Category Archives: Motivation, Values, Mentalities

Hotel Industry and Environmental Ethics

 

By Sam Marquit*

 

 Travelers are seeing a revolution these days. The green movement has officially gone worldwide. Hotels in the industry are changing their practices as well as what they buy. They are all trying to achieve the much-coveted LEED certificationThe increase in environmental ethics is a refreshing and welcome change.

One city in particular at the forefront of this environmental ethics movement is actually Las Vegas. Currently there are a number of buildings going up within the city itself. These new buildings are all being built with eco friendly materials and even being purchased locally to reduce the emissions from trucks during transportation. Other hotels in Las Vegas are changing their practices to be more environmentally friendly. None has done it better than the Palazzo Hotel and Resort. Recently the hotel was named the “Most Eco Friendly Hotel in America”.

As a commercial contractor, it is great to see the buildings I have worked on make a positive impact on the planet. However, there are others who are behind and many are highly rated in the public eye. Hotels occupy and expend a large amount of natural resources during daily operation. As a result, they produce large amounts of waste being thrown into landfills. These organizations need to realize emphasize the environmental benefits while pursuing social and economical benefits.  The Environmental Ethic of Hotels is the ethic regulations and more practice concerned with the environment during hotels operations.

It is 2013 and organizations as well as people must pay attention to the environment. It is important to protect and maintain stabilization, permanence and beauty of our planet for future generations to follow. While the Palazzo provides a great blueprint to mimic in order to achieve sustainability, not enough businesses have followed suit. Ink48 in New York City is taking steps to correct this with their Earthcare program. This program allows members to come together and discuss different ways in which they can go green.

 

 

 

 

*Sam Marquit is an independent ‘green’ contractor  and a guest contributor to this blog.

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Enforcing Mindsets and Lifestyles?

There is a widespread view that a liberal state may prevent people from harming others but that it should not promote certain comprehensive doctrines about the good life. In environmental policymaking this means

  1. that the state may prevent us from harming others (by limiting or taxing our emissions)
  2. but that the state may not prescribe by which means we should reduce emissions, whether this be eating less animal produce, travelling less, buying less stuff in general, etc. — that’s a matter of personal choice
  3. and that the state may not prescribe to reduce our emissions out of a certain motivation; as long as we reduce our emissions, the state should not care whether we do so grudgingly, whether we do so out of love of nature, whether we do so by embracing a lifestyle of simplicity, whether we embed this change in a religious lifestyle, etc.

Here is one specific way to challenge the 2nd and 3rd aspect of this widespread view. It is just terribly cumbersome if the state refrains from enforcing certain means of reducing emissions and refrains from engendering certain motivations in the citizenry. It is inefficient to let individuals decide individually on their preferred ways of reducing emissions. Coordinating lifestyle change would save costs. Changing mindests and motivations is simply much easier and needs less willpower, when it’s done together. The state could save each of us lots of trouble by using tax money to celebrate green changes in mentality, by inculcating new green paradigms in schoolkids, by coercively enforcing the normality of reduced mobility rather than letting us commit to this goal in isolation, by publicly creating momentum for a change in diet, etc.
Given that in the long run we have to change our mindsets and lifestyles anyway in order to refrain from harming others and given that travelling this road together is just much less pain, one might argue that the sheer cost savings of the community doing this with state enforcement and state encouragement justifies the accompanying curtailment of liberty.
I am making this point very hesitantly. It’s more of a question: How far do the mere psychological cost savings — the size of which is often  underestimated in my view — go in allowing illiberal environmental policy measures?

Money, Motivation, and Nature

Emissions trading faces opposition from many sides. One specific argument against emissions trading is based on the fact that humans are to some extent intrinsically motivated to care for the environment. This intrinsic motivation can disappear, however, if people are also paid for caring for the environment. Emissions trading can thus “crowd out” the intrinsic motivation to care for the environment. Therefore, it may ultimately lower environmental protection.

The effect of motivation crowding has been shown in spectacular experiments. For example, in one experiment people were asked whether they would be willing to host a radioactive waste site in their village (the idea being that this counts as some sort of altruistic act; it is driven by a sense of civic duty since some village in the country has to host the waste site). Other people were asked the same question but in addition they were told that the national government would compensate the village that hosted the site. Interestingly, people were less willing to host the waste site in their village if they knew that they would be compensated!

