Flying Less, Videoconferencing More (guest post by Colin Marshall)

In the following guest post*, Colin Marshall, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Washington, proposes a modest step philosophy departments can take to become more environmentally friendly.

Pete Mauney, time-lapse photograph of planes at night

Flying Less, Videoconferencing More
by Colin Marshall

Philosophers know that we should drastically reduce our contributions to climate change, and that our frequent flying isn’t helping. Shifting away from in-person job interviews at the Eastern APA was a great first step, but it shouldn’t be our last one.

So here’s a thought, which probably isn’t original to me: could departments and conferences commit to having at least 15% of their talks via videoconferencing? 

Of course, it’s often much better to have a speaker there in person, just as there were real benefits to APA interviews over Skype interviews. Informally hanging out with other philosophers can be one of the highlights of the job, and networking can make a huge difference in one’s career.

But there are some other real benefits to having more remote talks. For one, it saves money and time. For another, and more importantly, it increases the number of people who can participate as speakers, since quite a few philosophers cannot travel for personal reasons and/or find some of the social aspects of in-person talks debilitating. I’m not the only one who feels intense social anxiety at APAs.

Right now, it seems there’s some stigma against remote participation—I think many people wouldn’t see doing a talk using videoconferencing as a ‘real’ colloquium. But if enough departments and conferences jumped in, that stigma could go away. And if we made this sort of shift, it would make it easier for other academics (and our students) to do so as well. So there’s the potential for a non-trivial impact here.

I mean this as an invitation for discussion, and I hope that any departments or organization already doing things along these lines can take this as a chance to share. (There’s also the topic of what to do as individuals, such as buying carbon offsets, but it seems worth focusing on the institutional level as well.)

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