I’ll begin this blog with a fantastic quote from Kevin Anderson’s blog post ‘Does Greenpeace’s sanctioning of short-haul flights mirror wider hypocrisy amongst the climate change community’:
“Those of us intimately engaged on climate change know this. Whether academics, NGOs, business leaders, policy makers or journalists, we cannot hide behind a lack of knowledge of our emissions or a poor understanding of the impacts of climate change. Despite this, the frequency of our flying to ‘essential’ meetings, conferences etc., mirrors the rapid rise in global emissions – all salved with a repeated suite of trite excuses. Surely if humankind is to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by soaring emissions, we, as a community, should be a catalyst for change – behaving as if we believe in our own research, campaign objectives etc. – rather than simply acting as a bellwether of society’s complacency.”
Kevin is a climate change researcher who is dedicated to reducing total carbon emissions (none of this increasing carbon efficiency nonsense) and he (and others like him) refuses to travel by plane, only attending conferences which are accessible by train. Fortunately he lives in the UK and can access the whole of Europe and Asia this way (albeit slowly). Consider, by contrast, researchers in Australia. It’s a very large country and there are many worthwhile conferences at a national level which could be accessed without flying but, if Aussie scientists want to visit an international conference, they have to fly.
Conference attendance is key to proving your research communication skills and demonstrating the broad impact of your research, both of which are directly taken into account when you apply for most science jobs. They are also invaluable for networking which can further your career through collaborations, job offers and other opportunities. International conferences are an opportunity to do these things on a much bigger scale than national conferences and forgoing them can hamper your career opportunities.
Aussie scientists are forced to choose between advancing their careers (in the already dog-eat-dog world of academia) and reducing their carbon impact. It’s hardly surprising that most continue to fly to conferences. If there was a viable alternative which provided the career benefits of a conference without the cost to the environment, researchers would be making a much easier choice (enjoyment of the traditional conference experience vs desire to reduce carbon emissions).
Improvements in technology are making online conferences more feasible and, if these were adopted as an alternative to traditional conferences, scientists’ carbon emissions would be dramatically reduced. Before this happens, we need some kind of proof that an online conference provides the benefits we attend traditional conferences for.
I’m hoping to join with a team of researchers to look into how online conferences measure up to traditional conferences. Perhaps by doing this we will help remove one of the barriers to a lower carbon society. If anyone reads this and is interested, I’d love to hear from you!
For more thoughts on this have a look at:
Favaro, B. (2014). A carbon code of conduct for science. Science (80-. )., 344, 1461.