Monday, April 13, 2020

Conferences and carbon

My house is burning down but first... let me take a selfie ...

With much of the world in lockdown, many of us have more time on our hands for reflection. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have indicated that carbon emissions must peak this year. No doubt many countries are inadvertently going to have emissions well below last year's, but will they come back heavier than ever once relative normality returns? (Albeit with a likely economic recession if not depression).

I've recently been trying to make a bid for a US conference to come to Dublin for its once-every-five-years jaunt to Europe. International conferences conferences are a great opportunity for junior and more established researchers and clinicians to build new collaborations. But such events are also wont to chomp up a lot of carbon, with delegates flying the oceans to present their posters, give their talks, and watch the grand dons give their TED talks. Is it really worth the earth?

However, carbon neutral conferences are not only possible, but should be the norm. The article at the link (and cited below) gives a number of clear steps towards reducing emissions. We are all getting more used to virtual meetings, so the number of delegates who travel the world can be reduced, and those who do travel can offset their emissions with carbon credits (less face it, we need carbon capture if we're ever going to beat climate change). Teams should have low-emission options as the default, where people have to "opt-in" to less environmentally friendly choices (carnivore option, anyone?) The supplementary materials in the article also give an estimate of CO2 emissions per activity at a 2018 carbon-neutral conference the authors organised.

Zotova, O., P├ętrin-Desrosiers, C., Gopfert, A., & Van Hove, M. (2020). Carbon-neutral medical conferences should be the norm. The Lancet Planetary Health4(2), e48-e50.

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