Philosophers Create “Pledge to Organize Online-Accessible Philosophy Events” Campaign


The Philosophers for Sustainability group has launched a campaign to get philosophers to pledge to “wherever possible to organize online-accessible research meetings.”

The pledge continues:

Such meetings may be organized either fully online or using a hybrid (online/in-person) model. In both cases, we will aim to make them accessible remotely by anyone who wishes to take part in them while fulfilling other requisite criteria, e.g. has had their paper accepted for a particular meeting, is a scholar in the relevant disciplines etc. We will offer such online accessibility to both presenters and participating audiences, from the start and for all academic presentations or aspects of the event. In doing so, we will take advantage of the accessibility features the online medium affords, such as closed captions, transcriptions etc. Finally, we will require no justifications or explanations of anyone who expresses their wish to take advantage of such online accessibility, nor will we charge unreasonable fees for their online participation.

The pledge is aimed at making academic philosophy “more sustainable, accessible, and inclusive, both globally and locally.” They elaborate:

Online accessibility makes it possible to include more fully a host of philosophy stakeholders whose participation is eminently desirable. Among them are low-income, disabled, neurodivergent, international, and migrant philosophers, caregivers, philosophers with dietary restrictions, and students and scholars with limited access to travel funds. Finally, online-accessible meetings make our practices of gathering to discuss academic ideas more sustainable by reducing expensive and environmentally harmful travel.

You can view the pledge and add your name to it here. Thanks to Filippo Contesi (Barcelona) for bringing it to my attention.

While I think making philosophy events accessible by making them at least partially online should be encouraged, ideally there would be a variety of philosophical events, including some that are not online at all, even if they could be.

Why think it’s valuable that there be some events that aren’t online at all? One might think it’s good if we can:

  • avoid the inhibitory gaze of the camera
  • minimize the prospects for potentially damaging contextless sharing via recordings
  • foster, through physical proximity, mutual attention, trust, and good will (see here)
  • encourage attendance at most sessions, and reap the benefits of that shared context in other sessions and discussions during the event
  • reduce the ways in which academic speech is monitored and directly mediated by corporations
  • arrange situations that make in-person accessibility more likely (having the option to offload accessibility to the internet may decrease conference organizers’ motivation to help resolve in-person accessibility issues for participants)

Additionally, because there is a value in in-person academic events, we may want to resist contributing to precedent-setting activity that hastens their elimination.

Let me briefly address a few possible objections:

“Not all in-person events have the advantages you’ve ascribed to them.” True. Big events (such as the Divisional Meetings of the American Philosophical Association) may not be any worse for becoming more accessible online. My argument is only that, for the types of meetings that would be better in some reasonable ways by not having an online option, it would be good if some of them did not have an online option.

“Some people, through no fault of their own, have neither the funding, time, or ability to attend in-person events. If events have an online option, these events will be more accessible to these people.” This is also true, and counts as a reason to have a lot of events be accessible via online means. But if I’m right about the goods of just-in-person events, we have reason to have some of those, too. My view is that it is good if we have both kinds of events.

“There’s nothing in principle impossible about there being events with substantial online components in which we get many of the goods of strictly in-person events.” True again. But I am not talking about what is in principle possible. I am talking about how things are likely to be, given my experiences and my understanding of people, and given how various events are likely to be organized. And online versions of these events are likely to be worse in some important ways. Yes, they will be better in some ways, too. So let’s endorse having a variety of types of events, from the completely in-person to the completely online.

“I don’t get anything extra out of attending conferences in person. The supposed value of entirely in-person events you’re talking about sounds like bullshit.” If this is what you think, then don’t go out of your way to attend entirely-in-person conferences. But do understand that people who are at least as smart and reasonable as you recognize the goods I’m talking about.

So what about the pledge? My hope is that a lot of people do sign it, so that it’s more likely that there will be many academic philosophy events that are more easily accessible to more people. Easy accessibility is good. But since it’s not the only thing that’s good, I won’t be signing the pledge, and I hope some other potential conference organizers refrain from doing so, too.

