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Make your EGU 2019 experience more environmentally friendly

Make your EGU 2019 experience more environmentally friendly

The annual EGU General Assembly, the largest geoscience conference in Europe, attracts more than 15,000 attendees to Vienna, Austria every year. With such a large number of participants, many flying to the Austrian capital to attend, the meeting has a large environmental impact.

Given this, the EGU is implementing a number of initiatives towards minimising the General Assembly’s carbon footprint. Today we’ve compiled a few of the ways the EGU is working to make your conference experience more environmentally friendly, and how you can help.

Travelling responsibly

The environmental cost of travelling hundreds to thousands of kilometres for a science meeting cannot be ignored.

To reduce this impact, we encourage participants to travel by train to Vienna when possible. For example, we are promoting a discount offered by SBB, the Swiss Federal Railways, to General Assembly participants traveling from Zurich, Switzerland to the meeting. As in previous years, we also encourage participants to use public transportation once in Vienna by including a weekly transportation pass with every week ticket to the meeting.

Looking for ways to make your conference travel carbon neutral? As a repeat from last year, we are giving meeting participants the opportunity to offset the CO2 emissions resulting from their travel to and from Vienna. To take part, simply select the ‘offset your carbon footprint’ option if registering online or through the on-site terminal stationed in the entrance hall of the convention centre.

Depending on the origin of your travel we charge you an amount to compensate your CO2 emissions. The money collected from you will then be forwarded to the Carbon Footprint campaign to be invested in one of the three projects participants can choose from.

If you opt to offset your carbon emissions, the money collected from you will then be forwarded to carbonfootprint.com to be invested in one of these three projects.

This carbon offset initiative was introduced during the 2018 General Assembly, with about 4,800 attendees, almost one third of the total meeting participants, taking part! We collectively raised nearly €17,000 for the carbon offsetting scheme, which was donated to a project that aims to reduce deforestation in Brazil.

Reducing and reusing

At the conference venue, the Austria Center Vienna (ACV), the EGU has been implementing several environmental measures with our carbon footprint in mind. The following actions from the EGU are focused on limiting the amount of waste generated at the meeting:

  • EGU’s daily newsletter at the General Assembly, EGU Today, will now only be available online, and we are moving towards producing digital versions of the programme book exclusively.
  • Carpeting will be limited to the poster halls on the basement level.
  • Lanyards used at the conference will be produced using 100% recycled material, and the badges contain FSC-recycled paper, which can be recycled in the paper products bins.
  • The plenary and division meetings will serve lunch bags with recyclable PET bottles, which will have designated boxes for disposal by the exits of the rooms.
  • Single-use water bottles will not be offered at coffee breaks. Instead water fountains will be placed throughout the centre. Bringing your own water bottle and mug for hot drinks is highly encouraged! We will also sell multi-use water bottles and coffee mugs at the EGU booth.

The ACV also has a number of green measures in place, including having energy-saving LEDs throughout the centre, using a solar array to heat the water used in the kitchens and toilets, and working with an in-house catering company compliant with green standards.

Join the discussion

If you would like to learn more about the EGU’s efforts to make the General Assembly more sustainable and share your own ideas to make the meeting more environmentally friendly, we encourage to participate in the townhall session “The carbon footprint of EGU’s General Assembly,” taking place on Thursday 11 April, 19:00-20:00 in room -2.47 of the convention centre.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 7 to 12 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website and follow the Assembly’s online conversation on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

Geosciences Column: Using volcanoes to study carbon emissions’ long-term environmental effect

Geosciences Column: Using volcanoes to study carbon emissions’ long-term environmental effect

In a world where carbon dioxide levels are rapidly rising, how do you study the long-term effect of carbon emissions?

To answer this question, some scientists have turned to Mammoth Mountain, a volcano in California that’s been releasing carbon dioxide for years. Recently, a team of researchers found that this volcanic ecosystem could give clues to how plants respond to elevated levels of carbon dioxide over long periods of time. The scientists suggest that studying carbon-emitting volcanoes could give us a deeper understanding on how climate change will influence terrestrial ecosystems through the decades. The results of their study were published last month in EGU’s open access journal Biogeosciences.

Carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018, as fossil-fuel use contributed roughly 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Emissions are expected to increase globally if left unabated, and ecologists have been trying to better understand how this trend will impact plant ecology. One popular technique, which involves exposing environments to increased levels of carbon dioxide, has been used since the 1990s to study climate change’s impact.

The method, also known as the Free-Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment, has offered valuable insight into this matter, but can only give a short-term perspective. As a result, it’s been more challenging for scientists to study the long-term impact that emissions have on plant communities and ecosystems, according to the new study.

FACE facilities, such as the Nevada Desert FACE Facility, creates 21st century atmospheric conditions in an otherwise natural environment. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office via Wikimedia Commons

Carbon-emitting volcanoes, on the other hand, are often well-studied systems and have been known to emit carbon dioxide for decades to even centuries. For example, experts have been collecting data on gas emissions from Mammoth Mountain, a lava dome complex in eastern California, for almost twenty years. The volcano releases carbon dioxide at high concentrations through faults and fissures on the mountainside, subsequently leaving its forest environment exposed to the emissions. In short, the volcanic ecosystem essentially acts like a natural FACE experiment site.

“This is where long-term localized emissions from volcanic [carbon dioxide] can play a game-changing role in how to assess the long-term [carbon dioxide] effect on ecosystems,” wrote the authors in their published study. Research with longer study periods would also allow scientists to assess climate change’s effect on long-term ecosystem dynamics, including plant acclimation and species dominance shifts.

