If you are
concerned about the future of humanity, please read this. I mean,
actually read it. It's not very long.
For years, I have been writing about the urgent need to reduce
flying to academic conferences, and about how to achieve that goal
realistically. Many others did the same. In a nutshell, we explained
warming, if limited to 2°C, is a matter of life and death for a
billion people. If allowed
to exceed 2°C (and we are currently headed for about 3°C), it
is matter of human survival. After global tipping
points are reached and they start interacting, the game could be over.
The survival of millions of other species, each of which took millions
of years to evolve, is also at stake. This is now the most
issue ever, in all of history.
carbon footprint of the average academic is far higher than the global
average. Clearly, it must urgently be reduced. In general, richer
people in richer countries must urgently reduce. Within that category,
academics are in a good position to take the lead.
contribution of flying to the personal carbon footprint of a typical
academic is typically one half. The best way for an academic to
significantly reduce her or his footprint is to stop flying. We cannot
compensate for flying by reducing our other carbon emissions, because
they are typically much smaller. Offsetting flying is better than
nothing but the
general consensus is that it doesn't
conference formats can simultaneously and seriously improve both
sustainability and inclusion. Low-carbon virtual or multi-hub conferences allow
colleagues from the Global South to participate who are
otherwise excluded by the cost of travel, accommodation, and
registration. Virtual and multi-hub conferences allow colleagues to
participate despite disabilities or caring duties that otherwise
prevent them from traveling. To overcome colonialism, racism, sexism,
ableism, and povertyism, inclusive
conference formats must urgently
be promoted on all levels -- regardless of carbon emissions.
As a first
priority, the political and economic systems that contribute to global
warming must be changed. But middle-class individuals must also reduce
their emissions, as part of a package of measures to
prevent global catastrophe. The big changes will only come when
large numbers of people
support them. To be credible, those people must also reduce their
None of this
is new. The main ideas have been clear for at least a decade, for those
among us with open eyes, ears, and hearts. Meanwhile, after many years
of increasingly shrill warnings, academic colleagues are still
flying to academic conferences, and conference organizers are still
inviting and encouraging hundreds of colleagues to fly. What went wrong?
The consequences of continuing to fly
Those who continue to organize single-location international
conferences, and those who fly to them, are guilty of contributing to
the future death toll from global warming. They are contributing
to the premature deaths of future people. This is not an
accusation; it is simply a fact.
participant at a single-location international conference burns a tonne
of fossil carbon, producing 3.7 tonnes CO2. (This figure is
intended as a rough average that includes those who fly and those who
don't, and different distances flown.) Therefore, a typical conference
1000 participants, or ten typical conferences with 100 participants
each, causes the premature death of one future person from negative
effects of global warming.
way, each individual conference participant who flies steals 1/1000 of
the life of a future person. That's about one month. (Imagine someone
you don't know stealing one month of your life.)
say, in every legal system of the world, it is a criminal offence to
knowingly cause, or contribute to causing, the deaths of other people.
It is therefore obvious that flying to academic conferences must stop.
In general, all flying must stop, except in life-saving emergencies, as
Extinction Rebellion pointed out long ago.
The consequences of collective denial
academics -- people with PhDs -- are ignoring these warnings.
Many will read this and laugh. (Perhaps you have already laughed?) If
climate denial is defined in terms of what people do, rather than what
they say, denial is still the norm among academics. That being the
case, we should not be surprised to find out that it is still the norm
in the general population.
According to the drug-dealer's
defence, if I don't send deadly drugs to people, someone else will.
If my country doesn't sell coal to India and China, another country
will. If I don't fly to conferences, other academics will, and they
will reap the benefits. Therefore, I should keep flying. But that
doesn't change the fact that the drug
dealer is contributing to the deaths of drug addicts. Similarly, those
selling or burning large amounts of carbon are contributing to the
deaths of future people. The solution is first to stop these activities
and then to join efforts to prevent them more generally.
It's time to
think about the consequences of our
failure to respond to decades of urgent
scientific warnings. What if we ignore the central messages of
the best mainstream journals?
We can look forward to decades or centuries of ever-increasing global
turmoil and unprecedented
suffering. At the end of the tunnel, Homo sapiens will either survive
or go extinct. We are now experiencing the end of a Golden Age, in
which relatively large middle classes in richer countries feel
relatively good about themselves and their situation, and not
especially motivated to prevent the imminent Dark Age. If we don't
like that idea (and I never met anyone who
does), then we need to get active. If we don't get active, we are
guilty, along with the rest of the deniers, whether academic or not.
I write this text knowing that, like so many related texts that so
many concerned people have written, it will be ignored. People will
read it and then proceed with their lives as if they did not know.
People will call me an "alarmist" (which of course I am) and claim (or
merely think) that I am exaggerating (which I clearly am not, if one
considers the recent academic literature on global warming).
We have a choice. Either we solve this problem or we say goodbye to
morality. If you thought you were a moral person, and you are still
flying to conferences, or -- worse -- inviting colleagues to fly to
conferences, think again. If you don't
like me writing sentences like that, you know what to do.
The opinions expressed on
this page are the
opinions. Readers who know and care about this topic are asked to
contact the author with suggestions for
improving or extending the content:
parncutt at gmx dot at. Back