Mindful of climate change and encouraged by the results of bringing scientific talks and conferences online during the Covid-19 pandemic, the faculty members of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have voted to slash the institute’s future greenhouse gas emissions from air travel at least in half.
The faculty resolution, approved May 5, creates a policy to encourage meeting the goal by limiting annual estimated GHG emissions to a mid-range cut off of 20 Metric Tons per lab per year. This is based on estimates of average, per-lab GHG emissions from two years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic (2018-2019). If any lab or the HQ exceeds the threshhold, it will face disincentives, for instance, incurring a $1,000 carbon “tax” paid within the institute.
“Our goal is for the whole institute to emit at least 50 percent less carbon from air travel than before the pandemic,” said Picower Professor Earl K. Miller, the policy’s chief architect. “Climate change is a global emergency. It is happening now. The time to act is now.”
To meet the goal, faculty will seek to deliver more of their invited talks online and the Institute will fly in fewer speakers for its events, instead extending the offer for distant speakers to deliver their talks electronically. Institute public events such as symposia will be livestreamed, reducing the need for audience members to travel as well, though local attendees will be as welcome as ever.
“During the pandemic when we have brought all of our events online we have seen attendance surge, with people viewing our symposia from scores of countries around the world,” said Institute Director and Picower Professor Li-Huei Tsai. “Acting to reduce our impact on climate can also make our scientific discussions more widely accessible.”
As an additional step, the Institute will move more job interviews online, another practice that was required by the pandemic but can now remain in place because of its climate benefits.
To monitor the policy and to ensure transparency, Miller said, the Institute will publicly disclose its estimated GHGs on a new web page. Figures will be updated monthly. Estimates will be based on a method used by the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), which estimates GHGs based on air travel expenditures.
“We embrace our responsibility to substantially reduce our numbers,” Miller said. “We are always adopting innovative methods in our research. We should learn from the innovations made necessary during the pandemic to reduce our impact on the climate in the future.”
This approach to reducing emissions comes as MIT unveils Fast Forward: MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade, which includes a call to reduce the university's carbon footprint.