Without compensation people agreed to host the waste site because they probably thought something like: “One village or other has to host it, nothing speaks against us — so the right thing is to agree to it.” With the compensation people opposed the waste site because they probably thought something like: “Well, it’s a deal. We host the site and in return we get compensated. So, is that a good deal for us? No, it isn’t.”

The same with emissions trading. Without emissions trading, people might lower their emissions due to a sense of duty to play their part in the common effort. With emissions trading, they might get the impression that releasing emissions is in principle fine so long as one does not exceed one’s “cap” on emissions or so long as one buys emission rights off from others. One can get paid for emission reductions below the cap — so why do it voluntarily?

So — should we oppose emissions trading because it crowds out intrinsic motivation to reduce emissions voluntarily? I think not. My (semi-tentative) objection is this. I agree that emissions trading crowds out intrinsic motivation. I agree that this crowding out is bad. However, I think it’s unrealistic to avoid the motivation crowding effect anyway. Why?

  1. Firstly, I assume that there will be some “putting a price on carbon” anyway. It is completely unrealistic that future environmental policies will rely purely on voluntary (or command-andc-control) measures for the protection of the environment.
  2. Secondly, I assume that the motivation crowding effect depends much more on whether there is a “price on carbon” at all rather than on how extensively a “price on carbon” is used as a strategy for reducing carbon.

In other words: Given that people are already accostumed to the idea that there is a price on carbon (and carbon reductions), I doubt that much additional intrinsic motivation will be crowded out if emissions trading is used. Motivation crowding may thus not be a strong objection to using emissions trading more widely.

Social Capital and Corruption in Post-Communist Countries (II)

In a previous  post, I indicated two particularities of the link between institutional trust and corruption in post-communist countries.

I would like now to mention a third one. It is more general and, though not a direct cause of corruption, it could be part of the self-reinforcing mechanism on which corruption thrives: the problem of simultaneity.

As Elster et al (1998)  have shown, transition countries with unconsolidated democracies must focus their efforts on three simultaneous tasks: building their economy, building functional democratic institutions and solving their national identity problems (ethnic conflicts, rights to minorities, etc).

One important consequence of not doing ‘one thing at a time’ is that legislation is often ill designed and incomplete, failing to incorporate goals from all three areas. The case of environmental regulations in Romania is instructive in this respect. Here are three examples:

–          For many high-impact environmental projects carried out by private investors, experts elaborating the reports are employed directly by the investors themselves, because environmental authorities lack either the prerogatives, or the funds to do so.  This has raised suspicions about the neutrality of these assessments, as well as about the division of responsibilities between the government and private companies.

–          EU environmental law is excessively transposed into domestic law by regulations which can be easily amended by administrative procedures (resolutions, emergency ordinances etc). One visible effect of this is the rising influence of lobby groups trying to keep this provisional system in place.

–          For major environmental projects with trans-border impact, ethnic divergences can be used to fuel a rhetoric hiding risks and deficiencies of such projects. This would be the case of the Roşia Montană mining project, to which Hungary has officially opposed, and to which all environmental ministers from the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania refused to issue the environmental permit.

Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome, as well as your personal experiences about social capital and post-communist countries.

Thinking like an airport

COP 15 was held in Copenhagen in December of 2009 – just 3 years ago. As with meetings of this kind before and after, there was a sincere hope that this would be a, or even the turning point for the approach of post-, hyper-, and almost-industrialized societies in dealing with their physical and biological environment. The escalating and converging crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, environmental degradation, and general disruption of the only planet that we humans have to dwell on simply seemed too acute to ignore politically. But nothing happened.

In March of the same year, the University of Copenhagen co-hosted an international climate research conference, gathering most internationally recognised experts in the field. This was done to provide politicians with the most recent scientific knowledge, when COP 15 was to take place later in the year. A report (1) was written by a group of prominent researchers, seeking to summarize the content of more than a thousand contributing presentations. The future is here described in the following words: … scientific evidence has now become overwhelming that human activities, especially the combustion of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate in ways that threaten the well-being and continued development of human society. But nothing happened in December later that year.

