An inconvenient report

by Alison Munson


Source:  IPCC Special Report, 2018

I don’t know about you, but I am still reeling some from the IPCC special report, especially that graph with the cliff(s). Cliffs are never easy. I’ve talked about it with my husband, also a scientist, with friends (that conversation became loud), with my undergraduate class (surprisingly quiet). I keep going back to the cliff to look over the edge. And sure, like you, I have been reading media reaction, rather low-key in general, have been raging at political skepticism, and digesting the alarming posts of those twitter philosopher-scientists whom I read too much : Alex Steffen, Kate Marvel, Katharine Hayhoe, Eric Holthaus…., anyway you know the gang probably (maybe). Then I read stuff about organizing the next symposiums, workshops, for – fill in the blank – society, next year, and the next year after that, why we need to reduce registration fees to increase attendance, we need to increase diversity, and yeah, sure. But then I think, that graphic cliff of emissions is telling us we cannot keep doing the same thing – as if that inconvenient report never came out – we cannot keep flying everywhere to network and hear each other talk in person, and drink beer and. And yes, I know the argument that climate change scientists (and ecologists) should get to fly as much as any Shell oil executive who certainly will not be reducing his/her networking during these exciting times. But hey, if we don’t show up to do something, who will be first? And yes of course our individual change is much less important than dismantling capitalism, but does that mean we should just keep going to meetings in the thousands every year, thousands of miles from home, as if all is normal?  I say no. And I believe that new models of conferences could also be more inclusive and more diverse.

I have personally decided a few things (and this is a gradient, not a cliff for me). In the last few months, I have cancelled two evaluation invitations that required flying long distances. I will turn down other such requests this year (unless video), and strictly limit miles to go to meetings. These are first steps for me, and I am still working on my other twelve steps to reduce fossil fuels, including looking for a used electric vehicle. And sure, that’s not enough, I know that too. Others are walking the walk, and writing, such as Peter Kalmus, and all the scientists on that No Fly Climate Sci site who have given up flying completely. But as a group, say as ESA, CSEE, or others, do we not have some motivation to show leadership in this sense? Can we not be among the first scientific societies to show how to do a REALLY EXCITING virtual conference? With chat rooms, questions from the crowd, local chapters to hang out in? OR organize local meetings every other year to keep up the face to face? We need to have the imagination and the leadership to do this, and I am willing to help think about how because I don’t know about you, but that cliff looks daunting, and I am scared of heights, and I have a daughter.

Let’s keep talking about this, within professional societies, and make some moves. You know where to find me.

Author Biography: Alison Munson is a professor of forest biogeochemistry, working at Université Laval in Quebec, in boreal, temperate and now urban forests. In her spare time she writes fiction and reads IPCC reports.

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