Researchers should learn to travel better to mitigate their climate impacts. Institutions can help by facilitating and rewarding sustainable travel behaviour, rather than fuelling the pressure to attend conferences, say Olivier Hamant, Timothy Saunders and Virgile Viasnoff.
All scientists face pressure to give external seminars and attend conferences. This is especially important for early-career researchers because doing so can help them to find new positions, and adds to their CVs. To do research effectively, scientists need to build networks and collaborations, and learn about cutting-edge developments in their field.
But the benefits need to be weighed against the environmental costs of attending conferences and meetings1. A return flight from London to New York (11,000 kilometers), for example, releases around 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide — roughly the same as that produced, on average, by a year’s car usage in the European Union. Attending a conference generates an estimated 800 kilograms of CO2 emissions per participant.
From our experiences as junior and established faculty members in the biological and physical sciences, the number of conferences seems to be increasing. This year, for example, Gordon Research Conferences — one of the larger conference organizers in the life sciences — is running more than 300 meetings, compared with around 155 in 2000.
Here are seven practical proposals to reduce travel in academia, based on our own experiences of attending conferences and on discussions with colleagues: [...]