Nature Climate Change | Climate Feedback

The large carbon footprint of climate scientists

Collaboration requires communication, and communication is always better in person, but should climate researchers travel less?

In an article reported on the Nature News website, Andreas Stohl of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research says the community should reflect more seriously on its jet-setting culture.

Stohl has detailed the carbon emissions of scientists and non-scientists at his institute in a paper recently published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. The emissions are certainly not jaw-dropping, but he raises a couple of interesting points.

For one, why is international collaboration between climate researchers—which usually requires some air travel— so strongly encouraged by funding agencies without an eye cast to how the hopping on planes might be minimised? And to what extent is it for the climate change community to set an example to the rest of science—and to professionals of all stripes?

Yes, most researchers in the field care passionately that their work informs policies that changes people’s behaviour. But only a quarter of attendees at the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry conference in September have sent back questionnaires about the fuel they burnt to get there. Without more completed questionnaires, the organisers are having a tough time calculating the total carbon emissions, and thus how much they are aiming to off-set.

We are all busy, but we should never be too busy to practise what we preach.

Anna Petherick, Research Highlights Editor, Nature


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