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Would you consider not attending a conference because it would involve a flight?

By James Dacey

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As you may have just read in Tushna Commissariat’s account, on Monday and Tuesday scientists gathered at the Royal Society’s headquarters in London for a meeting about the Earth‘s climate history. One of the speakers at the event was James Hansen, a highly respected US space scientist, who is also well known for his advocacy of action to limit the impacts of climate change. In his talk, Hansen argued that – based on recent observational data – rapid reduction of fossil fuel consumption is essential if we are to avoid environmental catastrophe.

Following his talk, Hansen was asked the inevitable question of whether he saw any conflict of interest in his taking a transatlantic flight to deliver a lecture on the importance of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. His response was to say that at this stage it is already too late for this sort of minor sacrifice to make a significant difference, and that the more important thing is to communicate the message that urgent government action required. Hansen argued that the key to avoiding further rapid warming is for policy makers to establish high taxes on carbon emissions, which would act as an incentive for the development of green energy technologies.

But we want to know your opinion on this in relation to your professional life. Would you consider not attending a conference because it would involve a flight?

Yes. I would not attend, even if it could hurt my career.

No. My sacrifice would have no useful impact.

Possibly. I try to significantly limit my air travel.

I would take another means of transport, even if it drastically increased my travel time.

Please have your say by visiting our Facebook page and taking part in this week’s poll. And feel free to post a comment on the poll to explain your answer.

In last week’s Facebook poll we looked at the issue of financing large-scale science projects such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider or the ITER project – the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear-fusion reactor, under construction in the south of France. We asked whether, in general, you think that “big science” facilities are value for money? 49% of respondents answered that yes they are worth the money, with just 3% answering no. The remaining 48% selected the measured option of “depends on the project”.

Craig Levin, one of our Facebook followers based in Chicago, Illinois, who voted yes, believes that funding agencies must look beyond the scientific goals of a project when making decisions. He commented that “one also has to take into account the return on investment and economic impact that these programmes can have on the economy, not just the scientific discoveries”. Marios Barlas, a follower based in Patrai, Greece, who also voted yes, takes a more Promethean view of science, commenting that “science never goes to waste. Be it theoretical or applied medical or humanitarian. There is always something to gain even out of utter failure.”

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