Air travel to conferences, site visits, meetings etc. - emitting more CO2 than they are worth in some cases?

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

And a reply by Enku:

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2 January, 2020
Dear Stewart,

I accept your constructive criticism and I agree cars and also municipal buses should be electric powered. I also agree with Dr. Ana’s emphasis on deforestation.

FYI, here is an excerpt from a blog I published recently in our local paper under “It is no Longer if but When”:

In 2007, the United States Supreme Court ruled that EPA must regulate carbon “if it determined that greenhouse gases are dangerous”. The emphasis was on ‘if’ and that was settled by recent climate reports. Pollutants must be replaced by clean technology and regulated strictly, starting with public transportation systems.

According to Bloomberg, by 2025, almost half of the world’s municipal buses will be electrified. Clean vehicles will soon be the standard not the exception. China and Warren Buffet are leading the way: by 2025, China plans to convert 99% of its municipal buses into Buffet’s battery powered buses, which are currently supplied to 200 cities globally. Amsterdam and Paris will soon be using zero emission buses, which will decrease emissions and create more jobs.

Americans have been told that environmental regulations are ‘job killers.’ But in reality, companies like Buffet’s employ thousands. There are approximately 20,000 municipalities in the U.S. with polluting buses ripe for electrification, which will undoubtedly create more jobs while cleaning the air we breathe. The recently closed GM plant could start producing electric buses and create more jobs. More CEOs could emulate Warren Buffet; and all states could adopt plans like California’s to buy exclusively electric buses by 2029. We have the technology now and we do not have to wait 10 years.

The human species always strives to live longer and healthier but anthropogenic pollutants from gasoline and diesel-powered public transportation systems derail growth and development. Electrifying municipal buses with 100% clean engines will create more jobs in the process.

I confess my town; Wellesley, MA is the most unsustainable town in the country. There are 29,000 of us, we do not have municipal bushes but two cars per household were registered, which is above the national average and most of the cars are SUVs but some of us have high mileage cars.

It must be the guilt Stewart just mentioned or the shame and/or the desperation, we just started a six month long photo exhibition dedicated to nature featuring our town’s trees. We will be commemorating World Environment Day, 5 June 2020 focusing on nature. We will be planting trees to meet the Paris Accord of one tree per person and attached to the exhibition we started a new town wide advocacy initiative, ‘Green Fridays’ to help us do something sustainable once a week. We welcome all of you to join us. One village at a time! We posted the information below with the photos:

Why do we pay attention to trees?

- We know from our basic science classes that trees are living things. If so, did you know, at this moment in time, the largest single living thing in the world is the giant sequoia tree and that some of them have lived more than 2,000 years? How do we know the age of a tree? We count the rings inside a tree once it has fallen, not a day before. So far we have counted 3,500 rings in one sequoia tree, which means that a tree that has lived that long was the oldest known living thing in the world. The tallest known sequoia tree that is alive now has a name, General Sherman, and the second tallest also has a name, King Arthur. They live in the Sierra Nevada Desert in Californian. - They are 275ft and 270ft high respectively. The widest trunk belongs to another sequoia tree named Boole that also lives in the same location and is 113 ft wide. Put another way, it will take 23 adults or 42 children to form a circle around Boole. This is awesome!

- Trees reverse the impacts of land degradation and erosion.

- Trees help us achieve economic and environmental sustainability by providing shelter, food and energy as well as beautify our towns and homes.

- Trees are renewable and if managed property they provide us income.

- Trees filter CO2 to help reduce the effects of climate change locally and globally.

- Trees are natural buffers to extreme weather events: hurricanes, floods, and blizzards.

- Trees absorb pollutants including nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone by trapping them in their leaves and bark. The longer the trees grow and stay in place, the more powerful these protections are. Just imagine living in a desert!

Trees have provided us with life saving medicines, for example, just to name two: the willow tree gave us aspirin and the Pacific Yew tree bark gave us the life saving medication, taxol. We know science is incomplete and in the absence of knowledge, we should all commit to apply the ‘Precautionary Principle” to preserve and protect all trees and promote, endorse and encourage research because there are millions of unidentified tree species that could someday save lives.

