The Carbon Budget of Cosmology

Antony Lewis over at CosmoCoffee has started a discussion of the environmental impact of scientists’ travel to conferences. Is this excusable, perhaps necessary, behavior, or a profligate waste of carbon? Sure, conferences are fun, especially when they’re in Taipei or Trieste, but I sometimes wonder whether those hours in the conference rooms are worth the costs to the taxpayer and the environment. Videoconferncing is getting better and better, but, on the other hand, all the real action (I’m talking science here, nothing salacious) at conferences happens in the halls, restaurants and bars, and you can’t replicate that with a camera and a wide screen. Yes, science would be the poorer for the loss of those opportunities, but most of us could probably cut back a significant fraction. Antony outlines some possible incentives that we could impose on ourselves to cut back on our travel, but in the absence of large-scale government action, even these relatively painful strategies will have meager impact. As long as airlines and governments alike balk at even small sums like five or ten pounds per passenger per flight (nowhere near the amounts actually needed to change behavior) any concerted strategy seems frighteningly unlikely.

(Antony also points to a book in progress by the brilliant and prolific David MacKay on sustainable energy which, in particular, discusses whether ideas like “carbon credits” and offsetting your emissions by, say, planting trees, make any sense at all.)