Antwerp University / Physics
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I remember the moment that I most sharply realized that my actions and my concerns were not in line. I was at the airport in Norway waiting for my return flight, after having been there for just one day as a member of a Ph.D. jury. To play a ceremonial role –since a doctorate is never stopped at its final stage– I had substantially increased my carbon footprint. I felt a sudden and urgent sense of shame, for not living up to my own standard. I teach about planetary thermodynamics and am acutely aware of the inescapable physics behind radiative forcing. So why was it then so hard for me to tackle a major source of my carbon emissions – flying? I had less trouble drastically reducing my meat consumption than I had in reducing the number of flights. Partly this is due to the way we get evaluated and evaluate ourselves. As an academic scientist, you are expected to build an international network of peers, and to actively contribute to conferences all over the globe, and to be part of ceremonial jurys. It is built into the key performance indices that university administrations nowadays love. It is built into the way that scientists are supposed to interact. Changing this will help me change my own work related bad habits. I have limited my work related air travel, even if it earns me less points in job evaluations. I go to European destinations by train, and this makes me think harder whether travel is really necessary. I encourage my team to do the same. I compensate the remaining air miles for me and my team through reforestation programmes set up by my biologist colleagues. Even though this CO2 compensation feels like cheating and a way to enable continuing a bad habit, I press my university to adopt compensation measures for everyone. This at least makes people aware of the amount of air miles to their name, and hopefully it may lead to a Norway revelation for others