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e-flux conversations

Academia and Climate Change


At the website of the journal Social Text, Ashley Dawson, author of the book Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, writes about the various ways that academia is failing to walk the talk on climate change. Many universities style themselves as economically and socially progressive, but as Dawson writes, most have largely failed to gear their energy sources and investments toward climate sustainabiliy. In the excerpt below, Dawson explains how air travel to academic conference is a huge contributor to carbon emission:

It is estimated that fewer than 5 percent of the people of the world have ever boarded an airplane, but it is the 95 percent—overwhelmingly vulnerable people of the Global South—who are paying the increasingly steep toll for the jet-setting behavior of affluent consumers, conference-going academics included. As educators of young people on the cusp of adulthood, academics are custodians of the future. The recent IPCC reports have shown that we have very little time left to forge a livable tomorrow. At the moment, academia is, on balance, part of the carbon problem rather than the solution. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We know how to address the challenge of climate change, including in our own professional affiliations as academics; it is now merely a matter of finding the will to do so. We must demand that the institutions at which we work divest from fossil fuels. These institutions themselves must adopt policies for sweeping and rapid decarbonization. And we must insist that our professional organizations take positions of leadership by creating modes of collective interaction that minimize the need for air travel.


Philosophers for Sustainability is taking on this issue with the APA (American Philosophical Association). In our draft best practices guide, one of the main topics is conference/speaker travel and e-formatting, and we also have a section on advocacy for structural change of energy economy within the university (including divestment and decarbonization).

The group is quite open and invites new members. There’s a monthly web seminar which is a collective discussion. This month’s is about teaching classes of all sorts, integrating global warming and climate justice into them, whether they are logic, metaphysics, history of philosophy, or environmental ethics classes, to name a few kinds.