Several tonnes of reasons for not going to IGARSS 2020

As every 10 years, IGARSS will take place in Hawaii in 2020. This time it won’t be in Honolulu as in 2000 and 2010, but in Waikoloa, in the “Big Island”.

I went to Honolulu for the 2 previous events, and it would be nice to go there again, visit another place and meet with colleagues and friends that I don’t see often out of this kind of gathering.

But the issue is that, without falling victim of solastalgia, I find it difficult to justify flying for about 50h for a conference. As most of my colleagues, I have done it plenty of times. Thanks to IGARSS and since 1998, I have been to a lot of interesting places and met brilliant people from the remote sensing community. But I find it ironic that people observing our planet from space and measuring how climate and biodiversity are going astray wouldn’t change their behaviour and reduce their impact.

Every IGARSS has a particular theme. Here are the ones for the previous 6:

  • Global-Environment Observation and Disaster Mitigation
  • Observing, Understanding And Forecasting The Dynamics Of Our Planet
  • International Cooperation for Global Awareness
  • Advancing the understanding of our living planet
  • Understanding the Earth for a safer world
  • Energy and our changing planet

In 2020, the theme is Remote Sensing: Global Perspectives for Local Solutions.

One can see that the environment, our living planet, energy etc. are some of the focus of the community who attends these events. This is why the choice of a place which for most of the attendees will need between 12 and 50 hours of travel by plane is questionable. Some may try to get there by other means, but Hawaii is a 6h flight (one way) for everybody.

Let’s do the math. If we assume greenhouse gas emissions of 1/4 tonnes CO2 equivalent per hour flying, this is between 3 and 12 tonnes per person (knowing that In order to stop climate change, 0.6 tonnes is the maximum amount of CO2 that can be generated by a single person in a year).

Let’s assume an average of 7. IGARSS 2019 in Yokohama had 2600 attendees. We can imagine that at least the same amount of people would want to go to Hawaii, although one could argue that Hawaii may attract more people. The calculator says that 18,200 tonnes of C02 would be emitted just by flying to IGARSS. That is the maximum amount that 30,000 people can produce in a year if we want to stop climate change.

Of course, this back-of-the-envelope calculation may not be very accurate, but I think that the orders of magnitude are good.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think that my contribution to Earth observation that could potentially be used to mitigate climate change and biodiversity degradation is worth the emissions.

Meeting the remote sensing community is useful to advance science and technology, but other ways can be used, mainly using remote connections.

The GRSS society has started a new initiative, as announced by its president:

[…] in 2020 we are starting three regional conferences held in locations far from the IGARSS flagship conference. The idea is to help communities that cannot come to IGARSS because of distance, but also because of economic issues or other barriers, and organise dedicated events.

Let’s hope that these events replace the trips to distant venues and do not add up with them!