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Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

Let’s imagine I start a group called “Let’s Host In-Person Conferences in Only Non-Desirables Places.” Would that appeal to people? I ask because I wonder how much people’s support for in-person events is driven by the fact that they are often held in desirable places. I have attended conferences in Alicante, Berlin, Chicago, Cologne, NYC, Portland, Rio de Janiero, San Diego, and San Francisco, among other places. The upcoming meeting of the SPP is in Milan. Conferences often serve in this way as vacations on the college or university’s dime (which is raises its own ethical issues). It would be odd if this didn’t influence our preferences. Just a thought…Report

Last edited 5 months ago by Thomas Nadelhoffer
David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

At least 75% of workshops and conferences I attend are in nondescript hotels in nondescript places.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  David Wallace
5 months ago

Sounds like mafia sit-downs, just sayin’…Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Joe
5 months ago

Nice anonymous web handle you have there. Shame if anything were to happen to it.Report

Thomas Nadelhoffer
Reply to  David Wallace
5 months ago

Then you should be a signatory! Although it would mean no more talks in London.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

The other 20%-25% are in nice places.

(More seriously, some nice places are also transport hubs. There are obvious reasons why London is a more convenient location for an international conference than Norwich.)Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

I think the important thing is that these be *accessible* places. If you hold a conference in Chicago, NYC, San Francisco, or Milan, then a large number of people can get there with a single plane flight, and pretty decent number won’t even need a plane flight. While if you hold a conference in Santa Fe or Bergen or Newcastle or College Station, TX, or in Maine, then most people will have to catch two (or three) connecting flights to get there, and not many will be able to arrive on surface transportation either.

There’s a separate question of whether it’s good for the conference to be at a place where there are good non-conference things to do, or a place where there are no good non-conference things to do, so that people either break up into small groups and have separate conversations around the city or on hikes, or stay in the dorms and have intense conference-related big meetings at all hours. (Not to mention the additional logistical difficulties vs pricing difficulties of scheduling it in one location or the other – does the organizer need to arrange every meal or can people fend for themselves?)

It’s true that the fact that many of us enjoy the places we go for conferences makes us likely to favor them more than their intellectual value recommends, but I think that this is still less of a problem than the issues with locating conferences in hard-to-reach places or in places that distract people from the conference more than they support the conference.Report

Tim Maudlin
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

Of course conferences are held in desirable places! If someplace more enjoyable is also feasible, it would be madness not to do it there. Is there some supposed virtue in wearing hair shirts? Is there any reason to think that it costs less to get to undesirable places than desirable ones? And even if it does….one gets value from the expense. Desirable places are….how should I put this….desirable. Having a philosophical conversation in a nice environment is better that having one in a dump. Why pretend otherwise?Report

gruppy
Reply to  Thomas Nadelhoffer
5 months ago

When you work at a state college and the college gives you an annual travel budget of $600 … come on … let us have a conference in a nice place! Some of us are paying most of our own costs anyway,Report

Ian
Ian
5 months ago

It’s also worth noting for all the benefits that online venues have for accessibility, they also inhibit accessibility for others. Online talks and papers might be harder for some people to engage with.Report

Old grad student
Old grad student
Reply to  Ian
5 months ago

I want to add a few thoughts on this because in my own case I’ve found in-person conferences more accessible than online ones. FWIW I hope there continues to be a mix of online conferences and in-person conferences to make these events accessible to people with different needs.

The barrier that bothers me the most online is that I am hard of hearing and sound quality online is inconsistent. At a hybrid online conference I presented at, I found it near impossible to hear the feedback I was receiving online from in-person attendees due to the technology set-up. Maybe with better tech this isn’t a problem, but in-person, people tend to speak up and you don’t have to deal with inconsistent sound quality from various participants’ tech. In-person I find it very easy to ask someone to repeat and speak up if I can’t hear. If someone’s sound quality online is just plain bad, I can’t do much other than struggle to hear as best I can (meanwhile feeling embarrassed that I cannot fully understand what’s being said).

I also have social anxiety that is heightened online, where I can see myself and feel I may be watched at all times. I dislike the option of simply turning off my camera, since this makes me feel like I’m lurking rather than participating. In-person, I don’t feel surveilled by others or self-surveilled as I do online. It feels like I’ve spent my entire life learning how to overcome anxiety in in-person scenarios, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. The Zoom stuff has been harder for me to learn to feel comfortable with (maybe just my age now). In-person conference sessions leave me feeling refreshed and excited about the research I’m engaged with. Online sessions leave me Zoom fatigued.

Aside from accessibility, I also find online conferences less productive due to latency and other sources of time loss. Latency is that delay between when someone speaks and when you receive it online. It means time loss. At an online conference if the same amount of time is allotted for a session as would be for an in-person session, there will simply be less time for presentations and Q&A feedback due to latency. Online conferences that I’ve participated in don’t account for this in the time they allow for an online/hybrid session. We simply lose time to receive feedback on our research. Set-up (screen sharing, getting everybody to mute mics, confusion when the speaker accidentally mutes themself, etc.) also seems to take longer online. Finally, you lose the moments in between sessions where you can approach a speaker to ask a quick question, and in my experience this is far easier and time-efficient compared to emailing someone.