The political system might still deny reality, but people are now waking up to the sad facts around the globe and evermore find the courage to abandon the futile position of total denial. However, as political solutions continue to evade international society, an increasing number find themselves ending up at the opposite side of the continuum: absolute despair. There are many reasons for this: The complexity and magnitude of the issues makes it hard to see how we as individuals can do anything with a noticeable impact. The grief and loss that follows in the wake of comprehending the astrocity of our destruction and killing simply leaves many of us paralyzed. The fear and challenge of altering personal and cultural traditions and habits into sustainable practices leads many of us to reject the possibility of change at all, even in the face of permanent and catastrophic disruption to the home of humans, animals, and plants. As the author of ’Illusions – The adventures of a reluctant Messiah’ has noted: Argue for your limitations and surely they are yours (2)

Sitting in Frankfurt Airport waiting for a plane to Graz, on my way to yet another workshop on ethics and climate change, I couldn’t help thinking that this very act constituted an important part of the problems that confronts us. Not so much in the obvious sense of using fossil fuels to go to a conference on ethics and climate change, which is self-defeating in a very real sense, but more in terms of what kind of thinking that can take place in an airport or a similar environment. Basically my question was: What kind of human do you become in an airport? It struck me that the advise from Aldo Leopold that we should try to think like a mountain (3), suddenly became very scary indeed, if the word ‘mountain’ was replaced by the word ‘airport’.

The British author Douglas Adams has said that it is no coincidence that in no language has the expression ’pretty as an airport’ arisen (4). But even more important is it that airports seem to be so removed from nature as to make it obsolete. At most nature is allowed to participate in our life-worlds in the airport as a disturbance. As something that takes the shape of snow, wind, and thunder storms and delay us in our travels

Sitting in the airport, it struck me how easy it is to forget our reliance upon and relationship with nature in such a setting. How the human order imposed on this tiny bit of the universe, with all its clean surfaces, straight lines and square perspectives seem designed to tell the story of human mastery over a disorderly universe; how the notion of being in control is embedded into almost every artefact in an airport, from the systematic ordering of flights and gates, to the more than predictable sandwiches and generic coffee that is so processed and removed from nature that you can almost believe it was cooked by engineers in some secret room below the helter-skelter of the transit area.

In an airport it is easy to believe that humans are in control – that we are distinct from nature or that nature is an obstacle to overcome through technological means so as not to disturb our plans. In an airport nature becomes environment. Nature is no longer the all-encompassing reality that gave birth to us, but that which we see around us as a resource – from high above, if we manage to get off the ground. The notion of environmental problems as something that must be managed seems almost to grow out of the shining walls. The idea that we as humans have the right to change our surroundings to fit our needs is almost embedded in the rationality of the uncomfortable plastic-chairs. In an airport it is very easy to believe that we will be able to control the environment, to continue our lives without delay. Through technology we will be able to find fuel for transport systems that will not change the climate, meat for our plates that does not come from suffering animals, and resources for our consumption that will not pollute the air, land, and water during the phases of production, use and decomposition. In an airport, humans seem to be in control.

The question must be asked however: what if the claims made by eco-psychologist, -philosophers, -theologians and others that have not bought into the idea of human supremacy, are true? What if is only when we are exposed to nature as that which is at the same time independent from our selves and that which we are embedded within that we can see our nature? What if we need o see our being embedded in the more than human life world (4), as David Abram terms it, if we are to be fully human? What if it takes hugging a tree to understand that we are not merely dependent on the physical and mental nourishment we receive from the world everyday, but that we cannot actually realize who we are until we engage with it? That we only become human when we realize we are more than humans? Arne Næss termed it discovering our ’Ecological Self’ (5). It is the experience that our skin, the very outer layer of our bodies should not only be seen as a boundary that divides me from the rest, but also as a horizon and meeting place where I meet that which is also me.

If there is some truth to the claim that our psyche needs nature to develop in a healthy way; if we need all our capabilities to figure out what is actually going in the mysterious meeting point between humans and nature; if we want to know how to proceed from here and if we are to come up with a responsible response to the crisis that we have brought upon ourselves and the rest of us – then an airport might not be the best place to think about these ideas. Or even stronger: An airport is definitely not the place to do this. On the other hand, perhaps it is only through experiencing the total alienation from nature that exists in such settings, that we, if we take the time, discover that there is something important missing. That in the very confrontation with the artificiality and functionality of architecture and technology a longing for nature can be found. The point must then be, however, to leave the airport and seek what we miss.

In that light it certainly seems problematic that we usually leave the airport and go to meetings to discuss issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity and extinction of species in settings that resemble airports so. Meeting rooms are seldom designed as places where we meet the wilderness of the world. Congress centres are often equally as devoid of non-human life and natural objects as airports. Basically it seems that we try to think about nature surrounded by stuff brought into the world by humans for the sake of humans.

