On Research Travel

Academic research requires travel – a lot of travel. Researchers much conduct field work, attend project meetings, visit labs, and present at national society meetings. Is all of this travel sustainable? The Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research (http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/) just made a splash recently with an analysis that found that academic researchers are among the highest producers of aviation related greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulates like soot and sulfate). Even compared to annual aviation hours flown by the average person (which has been steadily growing, even after 9/11), the academic flight carbon footprint is embarrassingly large; and the field has a responsibility to do something about it.

Bloggers, journalists and even scientists themselves have provided suggestions for opportunities to reduce aviation emissions without affecting science quality and academic success. For example, videoconferencing (skype, google hangout, etc.) into meetings and workshops is easy, and often free. Replacing international conferences with regional ones is another option. When travel is necessary, substitutions for airline travel abound: trains and hybrid rental cars are obvious choices, especially in places like Europe where high speed trains are often faster and much cheaper than flying. Finally, if airplane travel is unavoidable, strategies to mitigate emissions are possible. The Union of Concerned Scientists have noted that flying nonstop, direct, in larger airplanes, with minimal baggage, during the day, and in economy class, all minimize carbon release. If you can’t manage any of these, then carbon offsetting activities, such as supporting forest plantings can be a reasonable option (check out the David Suzuki Foundation for a good guide).