Neuromag May 2017 - Page 10

Christopher Michel How many polar bears is a conference worth? Written by Florian Sandhäger We work in a town with a green mayor, a state with a green prime minister, and a country that aims to effectively eliminate carbon emissions by 2050. While political decisions play an important part, the success of such ambitious goals critically depends on the choices of individuals. In our private lives, many of us are aware of the problem and sometimes even act accordingly: should we buy fruit that has been shipped from South America? Should we take the car or go by bike? Should we use solar or fossil power? Yet, I have seldom seen scientists consider environmental factors in their professional decisions. In my personal life, I try to avoid flying when possible. Yet, in the last couple of years, I have been to North America twice for science. Is that problematic? There are not that many scientists, after all, and even if all of them spent more time in air- plane than in the lab, it wouldn’t affect the climate much. But everyone has a job, every job results in greenhouse gas emission to some degree – and all the earth can take from each of us to ensure a stable climate is 2 tons of CO 2 per year, which is about equal to two thirds of a single return flight for one person from Stuttgart to Chicago [1]. Or eating 300 kg of beef. Or two tons of Tofu. Or ten tons of potatoes [2]. Currently, the average person liv- ing in Germany emits about 9 tons of CO 2 per year, more than four times the sustainable amount [3]. For us, as sci- entists, it is likely that a large part of our yearly emissions stems from our scientific activities, and most probably more than the two tons each of us should be emitting. Every human is equal! Therefore, it should be our goal that every human has equal rights to emit carbon diox- ide, and, to keep the climate stable, 10 | NEUROMAG |May 2017 actually stays below the 2-ton bound- ary. This requires major sacrifices – apart from radical changes in our per- sonal lives we have to stop traveling to conferences, using big and energy- intensive machines, and probably even heating our offices. This radical solu- tion immediately solves the climate problem. But is it a good solution? I, for several reasons, do not think so. Firstly, it is extremely demanding. Everyone would have to change their lives dramatically and give up a lot of fun and many opportunities. Sec- ondly, even if some people are willing to make these sacrifices, they will be perceived as insane fundamentalists by the rest of the world. The bigger the gap between them and everyone else, the less likely they are to ever con- vince anyone to make a change them- selves. And people not willing to go all the way might be discouraged to take even small steps if they cannot expect any recognition for it – they would still be irresponsible annihilators of the cli- mate after all. Most importantly, this solution only looks at one side of the equation: whatever we do has not only costs, but also benefits. Emission rights should probably not be \X]Y\]X[B]Y[]\[ۙH[]\HX]B]H8$YHX]]Y\]\H[BY]ZYH[Y]XܙX]\[Z\[ۜˈ]\[\[\[YB]Y[H\[YXX[]BXX[H۸&]X]\Y[B\[\ܝ[ Y[HZY]H\Bܙ\YYYXY]HH\Z[BXH^HوYH[H]\KY[B[[HX[H X\˜\Z[H[ܙH[\ܝ[[^Z[˜\܈HX][ۈ[HX[]\ˈ]X[H[\H[\ܝ[ [[Y[H\\]X[Hˈx&YZHH]]\H\H[HوY[YXX]]Y\]XX[H]H]\[Y][[H[]YX[^XX][ۈ] Y[K]X\XZ\]\[ۙH[BYH]\Y\[ܙ\\H\Yۈ[Z\[ۂYH]HHX\][H\B[X]H[وH[[Y]