It is therefore hardly a surprise that we, in these temples of what Chellis Glendinning calls techno-addiction (6), run the risk of underestimating the issues, because it is easy to forget that we are destroying and killing a part of our selves. Politicians and civil servants sitting in designer chairs at tables made of wood bent and shaped by humans to satisfy an aesthetic sense, eating nature shape and bent by humans to do the same, might just have a hard time remembering how serious the situation is – indeed why they are in such a setting at all. In other, perhaps more simple words: As the illusion of human detachment from nature pervades the setting they are in, it also pervades their understanding of the enormity of the problem.

The other risk is that the setting generates the illusion that science and technology are the only answers. When living, breathing, and moving around in environments almost exclusively designed by and for humans, we run the risk of overestimating the ability of technology to shape the world to meet our needs. We begin to see the ’technofix’ (7) as a sufficient solution. At the same time as our belief in scientific and technological abilities is being stretched to the limit, we seem to have lost the trust in our own ability to adapt to the situation. Current levels of consumption are seen as inevitable and even suggestions of moderate reductions of meat intake by for instance 1/3 are seen as hysterically idealistic, while public money is spent on research into growing animal proteins in factories. We are, so to speak, stuck in a circle of needs and technology, unable to see other options.. We have become the species that simply refuses to adapt to the rest of nature, but insist on bending everything until it meet our needs or indeed snap in our faces. If we spend some time in nature, we might, however, be reminded that this is what life is: adapting to the life-world one is embedded in.

All this leads up to a simple suggestion: next time you want to think about who you are and what to do – go sit under a tree! Next time you wonder why you are here and what it is all about – dive into the ocean! Let us arrange the next international political meeting on climate change in a forest; let us meet there and sit by campfires, sleep in tents, and forage for food. Let the politicians and the rest of us feel the connection to the rotting leaves, the dew on the leaves, the mosquitos and the smells and sounds of the more-than-human-life-world. Let us seek to remember who we are, before we decide who to become. In that way the economic interests, the fear of change, the overestimation of abilities and techno-addiction could perhaps be balanced a bit – just a little bit.

Thanks to Thomas Derek Robinson for valuable suggestions

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Mickey Gjerris is an associate professor at the Institute of Resource Economics, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen. Originally trained as a theologian, he did his Ph.d. in bioethics. Today he works within a phenomenologically inspired philosophical framework on the subjects of climate change, animal ethics, bioethics and ethics of nature. Mickey is also a member of The Danish Ethical Council (www.etiskrad.dk), a strong believer in smoked tofu, enjoy hugging trees & watching clouds and has an almost passionate relationship with his iPhone.

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(1)   Richardson K et al (2009): Synthesis report from ‘Climate change: Global risks challenges and decisions’. http://www.climatecongress.ku.dk/pdf/synthesisreport.

(2)   Bach R (1977): Illusions. The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. Random House

(3)   Leopold A (1949): A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press

(4)   Adams D (1988): The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Simon & Schuster

(5)   Abram D (1996): The Spell of the Sensuous. Vintage Books

(6)   Naess S (1982): Self-Realization, in Gullvåg I & Wetlesen J (eds.): In Sceptical Wonder. Inquiries into the Philosophy of Arne Naess on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday. Oslo, pp. 270-281

(7)   Glendinning C (1994): My Name is Chellis and I`m in Recovery from Western Civilization. New Catalyst Books

(8)   Kunstler JH (2012): Too Much Magic. Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. Atlantic Monthly Press

 

Some kind of nobility

Historically speaking, humans have taken great pride in being the epitome of evolution. We have attained consciousness about our surroundings, and ourselves and are able to pose the profound question: “Who are we?” We have developed language that enables us to communicate complex and intellectually stimulating thoughts and theories, but also developed technologies that give us control over our bodies and surroundings. Indeed, our power over the planet is unrivalled!

These abilities have been used to distinguish us from ”nature”. The environment has – to an ever-greater degree – become a place without importance in itself upon which we humans play out our drama. It has literally speaking gone from being nature (that which we are born out of) into being the environment (that which we see around us). It has furthermore become reduced to only being seen as a resource from which we can wrestle what we need, in order to fulfil our ever-growing requirements. Carried on the back of anthropocentric interpretations of monotheistic religion and philosophy, with no patience for beings that do not possess human rationality, we have become masters of the universe with license to use the planet as we see fit.

In spite of all our accomplishments, we have however reached an impasse, or perhaps even a dead-end, since that which we take so much pride in seems to be in the process of failing.