This also comes back to accessibility for those with social anxiety. In my case, I find it very easy to initiate a one-on-one conversation with someone when I’m in-person, but online it’s less obvious to me how to start that conversation. Maybe using the Zoom chat or email is the answer, but messaging or emailing someone feels imposing or like I’m asking them to do work for me (and they don’t even know me!), whereas starting up a quick conversation in-person (between sessions, during a coffee break, etc.) feels totally different and obviously welcome in a conference setting. I’m much more inclined to get connected with researchers and give and receive feedback in-person than I am online.

Sorry for the essay. I meant to just type up a few quick thoughts and did a wordvomit.Report

dmf
dmf
5 months ago

folks who work for public schools should make their work available to the public, who are footing the bill(no need to take comments/questions from them, but to outright exclude people who aren’t “a scholar in the relevant disciplines etc.” is shady) , and that bill shouldn’t include networking for jobs for students or faculty looking to move up.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  dmf
5 months ago

Counterpoint: what the public are paying for is the fruits of the research, not access to the knowledge-generating process, and networking is important for research generation.Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  David Wallace
5 months ago

why are we excluded from the process? where is that contract? should we take it to a vote?
research generation, are you really suggesting thar’s more the matter then career promotion, and to the degree it’s at issue why be in person and on our dime? I think you folks have lost site of who needs who more, good luck dealing with elected officials without us…Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  dmf
5 months ago

The process is the same as in any modern democracy: your democratically elected representatives have delegated it to a body appointed by them.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  dmf
5 months ago

Why isn’t networking that allows people to find out relevant scholars in a field, and the ability to ensure that their work is known by scholars at prestigious institutions, something that should be supported by a fund to support research and its dissemination?Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
5 months ago

not sure where this is coming from in relation to my reply, I’m not against sharing knowledge (not sure what prestigious institutions has to do with that) I’m trying to make the case for more dissemination (and indirectly for more funding, asa public good to be available to the funders), isn’t knowing about the process also important to knowing what to make of the results? And people can network in all kinds of ways these days, scientists, engineers, bankers, physicians, etc frequently share all kinds of research with each other online.Report

Caligula's Goat
Reply to  dmf
5 months ago

The tragedy is that even at public universities and colleges the “public” (by way of tax dollars) accounts for an ever diminishing amount of a university’s budget. Fpr example, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimate that only 25% of the UC system’s budget comes from “Core Funds.” This includes tuition payments by students, incidentally, so the actual % of UC funds that come from tax dolalrs is much lower than 25%.

If, in your view, it’s the fact that these folks “work for public schools” that licenses your claim that that work should be “available to the public,” then what does a public that funds, say, 15% of a university’s budget entitle “the public” to?

I think that there are other, better, reasons for thinking that most academic research should be freely available but this specific argument masks the fact that state universities have seen their public funds slashed so much over the last 20 years that, in some cases, it’s a stretch to call them public universities at all.Report

Junior Scholar
5 months ago

I don’t disagree with Justin that there are some benefits to some in-person events for those who are able to participate in them. But I worry that the premises given for why some events should remain exclusively in-person (hence not being fully accessible for those who want/need accessibility options – which doesn’t mean not continuing to pursue how to make them ALSO more accessible in-person for those who want/need that option) cut both ways:

  1. avoid the inhibitory gaze of the camera: some individuals may experience harmful forms of gaze at in-person events too, not sure this is only about the camera.
  2. minimize the prospects for potentially damaging contextless sharing via recordings: it seems that there could be mechanisms to explicitly NOT record sessions and prohibit recording to protect this interest.
  3. foster, through physical proximity, mutual attention, trust, and good will: unclear that physical proximity fosters this for all individuals, and it may feel actively unsafe, harmful, or exclusionary rather than fostering trust, good will or mutual attention
  4. encourage attendance at most sessions, and reap the benefits of that shared context in other sessions and discussions during the event: no reason this couldn’t ALSO be achieved by those who participate remotely – and it is certainly not the case that in-person conferences achieve this attendance at all sessions (especially not the bigger ones that are in cool cities where people end up funded to essential travel somewhere they want to go, give a talk, and then skip out on the rest of the conference….)
  5. reduce the ways in which academic speech is monitored and directly mediated by corporations: I would want to see more concrete examples of why this is a risk only online/hybrid but not in person.
  6. arrange situations that make in-person accessibility more likely (having the option to offload accessibility to the internet may decrease conference organizers’ motivation to help resolve in-person accessibility issues for participants): agreed that offloading accessibility to the “online option” is insufficient but don’t see this as a valid premise for removing online accessibility options from at least some conferences some of the time, as Justin proposes.

