UK is ranked eight among the world’s carbon dioxide emitters, air travel accounts for only 6.3% of our emissions and doctors taking flights to conferences will be a tiny proportion of this.

Using the same argument, one could reason that only a small proportion of murders carried out worldwide are in the UK and, even with the likes of Dr Shipman taken into account, doctors in the UK are responsible for a tiny proportion of murders. Although one more murder wouldn’t make much difference in the big scheme of things, no-one would justify it on such grounds. Murder is a moral matter not one to be judged by statistics. What other people are doing and on what scale doesn't come into the argument.

I would therefore suggest that James Drife’s line of argument is irrelevant and all we need to ask ourselves when deciding whether to fly is: is it right or wrong?

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

30 June 2008
Antony Dowd
Somercotes Medical Centre, DE55 4JJ