Time To Say “No” To In-Person International Conferences

Not only do I agree that COP-26 has the potential to be a superspreader event (Yessenia Funes, atmos.earth); I also think we need for environmental reasons to stop organizing in-person conferences that require international travel, or indeed any longdistance travel. Especially climate conferences! The pandemic shutdown demonstrated that we have perfectly good technology for virtual conferences.

In-person conferences are also really expensive, or outright unaffordable, for many activists and other everyday people, especially in the Global South. People shouldn’t have to incur the risks, expenses, and inconveniences of longdistance travel in order to have a chance for their voices to be heard! With all the conferencing and communications technology that’s out there, this is just dinosaur-era ridiculous and a criminal waste of resources.

I commend the people who are refusing to go. (I think it’s mostly for pandemic reasons.) We in the rich industrialized world need to be the ones leading the movement away from “conference jetsetting” to low-footprint virtual conferencing.

“But it’s just not the same as in-person,” someone will always say. OK so it’s not the same. But whatever warm fuzzy feelings might be lost by having a conference virtually (or the glam feeling of getting to fly to some cool-sounding destination), are more than made up for by the greatly expanded access for not-so-privileged people who’d be unduly burdened by the cost of plane tickets, hotel rooms, and other conference expenses.

On that note, I am thrilled that The Nature Of Cities Festival will once again take place virtually. Early this year I attended the virtual event, which drew about 2,000 people from 70 countries! The dates for next year’s TNOC are 29-31 March, 2022. Integrating nature into cities is the key to creating safe and sustainable human settlements, and this festival-style conference is full of inspiring real-life examples.