Report

Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

Online end-to-end communication relies on an enormous carbon footprint and availability of other natural resources (e.g. rare earth metals). Is there any empirical data about whether carbon-based travel (cars, planes, roads, etc.) or global communications infrastructure (laptops, satellites, undersea cables, etc.) is actually more sustainable?Report

internet-dependencies.png
inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

yeah, good point, it’s really a toss up if multiple people taking round-trip flights, which they otherwise would not have taken, has a larger carbon footprint than the same folks getting online for a few extra hours using communications infrastructure and equipment they already have. a real head scratcher. i sure hope we can get some serious empirical researchers to cut through this thorny intellectual thicket.Report

Old grad student
Old grad student
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

I genuinely can’t tell if this reply is sarcastic. 😅

I appreciated Maja’s comment because it was something I hadn’t considered, and now I do wonder about the empirical data on this. Maybe because I’m inadequately schooled on the impacts of additional round-trip flights on overall transportation carbon emissions and the impacts of online communication on carbon emissions in general. My thinking was, yes, people are taking round-trip flights they would not have taken, but every one of those planes was going to take-off with or without those extra bookings.Report

inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Old grad student
5 months ago

Yes, it is sarcastic. It is plainly obvious that in-person conferences are less sustainable than their virtual counter-parts. It is not hard to search the relevant literature for empirical information on this.

For example, Grant Faber (“A framework to estimate emissions from virtual conferences,” in International Journal of Environmental Studies (2021), DOI: 10.1080/00207233.2020.1864190) compared the projected emissions of a 200+-participant virtual conference to a hypothetical in-person conference of equivalent size (see pp. 12–13). Faber found that flights alone to in-person conference (assuming that some participants would not fly) would generate 66 TIMES the emissions of the virtual conference. That estimate concerning the emissions of an in-person conference is, Faber notes, a conservative one because it does not take into account “all of the other relevant factors of in-person conferences, such as local travel, food consumption, electricity consumption at the venue, and so forth.” So in-person conferences clearly generate more emissions than that. The comparison between virtual conferences and their in-person equivalents is not even close.

Note that Faber does not say that there are no environmental costs to virtual conferences—which, yes, we should also seek to mitigate—but the comparative point is obvious: a virtual conference is significantly more sustainable than an in-person version of that conference.Report

Old grad student
Old grad student
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

Well, I suspect you’re right about what you’re saying, but nothing is plainly obvious to me, yet. I’ll read the article you shared then maybe I’ll learn. (I don’t have access to it at the moment.)

Based on your summary of the article, I still have some questions. I’m somewhat doubtful the flights wouldn’t have occurred were it not for the conference participants’ travel, so it’s not clear to me that the conference travel contributed to air transportation emissions that would not have occurred otherwise. In general, I find questions about sustainability trade-offs to be complex and, I’m sorry, the answers usually don’t seem obvious to me, especially when I haven’t studied the relevant empirical literature.Report

Last edited 5 months ago by Old grad student
inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Old grad student
5 months ago

Faber compares it in terms of CO2-equivalent. For a 200~-person conference:

  • Virtual conference = 1.3 metric tons CO2-eq.
  • In-person conference (flights only) = 88 metric tons CO2

That’s a good basis for comparison, and I think any reasonable person should consider the comparative sustainability question (in terms of carbon footprint) empirically settled.

The whole “🤷 we don’t know if it’s more environmentally sustainable to take an international flight or join a Zoom call 🤷” talking point strikes me as the kind of non-sense that would get pushed by a fossil fuel lobbyist.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

This sounds reasonable when it comes to *a conference* (although I didn’t read the full article).

But it’s not necessarily reasonable when considering computing infrastructure as a whole compared to aviation infrastructure as a whole. So I suppose the scale of comparison matters. The problem is that to make virtual conferences a possibility in the first place, you need the whole infrastructure.Report

inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

I’m glad to hear that it’s a reasonable point when it comes to conferences because this whole post is about conferences. (If you are making some broader, tangential point about the entire basis of technological society and its future that my comments don’t address, okay I guess… but I don’t really see what that point is.)

