The academic carbon footprint

The Katowice Climate Change Conference just ended and I’m taking this as an opportunity to reflect on academic carbon footprints. Given how much more carbon-heavy air travel is than any other means of transport, and how limited train connections are where I’m based, my academic carbon footprint is huge, even though I do my best to minimize my personal,  I will write a couple of posts on this topic, starting with a retrospective review of my year in travelling and travel decisions.

This is rather a typical year for me since I took on two board positions in other European countries (UFAW/HSA and Swiss 3R Competence Centre). It is way more air travel than I would like. But based as I am in one corner of Europe, the only realistic alternative is not to participate. Given that I’m one of the very few animal welfare researchers in the country, this is an alternative that would impact my work negatively. I need to meet others, see their work and discuss with them. What I can do is to make the most of my flights, by combining several commitments in one. I think I’ve managed to do that reasonably well in 2018.

In January I flew to England to participate in the meeting of the Board of Trustees of UFAW and HSA in Wheathampshire. I continued to Edinburgh for a meeting about future research collaboration. I combined two trips in one, but I really could have taken the train to Edinburgh. Flying was not more expensive and theoretically faster, but I could just as well have spent the time I worked in the airport café working in the train. Direct flights Porto-London and London-Edinburgh, stopover in Brussels on the way from Edinburgh to Porto. All flights were fully occupied or almost.

In March I flew to Brussels for a week of panel meetings. Direct flight there, full. Return flight always require a stopover, the first leg from Brussels is always full, the second not necessarily so. I don’t remember if this was via Frankfurt or via Lisbon. At the panel meeting I learned about an important meeting in Paris 10 days later, to which I had direct flights, both full. In March I also decided not to travel to Utrecht for a board meeting. Instead I wrote a missive together with a colleague about how the association needs to prepare for board members participating remotely. Indeed, even though all the technology we could have was another board member’s laptop with Skype, remote participation worked well. The only real mishap was the frustration that the coffee was served right in front of the camera, whereas for me to get a coffee to my office means I had to leave the meeting for 10 minutes 😉

In April, a new PhD student started in a Marie Curie network project. He was based in Denmark before joining my group, and the kick-off meeting was going to be in Denmark mid-April, so we agreed that he would spend the first 10 days working with my collaborator in Copenhagen and then relocate after the meeting. That wasn’t my flight but it was my decision and saved one return flight Porto-Copenhagen. I flew direct Porto-Copenhagen for the meeting but arrived early and were able to fit in another meeting and spending the weekend with family. Direct flights, fully occupied.

In May I didn’t travel. I also decided not to attend the EurSAFE conference in Vienna in June which would have required a return flight with stopovers in both direction. This was a decision largely motivated by wishing to avoid travelling when I could; a colleague agreed to take over the workshop I had hoped to coordinate and for the rest, I was only going to be a spectator, so unlike all the previous trips I could really skip it without consequences for anyone else than for myself. However, an unexpected and interesting meeting in Amsterdam came up instead – but at least the flight there is direct and was fully occupied.

In July I travelled to a workshop in Lisbon by car together with a colleague, and returned by train. I did not attend the UFAW and HSA board of trustees meeting in the UK.

In the end of July I travelled to Prince Edward Island in Canada for the ISAE conference. This was a 3-legged journey and an intercontinental flight. I thought long and hard about this, but ISAE is my main learned society and the one closest to my heart and it was my last meeting as a council member. The decisive factor was the possibility to meet with a postdoc about work she is finishing for a project with me in which she was hired before she returned to Canada. Making the most out of flights doesn’t reduce the carbon footprint but it makes the harm-benefit balance more favourable.

In the end of August I had a project meeting in Berlin (direct flight, fully occupied). I continued to Sweden, again on a direct and fully occupied flight, to spend time with family. I had hoped to take the direct night train from Berlin to Malmö, which existed when I last went to Berlin in 2005, but alas, now a train connection requires several changes and costs way more than a flight. I added a meeting with collaborators in Copenhagen (train from Sweden) and then continued to Edinburgh for the AWRN thermography workshop before I returned to Porto (direct flight there, stopover in Brussels on the way back, all flights fully occupied).

In the end of September I attended the first meeting of the scientific advisory board of the newly formed Swiss 3Rs Competence Centre in Bern. Direct flights, fully occupied, train connections within Switzerland.

In October I flew to England to participate in the meeting of the Board of Trustees of UFAW and HSA in Wheathampshire. I then took the train to Cambridge for a meeting with collaborators at Babraham Institute before flying back to Porto. Direct flights both ways, fully occupied.

In the end of November I flew to Brussels to participate in a week of panel meetings. This could have been avoided; I try to only do a panel meeting a year but frankly, I had forgotten that I had already done one in March. Direct flight there, return flight with stopover in Lisbon. Flights fully occupied except the last leg, Lisbon-Porto.

In December I travelled to a meeting in the north of Spain, together with four colleagues. We convened by public transport and then continued in one car. Interestingly, during that journey I found out that one of the others always car pool to work, whereas another take his bike. (I walk, or occasionally take the metro). I’m not seeing family in Sweden for Christmas, because I will be going in the end of January for work.


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