A4E members publish statistics and recommendations for astronomy conferences

A team of A4E members lead by Andrea Gokus, a McDonnell Center postdoctoral fellow at the Washington University in St. Louis, estimated the CO2-equivalent emissions for conference travel to all 362 open meetings in astronomy in 2019, making it the first systematic study to assess these emissions for an entire research field. The paper is published under open access in PNAS Nexus.

The total is at least an estimated 42,500 tons, or about 1 ton per participant per meeting on average. The emissions are dominated by long-distance (i.e., intercontinental travel) and showcase that flying around the globe to attend in-person meetings is not a sustainable practice. The authors stress that adjustments can and must be made to reduce the effects on the climate. Andrea emphasizes: “Networking and discussing new scientific developments at meetings is important for advancing in the field, but changes should be made to reduce their hefty carbon cost.”

Via virtual meetings, the CO2-equivalent emissions due to travel can almost completely be eliminated. But such virtual offerings are often not regarded as efficient networking opportunities. The paper argues that the least meeting organizers can do is to consider locating conferences as close as possible to the majority of as many participants as possible, avoiding scenarios in which most are flying intercontinental. However, meetings that are only held in person are also not inclusive, which is an argument for either completely virtual meetings or at least with a virtual participation option. In the long run, this would be more efficient for our field as a whole, as astronomers from less affluent institutes and countries, those with family duties, and those not being able to travel due to a disability would no longer be excluded from conferences.

A4E published recommendations for event organization in order to help organizers consider both sustainability and inclusivity. This resource is available to anyone and  members of A4E are invited to point organizers to  these recommendations and the results in the published study.

If you want to contribute to extending this work, please contact Andrea Gokus or join the slack channel #project_flyingreductionpaper.