And you probably should read the article because, if you had bothered to read it, then you might have answered your own question about the “whole infrastructure” behind conferences. The formula that Faber uses to calculate the carbon footprint of virtual conferences includes the following: allocated computer life cycle (including “both the emissions arising from the energy use of the computer as well as the embodied, shipping, and end-of-life emissions”), networking (including data transfer energy use), server energy use, organizer meetings, search engine queries, allocated monitor life cycle, desk lamp energy use, and website visits. If one is trying to account for the “whole infrastructure” necessary for virtual conferences (as you want), that seems like a reasonable start to try to capture some of the relevant aspects.

Even when taking to account those aspects of the “whole infrastructure” needed for virtual conferences, virtual conferences still come out way ahead in terms of sustainability versus in-person conferences.Report

Old grad student
Old grad student
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

Sorry, I wasn’t trying to express that talking point. I’m aware an international flight involves many more carbon emissions than a Zoom call. My question is whether canceling in-person conferences would make a significant causal impact on the number of air transportation emissions that occur every year. Philosophers traveling to conferences make up such a small percentage of people flying, so I’m wondering if all those flights might be taking off with or without us, and I suspect they would. So I don’t know how I would know if us stopping flying to conferences would actually reduce air transportation emissions. 

As for what fossil fuel lobbyists want us to think, they might really like to have us all worrying about our own individual carbon footprints when we fly, etc., opposed to focusing on the contributions of the corporations they represent. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/31/opinion/climate-change-carbon-neutral.html)

Okay, with that said, this will be my last post. I am sorry if I’m coming across as obtuse, and I appreciate that you’re very passionate about this.Report

inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Old grad student
5 months ago

I don’t see any tension between taking reasonable collective action based on empirical data and pursuing more systemic solutions.

As for the potential impact of this, here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

If you assume that there are 6,735 philosophers in the US (https://dailynous.com/2020/05/18/facts-figures-philosophy-departments-united-states/) and that the average philosopher flies by plane to one domestic conference per semester (fall, spring, summer), then that is 20,205 round-trips by plane. (I’m just guessing at this number, and I assume there are some people who don’t travel for conferences at all but some people who travel a lot more. I’m also not counting grad students here, nor am I counting anything international.) This is the equivalent of 40,410 one-way bookings. A Boeing 737 carries an absolute maximum of 215 people, and so the total bookings of philosophy faculty on their way to conferences in the US would be the equivalent of 188 fully-loaded Boeing 737 planes.

If you calculate the CO2 produced per passenger on these flights (on Faber’s assumptions), then philosophers would produce 10,629,851 kg CO2 (10,629.85 metric tons) annually by flying to these conferences (not counting other things here, like ground transportation, food, etc.). If this amount is 66 times greater than the amount than would be produced by switching to virtual conferences (again, following Faber’s calculations), then the virtual conference equivalent would be 161,058.34 kg CO2-eq. (161.05 metric tons CO2). Thus, if philosophers switched to virtual conferences, then they would reduce CO2-eq. production by at least 10,468.8 metric tons per year.

To put this in perspective: according to the EPA, the average car produces 5 metric tons of CO2 annually, and so, if we follow the assumptions above, US philosophers switching to virtual conferences would be the same as getting almost 2,094 cars off the road completely for that year. This would be the same as convincing almost 1/3 of all philosophers in the US to replace their car with a bicycle.

That won’t solve climate change itself obviously, but it’s also not an entirely insignificant form of collective action.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

Equipment they already have? I am pretty sure we *came to have* the equipment, just as we *came to take* those flights. Why take one set of infrastructure as a given, but the other not?Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

Also, I’m not sure what’s counting as ‘sustainability’ to you. Carbon emissions are not the only factor that make various technological practices unsustainable.Report

Old grad student
Old grad student
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

Maja, thanks for sharing these resources. I appreciate you raising this genuine (and genuinely interesting) question.

Assuming inadequate primate was intending on being sarcastic in reply, I’m reminded of another pitfall of online communication. The proclivity to say unkind things, or say things in unkind ways one would not do face-to-face. (I’ve seen it happen in online conferences in the Zoom chat, too, even without the veil of anonymity.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

I’m really strongly in favor of conferences (usually) remaining in-person, but just on physics grounds there’s really no doubt that in-person has a way higher carbon footprint.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  David Wallace
5 months ago

Yes, agree.

My problem is that this “solution” is one that implicitly advocates leaving a system in place (the global digital communications system) that has (possibly/plausibly) as large of a carbon footprint as the aviation system.

