Nuture has a letter from David Gremillet who says: Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their work… reduce our carbon footprint by attending fewer scientific conferences… Regular long-distance flying can easily triple an academic’s carbon footprint. During the past year, I have ‘spent’ about nine tonnes of carbon, two-thirds of this on plane trips. Yet I am a good consumer otherwise (see http://www.carbonfootprint.com), and I don’t even own a car. Such figures are particularly hard for field ecologists to stomach, as we hope our long-term work will highlight the environmental consequences of climate change and may ultimately influence the public and policy-makers.
The last sentence is rather problematic: is it necessary for field ecologists to believe in global warming? Could someone skeptical of global warming still be a good field ecologist? Would it indeed be better if field ecologists didn’t worry about policy implications but just did good science? Some scientists (most obviously Hansen) make no bones about using their visibility for advocacy. Most are uncomfortable in that role.
One is left wondering whether the carbon footprints of ecologists outweigh the environmental benefits of their findings and of their lobbying. Lobbying? Hmm.
The outcome is a personal decision that may be dictated more by ambition than by environmental awareness. Yep, I think that is most likely. But not just ambition. Flying off around the world is fun (if you don’t overdo it) and one of the perks of the job.
Nevertheless, as a German environmental campaigner told me 15 years ago, “Industry would be all too pleased if we did not attend distant meetings because we refuse to board aeroplanes.” Nah, don’t believe it. That just excuse making.
The bottom line, I think, is that even those who are supposedly most aware of global warming and its effects aren’t about to stop flying around the planet if their careers “require” it. So why should the ignorant unwashed masses do any better?
[Update: funnily enough, this just came my way: I’m writing on behalf of the Toyota International Teacher Program to request a phone number where we can reach you? Toyota is sending U.S. teachers to the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and another soon to me announced location, in order to study environmental issues and observe new cultures so that they may implement their findings in the classroom. This program strives to improve environmental education in our schools. We are currently searching for environmental and education bloggers to accompany the teachers on these trips (all expenses paid) and blog about the experience. At least its cheaper (CO2-wise) than sending teachers up in space shuttles. And less dangerous.]