Carbon Neutral Meetings – or not?
Posted on May 10, 2012
As we work up to another mega conference in Rio, today’s blog is a reproduction of an email conversation that happened on the Environmental Anthropology email list. The email and response below are reproduced with kind permission of the authors.
I just got back from the International Polar Year (IPY) conference in Montreal–which was held in the same space as the 2011 AAA meeting. I was very happily surprised that this event (with about 3000 attendees) was certified as a “sustainable event” (http://www.ipy2012montreal.ca/organization/green_commitment.php), with waste per participant clocking in a 50grams/person/day. Of course we can look more closely at who does the certifying, what gets counted as waste, etc., but on the ground at the meeting I saw very little waste. Water was provided in large coolers rather than individual bottles, wherever canned drinks were offered there was recycling in position, lunches were provided with a preference for local suppliers, and the lunch containers and utensils were compostible, with compost bins in place. The waste areas were staffed during busy times by people who helped identify items as recyclable, compostable, or waste. There was very little in the way of paper; even the meeting program was essentially an outline, with most material online.
So, when do we do this at AAAs?
Ted Maclin, Center for Integrative Conservation Research University of Georgia
Thanks for sharing this info. It sounds as if the organizers of your polar conference thought hard about local forms of resource use.
You point out astutely that the conference’s certification as sustainable depends, in part, on which resources one chooses to measure. Jet fuel was surely not counted. This giant loophole has become commonplace in well-meaning professions ranging from tourism to entertainment to academia. We do more good – many of us believe – by traveling than by staying at home. Surprisingly few people appreciate the irony of spewing carbon dioxide en route to discuss the ecological and social catastrophe of the Artic.
I write all this – somewhat churlishly – because you suggest that we use compostable plates, etc. at the AAA annual meeting. To my mind, that proposal represents too little too late. It is time to abolish the AAA meetings as we have known them. The cost in carbon emissions outweighs the benefits, and most of the benefits would be achievable through regional meetings (accessible by train) or web-based meetings. The AAAs own Task Force on Climate Change, which includes members of this list, is now considering this and other recommendations. Our profession is at a turning point. If we continue with the status quo, then we become just another industry saying, “Climate change is important – so important that other people better cut their carbon emissions fast.”
David M. Hughes, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Undergraduate Program Director of Anthropology Rutgers University