An Achievable Step Towards Mitigating North American Philosophers’ Climate Impacts
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Update: In response to this campaign, the APA has announced a 2+1 experiment and virtual meetings committee. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to this campaign! We look forward to helping make the experiment a success, and to proposing similar initiatives in many places and at various scales.
Philosophers increasingly recognize the grave challenges posed by the climate crisis.* North American philosophers can take a significant step in facing these challenges if all three divisions (Eastern, Central, and Pacific) of the American Philosophical Association collectively shift to a 2+1 model for APA annual meetings. This would mean that either one or two divisional meetings each year takes place entirely online, with the in-person meeting(s) rotating between divisions.
As academic philosophers (including APA members and others), we the undersigned ask the APA’s national and divisional leadership to implement this shift, which would significantly reduce the APA’s climate impact while recognizing that different conference formats work best for different philosophers.
* See, e.g, the results of the recent Philosophy of Science Survey, the 2015 Daily Nous forum of philosophers on climate change, and the Philosophers for Sustainability group, which over 200 philosophers have joined since 2019.
The proposal is well-motivated on many grounds.
We should be addressing carbon reduction as a profession. Reaching the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees implies reaching global net-zero emissions by 2050. This is likely to require a 45% reduction by 2030, most of which will need to come from developed countries. The International Energy Agency calls for a peak in global aviation emissions by 2025.
- The 2+1 model would directly involve our profession in the morally necessary collective action of addressing climate change.
The APA’s conferencing practices should be consistent with its own stated values as an organization. The APA’s own Good Practices Guide makes explicit that “many current practices in philosophy are unsustainable, contributing to irreversible environmental harms that are expected to greatly increase global temperatures.” Conference travel is the most unsustainable of these practices.
- A round-trip flight from New York to Chicago incurs around half a ton of CO2 per passenger in economy class, equal to the average Ghanian or Bangladeshi’s annual footprint.
- This means that a conventional week-long conference produces as much greenhouse gas as a settlement of similar size generates in a year in most of the global South.
- A similarly sized virtual event, by contrast, incurs probably less than 1% of those emissions.
- There has been some discussion within APA leadership about adding a virtual meeting to the three existing meetings. However, a virtual meeting in addition to the three in-person meetings will do very little to reduce the APA’s carbon footprint. A 2+1 model is much better for the climate.
We should advance inclusivity wherever we can, all things considered. The proposal is also well-motivated given the APA’s stated commitments to professional inclusivity.
- The Strategic Plan states that it aims to ‘improve APA divisional meetings to make them as valuable and accessible as possible for as many philosophers as possible’.
- But many philosophers with (for example) care responsibilities, mobility issues, and limited access to funds are better served by events that do not require long-distance travel.
- While supplementing the usual cycle with an additional virtual event would do something to address this imbalance, it does so at the risk of making the virtual event a less prestigious ‘side order’. Equity is better served by incorporating the virtual event into the existing cycle.
We should uphold our reputation alongside other disciplines. Countless organizations across the academy, the private sector, and government are rising to the moment by slashing their carbon footprint. The APA risks its reputation by not doing the same.
- In shifting to the 2+1 model, the APA would join a growing list of other academic organizations pursuing related changes for the sake of inclusivity and reduced environmental impact, such as the Western Political Science Association and the American Association of Geographers.
- See also this list of similar petitions and pledges, part of the Flying Less project.
The 2+1 model is feasible. The organizational structure of the APA and its existing contracts with conference venues makes it best to phase in the 2+1 model by phasing out contracts over several years.
- The APA is fortunate in having three conferences each year, and so has more latitude than many other learned societies to experiment with both models.
- Many of the drawbacks of virtual events were a byproduct of the pandemic setting: events were shifted online with little preparation. Yet experience shows that well-planned online events can foster research in new and exciting ways.
Shifting to a 2+1 model would dramatically cut our profession’s contribution to greenhouse gas and make the divisional meetings accessible to a wider range of philosophers. The urgency of the challenges around climate and inclusivity justifies implementing the 2+1 model as quickly as possible.
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