Let’s say that we even end all reliance on an aviation system globally for conferences or anything else, and rely on global digital comms only. Let’s even say that global digital comms has a somewhat smaller footprint. Then what? Just live with differently-generated unsustainable emissions?

If the answer is that relying on global digital comms is *more* sustainable, as in, it will take longer before we can no longer do it, then it’s still unsustainable, by this definition.

But, some might say, perhaps sustainability is relative; perhaps we’re then doing *less* harm in the medium-term if we get rid of aviation and keep digital comms. 

Perhaps.

But this amounts to to trying to solve climate change via the conceptual amelioration of sustainability. We’ve solved nothing in the long run, while getting to keep doing what we wanna keep doing: living post-industrial lifestyles and getting to feel decent about it.

A deeper critique of industrial/post-industrial practices is needed that sets a much higher bar for sustainability, IMO.

But, some might say, if you set the bar for sustainability too high, then no one will sign on for making the requisite changes. This appears to be true for philosophers (myself included), who want sustainability so long as their laptops and wifi aren’t taken away.

But this amounts to saying that to achieve sustainability we must accept unsustainability.

We should at least be honest with ourselves that we’re not willing to do much to achieve sustainability, at least not when others aren’t.

But, some might say, maybe if we buy ourselves some time, we can come up with a big/high-tech solution to climate change; maybe geoengineering, etc. But all big/high-tech solutions rely on non-renewable resources. So none will be sustainable. (Also: see history for unintended consequences of all tech.)

Ultimately, photosynthesis is the only sustainable method of energy generation (and even that will end given a long-enough timeline).Report

inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

Why can’t someone advocate switching to virtual conferences while also advocating for more radical changes to the structure of society? I would have thought that’s possible.

After all, you’re presumably committed to this kind of radical view, right? But you’re posting on the internet, you also have a website, and, on it, a CV that lists multiple conferences, both in person and virtual. If there’s something wrong or problematic with advocating switching to virtual conferences because it implicitly accepts an unsustainable communications system and obviates more radical critique, why wouldn’t that also be the case for you flying (or driving) around to attend in-person conferences or presenting at virtual conferences? Or is there something special about your politics such that attending in-person conferences isn’t an implicit endorsement of unsustainable combustion-based travel and attending virtual conferences that isn’t an implicit endorsement of the unsustainable digital communications system?

I get that people can advocate views that are difficult for themselves to live up to in practice and this doesn’t necessarily impugn the views themselves. And I get that people can participate in society while wanting to improve it (as I do!). Even so, I also think we’re entitled to ask what this kind of “critique” is supposed to do, if anything. As it stands, this sort of “critique” is just absolutely mystifying: it doesn’t seem to have any kind of action-guiding component whatsoever. What all of this supposedly “radical” critique here amounts to is nothing more than anti-radical status-quo-ism or, at best, faux-radical, guilt-inducing doomer posturing.

Let’s suppose that we take this “critique” seriously. What should we do? Should we continue going to in-person or virtual conferences, as you have done, and just feel bad about it and self-flagellate to our own hypocrisy? Not sure how that “honesty” (as you call it) helps to solve the climate crisis or any other environmental catastrophe. Should we stop going to all conferences entirely? Good luck getting people to sign on to that, but okay (and you first!). Or perhaps we should be even more radical: give up all digital communications and computing altogether and only exchange hand-written letters? (Although I’m not sure about the system we’d use to get them to each other, as I assume that email, mail trucks, and the pony express are out.)

But maybe that’s just too small-scale. Maybe what we should do is live only in de-technologized and de-industrialized local communities with small numbers of people, restricting philosophy to face-to-face interactions within those communities. Conferences, then, I suppose would involve talking to about the same 5-10 people every time. Well, it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider how that change would go. If it’s possible, I’d assume it would be a massive undertaking that would occur over centuries. If so, why it wouldn’t be reasonable to switch over to virtual-based conferences as a harm-mitigation strategy in the mean time (among many other harm-mitigation strategies we’d need to avert climate catastrophe)? Even on such a radical vision, I don’t see why that’s not possible or desirable as one stop-gap measure among others.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

1. If you read what I said, you’d see I acknowledged my complicity in the tech system we share. We are bound by a collective action problem, and it behooves us to acknowledge it. I don’t appreciate your personally calling me out. But go ahead and enjoy if you must.

2. Where did you advocate for the radical changes to society that I’m (implicitly, at least) advocating for? I see no one else in this post/comments advocating simultaneously for deeper changes.

