Decarbonising academia: what’s happening outside archaeology

I started writing about decarbonisation and archaeology without a plan. I still don’t have a plan. But since publishing last week’s blogpost I’ve been very relieved to see that there is an appetite within our discipline for change and that I’m far from alone in thinking what I’m thinking. I’ve had some fascinating conversations and interactions with colleagues inside and outside archaeology over the last week. There are definitely the seeds of something here.

So what next? Well, I come at this problem as a researcher. Being a researcher, I know that the most important thing to do when starting a new project is to find out what’s already been done. If this is to go anywhere, we need to know what’s going on elsewhere and what ideas we can borrow to apply within archaeology. We need to know what the low-hanging fruit are, where the big gains can be made, and some of the likely trade-offs and sticking points. I’ve only scratched the surface so far, but it was brilliantly encouraging to see what other people have been up to. So here are a few highlights.

There are plenty of other people arguing for strong action to cut the carbon footprint of academia. See for example Jason Hickel making the case for cancelling the AAA annual meetings altogether (yes, those AAAs, the American Anthropological Association meetings). There’s also Alison Munson calling for a change to how things are done in ecology following the most recent IPCC report. And finally, social psychologist Michael W. Kraus making “a modest proposal” to decentralise academic conferences to counter their environmental impacts and accessibility problems. So we’re not alone in archaeology in wanting to change the way things are done: this is an academia-wide trend.

Speaking of decentralising academic conferences, here’s one that actually did it: the ICMPC15-ESCOM10 music psychology conference, which took place across four global hubs livestreaming to each other. Another conference went mostly virtual with the explicit aim of reducing its contribution to carbon outputs: Displacements, the 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (USA). One of the interesting things they did was to set up dozens of “nodes” hosting events across the world, to enable some of the face-to-face interaction that makes conferences what they are for academics.

I found the latter example via the Flying Less blog, which contains some great arguments for why and how to change the travel culture within academia, and accompanies an ongoing petition. There’s also No Fly Climate Sci, which presents a huge number of testimonies from academics and others who have cut their flying or stopped altogether.

One of the best things I’ve found so far are the slides from a recent presentation titled Evaluating the climate impact of psychological science: Costs & opportunities by Leor Hackel. This is an excellent resource, that includes references to follow up, plenty of statistics, and – what I think is most important – that follows a quantified, evidence-led approach. One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how to measure archaeology’s contribution to climate change, and how to track our progress in reducing it. I’d also like to know the composition of our footprint, so that we can focus our energies where they’ll be most effective. This is difficult, of course, but it’s also crucial, so I’ll be spending some of my spare time looking into it over the next few weeks. If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way.