In The Field

EGU: Climate hypocrisy?

Some pop artists, including Madonna, have been accused of hypocrisy because their life styles are not exactly compatible with the climate-awareness they are going to raise at the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium in London on July 7. Can the same be said about scientists who fly around the world to attend the EGU?

A session yesterday evening about whether the meeting’s ‘carbon footprint’ is justified was not overwhelmingly well attended. In the end, 100 or so people showed up. Well, it was a perfectly fine spring day in Vienna, so no wonder that the meeting had partly shifted outdoors. Hundreds of scientists were busy ‘networking’ in the sunshine all day. Today it’s raining.

Some 8,000 scientists from almost 100 countries are said to be here. Someone has calculated that together they have travelled 15 million kilometres – this is 400 times around the world – to come to Vienna. The planes, trains and cars (only one participant is said to have taken the bicycle) which brought them here have emitted 5,000 tonnes of CO2, roughly the annual emissions of 2,500 EU citizens. Too much?

Yes, say some. Why go to a meeting at the other side of the world when you don’t really interact much with other parts of your university. Ok, you’ll hear a few talks and do a little networking. But then, aren’t we all swamped with information every day anyways?

Video conferences and email interactions could do the whole networking thing just as efficiently as physically going to meetings, argue the very physically present critics.

That’s well-meant. But do we really want to create a world of scientific homies?

No, says John Ludden, the president of the EGU. We should rather increase the carbon footprint, and the outreach, of the EGU, he counters. To really start tackling the problem of climate change we must bring more, and other, people – energy experts, economists, power plant engineers, scientists from India and China – to the EGU. The benefits easily outweigh the meeting’s carbon footprint. After all, he says, the coming together of earth scientists spins off ideas how to mitigate environmental issues and perhaps save the planet.

And why not plant a few trees or invest in carbon ‘offsetting’ projects?

“Rather than giving money to some Mickey Mouse offset company we should invite more people,” says Ludden.

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