Each tree, like all living things, has a footprint and this exhibition accords all trees their rightful places, exact coordinates in our world. Wellesley is located within the Norfolk County, MA, United States of America, North America (latitude = 42.3N, longitude = -71.3W, area = 10.5 square miles, elevation = 141’).

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Let us continue the dialogue until we electrify all cars and municipal buses, which can be done. Most importantly, let us prevent deforestation. If it were for the developers, the giant sequoia trees would have been logged. But we the people have the power to force implementations of sustainable policies and save those magnificent trees.

I end with this Chinese proverb:

The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago but the next best time is now.

Best wishes,

Enku

HIFA profile: Enku Kebede-Francis (PHD, MS, MEd) is an advisor in global health governance.

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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Whether or not one travels by air may readily determined through a cost benefit analysis. For example, if one could prevent people getting sick and dying, by flying somewhere and rendering some service, yes, they should definitely fly.

Or imagine some head of state of some particular country, having the serious need to meet face to face with other heads of state on the other side of the globe. Should they take a couple of weeks going there by ship? Or maybe they should forget going. A cost benefit analysis is needed.

On the other hand if one could take a train trip of two or three hours, rather than a one hour flight, yes, they should go by train.
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc.

Hi A. Reid,
I don't think it's as easy as a straight forward cost-benefit analysis because there are external costs which are difficult/impossible to quantify. Going to a conference by plane has certain benefits (which are hard to quantify in monetary terms) but the CO2 emissions will contribute to climate change - again hard to quantify in terms of costs, see all the discussions about CO2 taxes and so on.

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Elisabeth
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc. - our own excessive CO2 emissions contributing to global climate change?

Our colleagues from the health sector haven been discussing this further at the HIFA Discussion Group so I am going to continue to copy some of their very interesting contributions across to here:

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New title: Walking the talk - how can HIFA members reduce global aviation emissions? - Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford?
9 January, 2020
From: Neil

Below are extracts from a BMJ article on this subject, by Malcolm Green, professor emeritus of respiratory medicine (with thanks to Rachel Stancliffe for putting us in touch). It is from 2008 but remains highly relevant today.

CITATION: Head To Head: Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a358 (Published 26 June 2008)

Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1466 [restricted access]

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to minimise our contribution to the acceleration, putting off the day when the environment becomes terminally unstable for human existence.

If we stop going to international conferences we can make a significant difference and be seen to be giving a lead. By finding new ways of communicating with our colleagues in other countries, we can save time, energy, and carbon emissions.

Could conferences be as good at a distance? The answer is a resounding yes... Some are so vivid that in the heat of discussion members forget they are separated by oceans. At a recent transatlantic conference a participant in New York asked his colleagues if they would like coffee and several hands were raised in London.

There would be costs associated with setting up virtual conferences, but these will be much less than those of flying people around the world, staying in expensive hotels. Our grandchildren will view with amazement our profligacy and inefficiency in flying across continents in great clusters to exchange information. Huge international conferences will be as outdated and unsuitable for a modern world as the dodo, the fax machine, carbon paper, and the horse drawn carriage. We must be bold and act now to plan and welcome the new world of information transfer.

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Best wishes, Neil

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc. - our own excessive CO2 emissions contributing to global climate change?

And this one from Neil:

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9 January, 2020
Dear HIFA colleagues,

Further good points were made by Ian Roberts and Fiona Godlee in their 2007 BMJ editorial (extracts below). We understand that little progress has been made, although it would be good to have estimates of the CO2 emissions associated with international conferences in 2019 versus those in 2007/8.

CITATION: Ian Roberts, Fiona Godlee. Reducing the carbon footprint of medical conferences

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39125.468171.80 (Published 15 February 2007)

Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:324

www.bmj.com/content/334/7589/324 [restricted access]

The threat to human health from climate change — through malnutrition, disease, and flooding — is substantial, and in some parts of the world, immediate. Most of the health burden of climate change is borne by children in developing countries. It is ironic that doctors, for whom protecting health is a primary responsibility, contribute to global warming through unnecessary attendances at international conferences...

