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Scientists produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions through their trips to international conferences

Scientists produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions through their trips to international conferences

Scientists visit international conferences to exchange knowledge, hear new studies, and expand their networks. They regularly fly all over the world for this purpose. With all the carbon dioxide emissions that entails. An astronomer decided to measure the emissions resulting from the travel of her colleagues, and she was shocked.

In 2019, travel to international academic conferences on astronomy generated 42,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This equates to an average of one ton of carbon dioxide per person per conference. Together, all these astronomers have traveled a distance of one and a half times the distance to the Sun. in a year.

362 meetings per year
This was discovered by the American astronomer Andrea Jucos University of Washington. “We were able to calculate emissions from travel for 362 meetings, of which 258 were conferences. This resulted in a total of 42,500 tons of CO2 emissions. Since we did not include many other international meetings, this amount is likely to be the lower bound for all emissions.” Travel related in 2019. Scientias.nl.

On average, emissions were one ton of CO2 per person per conference. “But some meetings stood out with an average of more than 2.5 tons. The majority of these events occurred in Australia. The reason for this becomes clear when you look at where most astronomers come from. The majority of them work in Europe or North America, which is far from the continent,” Jockus explains. Australian.

No more dessert trips
The researcher is not saying conferences should never be held in Australia again, but he does ask organizers to think more carefully about their choice of location. “If you look at all the meetings in 2019, you will see that there were a few where it was very clear that they had been chosen because they were an attractive holiday destination. As a result, many people had to travel very long distances, while there were also locations Much closer to where the majority of participants live.

As far as JoCo is concerned, regulators must try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, although that is not always that easy. “I would add that some regions have an easier time making their meetings more sustainable than others, partly due to the infrastructure available. For example, everything in Europe is closer together than in the US, and train travel is easier.

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Astronomers fly to share knowledge. Image: Pixabay

Other scientists
Astronomers, of course, are just one group of scientists. And not the biggest by a long way. There are doctors, technicians, psychologists and many researchers, all of whom organize international conferences and symposiums. How much is known about the CO2 emissions from all their flights? “To our knowledge, our study is the first to map CO2 emissions from travel across a full range of scientists, but our average greenhouse gas emissions of one ton of CO2 is a value also found by other studies looking at clusters.” “Big in its field.”

However, there are no specific dates. “But one way to make a rough estimate is to look at the number of researchers in each field. In astronomy, it is estimated that this includes about 30,000 people, including students. I would not be surprised if a field of research that has three times as many researchers and the same number From meetings also produces three times more carbon dioxide emissions.

Solution: Axis model
You don’t have to be a great mathematician to discover that scientists emit a lot of carbon dioxide during their travels. Fortunately, there are solutions. For example, conferences could be organized primarily close to where the majority of scientists live, i.e. in Europe or the United States, so that fewer scientists have to travel far.

But Gokus also offers a centralized model, so people from other parts of the world can attend as well. This means that the same conference is held simultaneously in several places, but on a smaller scale. “The hub model of conferences would be a good idea for large, international meetings, which would otherwise require several intercontinental flights. In such a conference, sessions on the same topic are held at each hub. This means that all participants have access to the same scientific material.” Introduction, while also taking advantage of the benefits of personal contact and networking during coffee breaks, dinner, or other social activities.

Logistical challenge
Organizing these sessions remains a logistical challenge due to different time zones, for example if there is a center in North America, Europe and Asia. “My idea is to pre-record all the presentations and use the same software for each session: in the center where the speaker is present, the presentation is given live and in the other centers the recording is shown. This makes virtual participation possible immediately without extra effort. Jockos calculates how effective this will be : “if it was American Astronomical Society Meeting If the Seattle 2019 conference had been held in four centers (Seattle and Baltimore in the United States, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Tokyo in Japan), carbon dioxide emissions would have been 70 percent lower.

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Now this is quite possible with such a large meeting, but with smaller conferences it becomes difficult to have enough people per center so that real networking can take place. “That is why we must also focus more on hybrid conferences, where virtual participation is equally attractive and you do not feel like a second-class participant, as is often the case now.” Of course, a completely virtual meeting is also an option, precisely because the playing field is level for everyone. “Then the focus should be on the interaction between participants rather than passively listening to another conversation on Zoom.”

More comprehensive conferences
The researcher believes it is time to act. She was shocked by the results of her own research. “What surprised me most was the total distance astronomers traveled to attend all the conferences. That was more than three hundred times the distance to the Moon and back, or perhaps more shocking, more than one and a half times the distance to the Sun.”

But it’s not all negative. “A positive surprise was that making meetings more sustainable can also make them more inclusive. I have discovered during my studies that I am very lucky in that I usually have the opportunity to attend conferences in person. For many scientists in poor countries or who have family commitments, this is not possible It will be easier for them to attend virtually.