How Cancelling a Conference Could Help the Climate

Dr. Laurie ZolothFace-to-face gatherings of leaders are often vitally important – right now, global leaders are meeting in Lima to draft a climate agreement that will affect all our futures. But sometimes, the best way to help the climate is not to meet at all.
 
Dr. Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, recently called on her organization to cancel their annual meeting, which draws well over 9,000 scholars from around the country. As reported in this New York Times article, she suggested that the AAR instead create a sabbatical year, and use the days normally scheduled for the conference to focus on the needs of their local communities.
 
It’s a concept that all businesses and organizations should consider. In the U.S., 28 percent of emissions are produced by transportation, so for the sake of sustainability, it’s important to evaluate whether business travel is necessary. Thanks to webinars, video conferencing, and online training sessions, virtual meetings are often just as effective as meeting in person. Dr. Zoloth is confident her organization will find a way to share their knowledge if they choose not to convene.
 
As presiding president, Dr. Zoloth made climate change the main focus of this year’s AAR meeting – she feels it’s the “core moral issue” of our time, and wants to see more religious scholars engaged. ecoAmerica’s Blessed Tomorrow program has a similar goal – to encourage religious leaders to serve as stewards of creation and inspire their congregations and communities to do the same. Find out more at momentus.org.
 

Setting Aside a Scholarly Get-Together, for the Planet’s Sake

Mark Oppenheimer, Contributor to the New York Times
 
If the bioethicist Laurie Zoloth, the president of the American Academy of Religion, has her way, she’ll be remembered as the woman who canceled her organization’s conference, which every year attracts a city’s worth of religion scholars.
 
Two weeks ago, at her organization’s gathering, which is held jointly with the Society for Biblical Literature and this year drew 9,900 scholars, Dr. Zoloth used her presidential address to call on her colleagues to plan a sabbatical year, a year in which they would cancel their conference. In her vision, they would all refrain from flying across the country, saving money and carbon. It could be a year, Dr. Zoloth argued, in which they would sacrifice each other’s company for the sake of the environment, and instead would turn toward their neighborhoods and hometowns.
 
“We could create an A.A.R. Sabbatical Year,” she told the crowd in a ballroom at the San Diego Convention Center. “We could choose to not meet at a huge annual meeting in which we take over a city. Every year, each participant going to the meeting uses a quantum of carbon that is more than considerable. Air travel, staying in hotels, all of this creates a way of living on the earth that is carbon intensive. It could be otherwise.”
 
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Image credit: Seth Joel

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