3. If advocating for more radical changes is compatible with advocating for virtual conferences (i.e., short-term changes), then what explains your hostile reaction to my raising the need for deeper changes?

4. Critiques don’t require “action guiding components.” They are *critiques.*

5. It’s not clear that shifting to digital comms (from aviation) is more sustainable when you include the need for rare earth metals in the calculation. There is a finite–and small–supply of such metals. Recycling such metals is inefficient and energy intensive. Conveniently, you nowhere addressed this, despite the fact that I already raised it above.Report

inadequate primate
inadequate primate
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
5 months ago

This will be my last post on this thread because I don’t think further engagement beyond this is worthwhile.

1. If all this supposed “critique” gets is an “acknowledgment of complicity,” I don’t see what value it has. Based on your CV, your own life (as someone committed to and espousing this view) provides evidence that all we get are such “acknowledgements” but no other change at all.

2. Advocating more radical changes to society is consistent with wanting virtual conferences. The fact that I advocate for more radical changes in other contexts (where doing so is relevant and productive) and advocate a relatively smaller one in this context (given that it’s the topic of the post) doesn’t mean they are inconsistent. Your “critique” requires some sort of inconsistency between them, which doesn’t exist at all. (The idea that consistency between advocating X and advocating Y requires advocating X at the same time as advocating Y is an absurd view.)

3. Because I think that your earlier posts concerning comparative sustainability were empirically uninformed non-sense and that your so-called “critique” is anti-radical guilt-mongering that does nothing to improve sustainability. Since I’m interested in empirically-informed changes that improve sustainability, I suppose that would explain my hostility.

4. Yeah, any expansive definition of “critique” would include ones that have no action-guiding component. That doesn’t mean that your critique is a good one or that it serves any serious purpose. As far as I can tell, the best that it will produce is the status quo with mournful “acknowledgments of complicity.” What a worthless critique.

5. Your first comment explicitly and primarily referenced “carbon footprint” as a sustainability metric, and the subsequent three links you posted are all about carbon footprint and emissions. Now, after it’s been shown that your “carbon footprint” talking point is junk, you want to switch to the “rare earth metals” one, which you had only mentioned as a parenthetical example previously. Excuse me for not being very interested in trying to kick through your moving goal posts. Even so, the responses are obvious. First, people already have laptops, webcams, and internet connections, and they’re not going to get rid of them if we stick with in-person conferences, whereas they will take flights they otherwise would not have taken for in-person conferences. Comparatively, then, it’s obviously better to switch to virtual conferences. Second, there are ways to reduce the new extraction of rare earth metals in the short term, such as using only refurbished electronics (this does not require intensive recycling of the metals; it’s also how I get my electronics instead of buying new). Third, while this is a long-term problem that we ultimately need to remedy, it’s comparatively better as a stop-gap measure given the climate catastrophe and the fact that everyone already has what they need to do virtual conferences. Fourth, your view doesn’t accomplish anything other than extracting “acknowledgments of complicity” while still using the same computers and communications infrastructure that you otherwise deem oh-so-problematic.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

1. It has value because there’s a chance it might get us to advocate for things that are sustainable rather than not. Global digital communication is not sustainable (even if virtual conferences have a smaller carbon footprint). The whole premise of advocating for virtual conferences is supposed to be that they are sustainable. But that is false. At best they are *more* sustainable, but I don’t believe sustainability comes in degrees. We either are or are not detracting from future generations’ abilities to do what we do.

2. That you’ve advocated for more radical changes elsewhere is unverifiable since you’ve chosen to stay anonymous. What venue is productive for what comments is a matter of judgment. Logical consistency is not the same as practical consistency. While X and Y might be logically consistent, in the real world focusing on advocating for one thing takes away time, energy, and attention from focusing on something else, since time, energy, and attention are finite. So there’s a choice to be made about what to focus on. 

3. Given the links I posted, it appears the scientific jury is out on whether the global digital comms system has a carbon footprint on par with aviation. What you’re advocating *requires* keeping a system in place that potentially generates as much CO2 as aviation. Possibly, by relying on digital comms, we are detracting from future generations’ abilities to do what we do more slowly, but even this isn’t clear.

4. What my critique can motivate is looking for solutions that are actually sustainable and which don’t rely on shifting from one unsustainable system to another. We could set the speed limit at 15mph (to start) to motivate the development of the kinds of small communities that are in fact sustainable. But I’m not about to start defending this here.