When we ask: ”Who are we”, the contemporary answer seems to be: ‘consumers’! This implies a  reduction of humans to “walking wallets”, whose only reason for existing is to ingest the products of our labour at a constantly increasing rate. Faced with the glaring implications of overconsumption, climate change, dwindling resources, and economic melt down, our only response so far is: “More growth!” An understanding of ”we” as more than a species of individuals that eat till they drop, seems to be out of our collective reach. And those that do have different visions are easily over-heard in the daily white noise of commercials.

We use language to face up to problems, to share the beauty of the universe, and to ask the questions of life, the universe and everything. However, more and more it seems we are reduced to using language to fulfil our needs, escape the consequences of this, and inventing yet more needs. The public sphere teems with means of communication. We can instantly be in touch with one another, anywhere on the planet, and access knowledge about anything. We use these amazing new abilities to check sport scores, surf porn, and gossip about people whose only accomplishment is to be more visible than others in the hurricane of entertainment that we use to distract ourselves from the pressing problems of our behaviour.

Finally, we have turned technology into a holy grail. Faced with the consequences of our lifestyles and the immediate need for changes, we close our eyes and keep dreaming that somebody will turn up a gizmo that can solve all the problems and enable us to continue our lives of over-consumption and adolescent recklessness. ”Humans have always come up with a solution” it is said, conveniently forgetting that there is no instance of a human civilisation overcoming the destruction of its ecosystem. In fact, civilisations depend vitally upon their physical and biological surroundings.

All of these arguments are well known elements in the contemporary critique of Western civilisation. There is nothing new here, except for the urgency with which it is put forth as the different crises of environment, food, energy, resources, and climate converge and paint a bleaker future than most of us have the courage to imagine.

In the face of this, most of us attempt either to remain oblivious or to fly into a panic. As Al Gore mentioned, we seem to move from absolute denial to absolute despair in seconds. However, somewhere between these two extremes, we just might be able to prove to ourselves that we at least have the courage to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. We have a chance to show that thinking ourselves the epitome of evolution was not merely a fit of megalomania.

Whether we can actually solve the problem of these converging crises and return to some kind of ”normalcy” is doubtful however. The present situation is truly more like a catastrophe that will inescapably change the basic conditions of life for us all, but also other beings and organisms on this planet. This does not negate the need or requirement to do the best we can, of trying to salvage what can be salvaged, and seeking to live responsibility rather than in denial. This may not get us out of the hole we have dug for ourselves, but rather than relegating our species to the status: ’destructive infestation’ at least it will confirm some kind of nobility for the human race. We are, after all, the self-appointed epitome of evolution.

 Thanks to Thomas Derek Robinson for valuable suggestions

Social Capital and Corruption in Post-Communist Countries (I)

Many theories on institutional confidence emphasize the importance of social capital for the creation of a functional institutional structure. According to a classical definition, social capital is a public good ‘which refers to features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions’ (Putnam, 1993, p. 167).

One of the arguments developed by such theories is that there is a strong connection between trust in institutions (and especially in the legal system) and interpersonal trust. More specifically, some researchers have argued that the institutional framework and the system of public policies in a country influence the level of social capital, namely that corrupt public officials generate mistrust among ordinary citizens. Conversely, it is argued, taking efficient steps against corruption will result in increasing the levels of interpersonal trust.

As a national of a former communist country, I agree that high levels of corruption and a strong social capital cannot go together. However, I would like to highlight two particularities of post-communist countries, which should add a nuance to the causal mechanisms between interpersonal and institutional trust:

  1. The distinction between high-level and petty corruption is still fundamental in some of these countries, to the extent that in many cases only the former is perceived as ‘real’ corruption, whereas the other is ‘getting by’, i.e. deceiving ‘the system’. Though many people fall prey to this latter mechanism in everyday situations and complain about it, they have also come appreciate the usefulness of ‘not standing in the queue’ when a shortcut is possible. Therefore, petty corruption is generally perceived as a necessary evil, and people tend to be more tolerant towards this phenomenon as compared to high level corruption. Consequently, widespread petty corruption does not proportionally shake interpersonal and institutional trust. Further, in countries where high level corruption is rampant, people become somehow inured to it, and anti-corruption measures have a much slower impact on trust than in consolidated democracies. For an interesting analysis of this issue, see Uslaner, 2008 (chapters 5 and 6).
  2. Secondly, I think the idea of ‘trust in institutions’ is less clear in countries that experienced communism. At empirical level, the Romanian example shows a gap between citizens, on one hand, and the state and its institutions on the other. There is a consistent collective perception of the state as a monolithic, immobile entity, and it is difficult to think of institutions as the result of a negotiated partnership translated into public policies. Also, unlike consolidated democracies, where criteria for assessing the performance of public institutions are clearer and ordered, in countries like Romania, there is a mix of criteria leading to sometimes paradoxical conclusions. For instance, a 2010 opinion poll revealed that three out of five respondents believed that human rights are not respected in Romania, half of the respondents said they would vote for the reintroduction of death penalty, and the Police (55%) was significantly less trusted than the Church (80%) or the media (61%).

Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome, as well as your personal experiences regarding trust and institutions in post-communist countries.

People are pessimistic about the future

An interesting excerpt from the newsletter of the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations: “An international public opinion poll recently published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) shows that of the 13 countries investigated, only citizens in Brazil, Belgium and India believe that future generations will be better off than today’s generation. 66% of respondents from all countries believe that future generations will be worse off, while only 27% believe they will be better off. According to the survey, the French have the most pessimistic outlook, with 93% of respondents feeling that future generations will be disadvantaged. The findings represent the opinions of over 1.4 billion people. The full study is available on the ITUC’s website.”

Justifying the emissions for flights to environmental conferences II

In a recent post,  we discussed whether researchers can justify jetting across the globe for their research (in particular for environmental research). We collected three reasons that could be adduced for the justifiability of “conference tourism”. We now add three further strategies for defending airmiles:

A fourth and prominent reason is this: the carbon emissions can be offset. If offsetting actually works and is actually done (by the university or by the researcher herself), then there is no overall environmental effect from flying to workshops.

Fifth, even if it might be a moral imperative to shift the whole research culture to more local interaction or, if international cooperation is deemed very valuable, to more electronic versions of international interaction, it might still be said that it is unfair to expect single researchers to go ahead with that shift if there is no joint action by the whole research community. There is no duty to be the lone “hero” who takes up large personal costs that others refuse to take up.

A sixth way to defend conference flights is based on doubt about the effectiveness of individual, small actions. If refraining from single flights does nothing to prevent — or not even diminish — climate change, then the reason for restraint vanishes according to many moral theories (even according to some non-consequentialist theories).

For some objections to the last two strategies, see the paper by Sabine Hohl and myself in Analyse&Kritik. Note that even someone agrees with our objections might still think that political action is a more effective and a more fair means to protect the climate than personal, small, voluntary actions such as a refusal to participate in conference travel.

The next post in these series collects reasons that speak against flying to workshops and talks. Any suggestions are welcome. Also, I need to collect a list of ideas for making international cooperation in research cooperation greener that anybody can agree on: no-regret-measures, first steps, creative solutions we haven’t thought of, etc.

Justifying the emissions for flights to environmental conferences

Is there a paradox when climate scientists fly to scientific conferences? Many people on the street think so. They find something inconsistent in the idea of contributing to climate change in order to solve climate change. I am sure that any researcher working on environmental topics had some explaining to do with respect to her conference flights: Friends and family push for it at some point or other. The same is true even more starkly for environmental activists who fly for their activism.

I’d be interested to start a collection of arguments that justify (or condemn) such conference flights. Surely the most common and plausible strategy for environmental researchers to justify their conference flights makes use of consequentialist reasoning: Greater good can be achieved (even in environmental terms) by researchers flying around the world in order to make scientific progress than would be achieved if they stayed at home.

A second strategy for exculpating the researcher is more radical: It questions the idea that the conference-travelling researcher has any explaining to do in the first place. Rather than the researcher, it is the university in whose name he travels (or the society who pays the university to do its work) who bears the burden of justification. The university who employs the researcher and expects results from him is the “principal” who bears the responsibility for his travels, while the individual researcher is only the “executive agent” who does what he is told to do.

A third strategy refers to the place that research has in the life of the researcher. The academic path is a personal project to which she is deeply committed — and, so it is claimed, everybody has a right to pursue such projects. This highly valued core aspect of her life would be thwarted if she couldn’t participate in the conference circuit. It would be “too much to ask” if she would have to give up being part of the academic community. The case for overdemandingness seems particularly strong when we notice that for those who do get funding it would need a very active and conscious decision to refrain from academic travelling.

These are just three possible justifications. I look forward to collect more of them (and also to collect condemnations). Note also that each of these strategies not only justifies flights but also delineates the limits to which it does so. To the extent that my decision for a workshop in Japan was motivated by the excitement of seeing that country, to the same extent none of the three strategies mentioned above would be of much help…