Petition to Society for Neuroscience to Act on the Climate Crisis

October 31st, 2019.

TO: The Council of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

FROM: Members of SfN (current and recently active)

We are proud of our society’s legacy of scientific excellence and leadership that was vividly on display at the recent 50th anniversary meeting. At the same time, this anniversary prompts us to consider how the Society can take a leading role in addressing the climate crisis which is a defining challenge for our generation.

Climate scientists report that the earth has experienced approximately 1 degree C of anthropogenic global heating since pre-industrial times and that we are on track to reach 1.5 degrees C as soon as 2030 [1]. There is a consensus amongst climate scientists, ratified by governments, that we must substantially reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in the next ~11 years to prevent increasingly dire consequences [2]. It is clear that unabated emissions threaten to increasingly disrupt our world, including our research science [3].

We accept the scientific consensus that there must now be a rapid decarbonization in all parts of society, including professional bodies of scientists such as SfN. The Society’s success and growth requires us to address the climate impact of ~30,000 scientists congregating for an annual meeting.

We recognize that our conferences play a crucial and important role in neuroscience, providing a unique venue for interdisciplinary discussion and dissemination of the latest findings. The benefits of conferences include creation of long-term collaborations and friendships, career-building and raising the profile of science worldwide. We do not wish SfN conferences to stop. Indeed, we want them to flourish. But we want to see that SfN significantly decarbonizes the annual meeting via solutions that allow us to continue to participate and to build our community. Moreover, supporting science-based policies and public understanding of science is critical in this area, and is a core part of the Society’s mission. As such, we can send a strong signal to the general public, and other large Societies, by changing our own emitting behaviors.

Specifically, we request that you:
1. Make public to the members a comprehensive accounting of tonnes of CO2 emitted by the annual meeting. This should factor in all relevant aspects including estimates of CO2 emissions from the tens of thousands of flights taken (many international), air conditioning and heating of the conference center, energy costs of the exhibitors (who must often move heavy displays and equipment), within-city taxi/car travel, and hotels. Such an accounting would allow organisers to track the success of decarbonizing initiatives such as those described below.

2. Develop a plan (public to members) to reduce these emissions substantially year-upon-year. This could include these concrete measures:
- Provide live streaming, and recorded streaming, of all talks to members via a registration fee, so they do not need to fly. This measure might also have the secondary effect of accommodating those with childcare requirements, funding limitations, travel restrictions due to disability, and also the increasing number of members who are struggling with visas [4].
- Use the best virtual conferencing methods, e.g., for poster presentations. Presenters might provide a PDF, a video talk, and be available at a specific advertised time via Zoom. Many specific creative solutions are possible: SfN can take the lead in crowd-sourcing these ideas [5].
- Adopt a ‘hub-and-spokes’ model to the meeting, where, for example, the core meeting (much reduced in size) occurs in DC and, concurrently, SfN hubs are active in multiple other locations, e.g., Southern California, London, Tokyo, Mumbai. Local members travel to their local hub which is connected to DC for live streaming of keynotes and so forth.
- Holding the meeting every second year.
- Be cognizant that careful economic analyses by scientists outside the aviation industry have cast serious doubt on whether offsets, as presently offered, are bonafide solutions [6].

3. Address the root causes of climate change related to fossil fuel use, rather than combining these with other issues of sustainability. This is about reducing fossil fuel use, i.e. decarbonizing. Reducing e.g. plastic waste gets to a mostly different issue.

4. Consider climate justice when making organizational decisions: Those who have done the least to incur this problem, the young and the vulnerable, will suffer the most. Practically that means orienting the in-person annual meeting more to younger scientists, who have a greater right to emit CO2 when flying.

5. If you have investments in fossil fuels, start fossil fuel divestment now [7].

We recognize that changing the Society’s practices will be difficult and will require sacrifices. But the truth is such changes are inconvenient for all sectors, including governments. We must be the change before we expect it more widely. By signing, we hereby pledge to help SfN identify areas for improvement, and implement the changes necessary.

Signed,

Adam Aron, Professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of California San Diego
Anne Urai, Postdoc, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York
Eran Mukamel, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Cognitive Science and Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of California, San Diego
Robert Schmidt, Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK.
Christopher Summerfield, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Oxford, UK
Russell Poldrack, Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Rich Ivry, Professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of California Berkeley

Please see full list of names updated here every day: https://tinyurl.com/yxdoz5pw
OVER ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE HAVE SIGNED
9.09pm Pacific Time, 11/12/2019: 1162 signees

[1] Xu, Y., Ramanathan, V., and Victor, D.G., Global warming will happen faster than we think. Nature, 2018. 564(7734): p. 30-32. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07586-5
[2] IPCC 2018 Report: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
[3] A recent illustrative example: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03086-2
[4] NPR story on how visa bans affected SfN 2019, https://tinyurl.com/y4xf9ky4
[5] For one virtual conference idea see https://hiltner.english.ucsb.edu/index.php/ncnc-guide/
[6] See this detailed critique of the ‘additionality’ requirement of carbon offsets https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/ets/docs/clean_dev_mechanism_en.pdf
[7] A recent example is the University of California campaign https://fossilfreeuc.net
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