Stop flying to academic conferences
Richard Parncutt

Richard Parncutt 2023

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 that:
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. 
Needless to 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

Most 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 research in 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.

Further information

The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal 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 to Richard Parncutt's homepage