5. I agreed that the carbon footprint of virtual conferences is smaller than that of in-person conferences. I didn’t agree that the carbon footprint of global digital comms is smaller than that of aviation (it may be or it may not). And, if “people already have laptops…” then why are we making more of them, if not because people are buying them? Why is it that most people’s machines get routinely replaced, even if yours in particular are less frequently replaced or are refurbished? We also “already have” planes, airports, and conference halls–but at least not *every single person* has these. There are maybe 30,000 commercial aircraft, while there are about 2 billion computers (info based on very brief internet search only). Whatever we use needs to be replaced.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  inadequate primate
5 months ago

I know no one cares anymore, but I am going to say this here for my own satisfaction with the historical record.

A. I didn’t move the goal posts in the discussion. My first comment on this post referenced rare earth metals, not just the carbon footprint. So I was concerned with both from the start.

B. I don’t know what you think I said was empirically uninformed. Point out the particular claim, if you can. My first post made one claim–that digital comms in general has a large carbon footprint. Perhaps you think this is empirically incorrect. If so, please provide evidence. My second sentence is a question, and it’s not a question about conferences in particular, it’s about global digital comms vs global aviation in general. You are the one who changed the target in your first response to me. The only plausible (although not necessarily good) criticism you can make is that my first comment was off topic from what the post was about. But if that’s the case, then it was no more off-topic than your first response to me.

C. Later, you sarcastically said the following. “Or perhaps we should be even more radical: give up all digital communications and computing altogether and only exchange hand-written letters? (Although I’m not sure about the system we’d use to get them to each other, as I assume that email, mail trucks, and the pony express are out.)” With regard to “email, mail trucks, and the pony express”: one of these things is not like the others. Horses eat grass and reproduce themselves, hence sustainable. Hello, empirical science.Report

JDRox
5 months ago

My actual preferences more-or-less align with Justin’s, but I’m worried his vision is not a realistic endgame. If most conferences come to have online options, how many universities will slash their conference budgets? Pretty much every non-rich one, right? Which would lead to a further reduction of in-person conferencing, which would lead to further slashed budgets, etc. I myself benefit, philosophically, *much, much* more from in-person conferences than online ones. If some significant percentage of other philosophers are like me that regard, we should fight tooth and nail to maintain the norm of solely in-person conferences. If we’re lucky we’ll end up with a world where there are some, and where non-fancy people like me have travel budgets.Report

Shelley Tremain
5 months ago

Is there any issue on which nondisabled philosophers and philosophers who pass/have passed as nondisabled will demonstrate their support for and solidarity with disabled philosophers?

It’s astonishing, to me at least, that philosophers who write about oppression, power, justice, equality, diversity think that they are and should be entitled to limit the participation and professional opportunities available to disabled philosophers (among others) so that they can exercise the full extent of their arbitrary privilege.

The profession-wide ableism that has motivated this discussion (and others in philosophy) is destroying the professions of and indeed the lives of disabled philosophy graduate students, disabled graduates, and disabled faculty members.

If my words seem hyperbolic, let me tell you that in the past 8 months two disabled philosophers have contacted me in utter despair, indicating to me that they were suicidal because of the ableism, lack of opportunity, and other harsh treatment that they have encountered in the profession.

Every (feminist) philosopher who claims to be anti-ableist should be signing this pledge to increase the accessibility of conferences, workshops, etc. to be disabled philosophers.Report

JDRox
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
5 months ago

I don’t understand this comment, or the hostility behind it. Many disabled philosophers enjoy in-person conferences, and don’t want them to (mostly) disappear, which is what I at least think is likely to happen if it becomes the norm for conferences to have an online option. Why would universities continue to fund travel to present at conferences when virtual presentation is free, with less disruption for teaching? The answer is that, at least for many of us, the philosophical value of attending in-person conferences is orders of magnitude greater than attending virtual conferences. I’m not sure how the pros and cons of all this balance out in the grand scheme of things, but I certainly don’t think it’s obvious that all people of goodwill should support the petition out of solidarity with the subset of disabled philosophers who don’t like in-person conferences.Report

Shelley Tremain
5 months ago

I wrote a post at BIOPOLITCAL PHILOSOPHY about The Online Accessibility Pledge and Feminist Philosophy Conferences. You can find my post at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY here: The Online Accessibility Pledge and Feminist Philosophy Conferences – BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHYReport

Shelley Lynn Tremain
3 months ago

I have written a post at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY that addresses the issue of Zoom and other online philosophy conferences. It might interest some of you. My post at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY is here: About the Ableism that Conditions Your Criticisms of Zoom – BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHYReport