Some of you guessed that yesterday's post was leading up to a discussion of Professorial Carbon Footprints. And some of you may have guessed that my Professorial Carbon Footprint (PCF) is quite large owing to the number of miles I fly in airplanes each year.
In my personal life, I have quite a small carbon footprint. My family has made choices involving where we live relative to work/school, how we travel to/from work, how often we drive the one aged, small, and awesomely fuel efficient vehicle that we all share, how and how much we heat/cool our house, and so on. We are a very environment-friendly little family with a very small carbon footprint.
Not so in my professional life. In my professional life, environmental concerns might affect how I organize some of my travel -- e.g. scheduling travel to two not-so-far-apart places in a single trip rather than jetting back and forth to each place. I do not, however, make decisions about whether to travel based on airplane carbon emission issues.
For example, I can't imagine saying, when invited to visit another university or attend a conference and give a talk, "Sorry, I can't come because I don't want to increase my carbon footprint." It's not that my talks are so awesome and I can't live without giving yet another talk, but an important part of my professor job is to interact with other people, talk to and listen to students and colleagues, do the FSP role model thing (in person), establish and maintain international connections, communicate the results of my research etc. Some of my research involves international collaboration that cannot be accomplished via email or Skype, and maintaining these collaborations involves international travel to visit colleagues and attend conferences other than those in the US.
If I weren't sure if I wanted/needed to go to a conference in a far-flung location, I might make a decision about whether to go based in part on environmental impact issues, but my main decision factors are the value of the experience, whether I have time, and the impact on my family.
Last year, a colleague criticized me for traveling so much and therefore having a large carbon footprint, so I asked him what kind of car he drives. He drives an SUV and he drives it more in a month than I drive my 2-door hatchback in a year. My little car wouldn't do well in a collision with his SUV, but it does very well in a carbon footprint contest.
That may not be sufficient justification for my predilection for high PCF travel, but the only way I could reduce my PCF in any significant way would be to restrict my research activities to the US, despite the intellectual and other (broader impact..) benefits of international collaboration. Would it nevertheless be worth it so as to be carbon neutral (or better) in my professional life as well as my personal life? At the moment my answer is no, but perhaps when Antarctica melts even more, none of will be able to make such a choice.
8 years ago