High quality medical education is essential for patient care, and the educational benefits of confer-ence attendance must also be considered. But Crane is sceptical — “let’s be honest, when did you last learn anything really important at a large meeting?” His view is consistent with research findings. Evidence that attending conference lectures improves practice is scant, and other methods are more effective... Climate change is a major threat to global public health and doctors must lead by example.

Best wishes, Neil

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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Air travel to conferences, site visits, etc. - our own excessive CO2 emissions contributing to global climate change?

Our colleagues from the health sector and online network HIFA (Health Information for All) are continuing to discuss what their profession can do to minimise their impact on climate change. I am finding this very interesting. Please do comment if you see parallels to our sector and what we could and should do to reduce our CO2 footprint.

This post on HIFA is from Peter:

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1 February, 2020

Hi,

Thanks to so many of you for responding on HIFA and GDHN- Alain, Wayan, Isabelle, Ishrat, Thomas, Neil, Adrienne, Amelia, Kia, James, Philip, Terry, Reynald and Michael. There have been many great points about minimising the ecological damage of the health system itself, using HIS epidemiological information to mitigate the health impacts of the climate crisis, providing health services better suited to the changing ecological determinants of health, and empowering people/patients to better cope with coming climate and ecological shocks.

I am a member of Extinction Rebellion (see here- rebellion.earth/ ) which uses the term climate and ecological crisis rather than climate change. It’s not about the world’s temperature simply rising by a couple of degrees centigrade (who in Northern Hemisphere winters wouldn’t like the weather to be a little warmer?). What matters is that the additional energy causes more frequent and more destructive climate catastrophes (hurricanes, droughts, floods, typhoons, heat waves etc) and that the changing of atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns (tides, winds, rainfall, vegetation zones, sea level rises etc) will be hugely damaging to human society (especially the poor), which combined with environmental & ecological crises (pollution, desterification, chemical dumping, micro-plastics, destruction of habitats such as forests, jungles & reefs) contribute to biodiversity loss with many species dying out (the 6th mass extinction)– all driven by humanity (anthropocentric).

I take Alain’s point that the tech industry as a whole contributes to the climate and ecological crisis. There is huge damage in producing tech products and in running the services. Most uses of tech I would agree hurt the planet. Some uses of tech I think are nett-positive on the climate– video conferencing rather than everyone flying to face-to-face conferences (as Amelia and Neil have said and HIFA is working on). So certainly, we should consider the environmental impact of ICT4D (including digital health), as much as we currently do for the budget, the impact and the financial sustainability of projects.

Perhaps we can look at this issue with experience from another medical area– surgery. Surgery is a major assault on the patient’s body, so is only done when the benefits are likely to outweigh the harm, within scientific knowledge, risk assessment and informed consent. Could we say something like, “Tech projects always do environmental damage, which may be justified in certain circumstances where there is an evidence-base that suggests there will be a net-benefit”? Something like, "First do no ecological harm".

I look forward to this discussion progressing. Perhaps as a first step anyone who wants can write a paragraph or two on what they see as the main issues/if they are currently working on digital health & climate/suggestions for new initiatives/existing resources to consider. From this information we can put together some collated & grouped notes that could be the input document to a webinar where we can discuss this and decide what we want to do. This could end up as a working group or some such thing. Does that sound OK?

The timeline I’m suggesting is this:

- Send any ideas on digital health & climate crisis by Friday 7 Feb.

- A few of us pull this together into a working document by Friday 14 Feb (Valentine’s Day).

- Then we have an online discussion using Zoom in the week of 17–21 Feb.

If this makes sense, can we please meet in the week of 17–21 Feb. To find an appropriate time I have set up a Doodle poll (here doodle.com/poll/6pgw5byr4gr72vhu ) in hours that work for most of

Africa/Europe/US (apologies to those in Asia, Australasia and the Pacific-coast of the Americas).

I welcome comments, questions and better suggestions.

Best wishes,

Peter

Link to Doodle poll: doodle.com/poll/6pgw5byr4gr72vhu

HIFA Profile: Peter Benjamin is SA director of HealthEnabled, South Africa.

Professional interests: Digital health, mHealth, Empowerment through health information.
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