Saturday, March 19, 2011

Science conferences and Sustainability

We just finished the Resilience 2011 conference here in Tempe, Arizona. About 700 people participated in this successful event. Efforts have been made to take sustainability in practice: The meeting was held in a LEED Gold Certified building, the catering uses locally grown products, paper use is minimized and wate is recycled.
During the conference there was a "sense of urgency" that a fundamental transformation is needed in the world economy if we want to avoid critical planetary boundaries. The sad thing is that we are not able to do it ourselves. We, mainly a group of white, rich and educated people, or as Joe Henrich would say WEIRD people. Why are we not able to innovate the way we do science and fly around on a regular basis to talk about sustainability?
If we take the challenge of sustainability to our heart, we should innovate and have conferences with much lower environmental impact. For example, by making use of modern technology. The Astrobiology program of NASA organized for example Workshops without Walls. Such meetings will be more accessible by those who are not from Europe or North America. Some people may argue that the informal part of the conference is important, which is true (chat roulette for conference participants?), but if we take our own message serious we should transform ourselves.
I hope Resilience 2014 will be in cyberspace.