Through this exploratory study, the researchers involved sought to better understand whether the long-term ecological response to carbon-emitting volcanoes is actually representative to the ecological impact of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Remotely sensed imagery acquired over Mammoth Mountain, showing (a) maps of soil CO2 flux simulated based on accumulation chamber measurements, shown overlaid on aerial RGB image, (b) above-ground biomass (c) evapotranspiration, and (d) normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). Credit: K. Cawse-Nicholson et al.

To do so, the scientists analysed characteristics of the forest ecosystem situated on the Mammoth Mountain volcano. With the help of airborne remote-sensing tools, the team measured several ecological variables, including the forest’s canopy greenness, height and nitrogen concentrations, evapotranspiration, and biomass. Additionally they examined the carbon dioxide fluxes within actively degassing areas on Mammoth Mountain.

They used all this data to model the structure, composition, and function of the volcano’s forest, as well as model how the ecosystem changes when exposed to increased carbon emissions. Their results revealed that the carbon dioxide fluxes from Mammoth Mountain’s soil were correlated to many of the ecological variables analysed. Additionally, the researchers discovered that parts of the observed environmental impact of the volcano’s emissions were consistent with outcomes from past FACE experiments.  

Given the results, the study suggests that these kind of volcanic systems could work as natural test environments for long-term climate research. “This methodology can be applied to any site that is exposed to elevated [carbon dioxide],” the researchers wrote. Given that some plant communities have been exposed to volcanic emissions for hundreds of years, this method could help paint a more comprehensive picture of our future environment as Earth’s climate changes.

By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

References

Cawse-Nicholson, K., Fisher, J. B., Famiglietti, C. A., Braverman, A., Schwandner, F. M., Lewicki, J. L., Townsend, P. A., Schimel, D. S., Pavlick, R., Bormann, K. J., Ferraz, A., Kang, E. L., Ma, P., Bogue, R. R., Youmans, T., and Pieri, D. C.: Ecosystem responses to elevated CO2 using airborne remote sensing at Mammoth Mountain, California, Biogeosciences, 15, 7403-7418, https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-7403-2018, 2018.

GeoPolicy: What does working at the European Environment Agency look like? An interview with Petra Fagerholm

GeoPolicy: What does working at the European Environment Agency look like? An interview with Petra Fagerholm

This blog post features an interview with Petra Fagerholm who is currently leading the team on public relations and outreach in the communications department of the European Environment Agency (EEA). Petra gave a presentation about the EEA during the Science for Policy short course at the 2018 EGU General Assembly. In this interview, Petra describes her career path, what it is like to work at the EEA and provides some tips to scientists who are interested in a career in an EU institution or who would like to share their research with policymakers.

Could you start by introducing yourself and the European Environment Agency (EEA)

My name is Petra Fagerholm, I have worked at the European Environment Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen for 14 years. Currently, I am leading the team on public relations and outreach in the Communications department.

The EEA is an EU agency, which was set up in 1993 to inform the policymakers and the citizens about the status of the environment and to contribute to sustainable development. In addition to the headquarters, a ministerial level expert network across Europe was also established. This network is called “Eionet” and it ensures dataflows for reporting and quality consistency of the assessments we produce.

How does the EEA use science and research?

Experts at the EEA use science and research material when producing reports, briefings and assessments. The EEA translates science into tailor-made knowledge needed for policymaking at a European level.

How did you become the Head of Group for Public Relations and Outreach at the EEA?

I studied Biology at the University of Helsinki, in Finland, where I come from. My University pathway was far away from communication and environment. After a year of exchange at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, I became really interested in human physiology and subsequently I graduated a couple of years later from the University of Strasbourg with a French DEA degree in Neurosciences. I was part of the research group on visual psychophysics when Finland became a member in the EU. Finnish politicians were hiring assistants and out of curiosity (and being young… and fearless…), I applied and got the job. I think the drive for change came from the fact that I felt my research topics and hypothesis were very difficult to solve and funding was hard to get in the area of fundamental life sciences research. I aspired to be part of the new “European Project” for Finland.

After my job at the European Parliament, I was lucky to be recruited on a short-term contract at the European Commission as Scientific Officer in the area of Neurosciences. After a break of 1 year during which I was pregnant with my daughter, I worked for 2 years at Merrill Lynch Investment Bank in London. During that period, I came across the announcement for recruiting new staff at the EEA.

At the EEA, I started at the Executive Director’s office working on strategic coordination and on several short-term projects in the field of sustainability. I have always been keen to lead and support others in their career. I lead the support team in that office for 8 years. After 11 years in total in the director’s office, I was ready to change career and was lucky to be transferred to the communications department. My new tasks were to develop stakeholder approaches to support the communication framework at the EEA and continue to lead the team of outreach.

My career path is far from a straight line. I have more often let my heart lead rather than my head on career decisions. People I have met over the years, or more precisely bosses I have had, have helped by always giving me a sense of freedom in my tasks, trusting and believing in me. I have avoided staying in a job where I did not feel my skills were valued.

What is your average day like in the EEA office?

An average day is when I interact across the organisation with experts seeking their input or advice into a stakeholder project I am doing. It can be either enquiring about stakeholder consultations of a report published or developing a programme for a visiting group coming to the EEA. I catch up with everyone in my team on a daily basis to sense if everything is ok. My boss is easily approachable and I speak to her every day.

Twice a month I organise a strategic communication meeting for the Communication colleagues where we share information on production, launches, press, speeches and project across the EEA. Sometimes I receive a visiting group from a university or a ministry. People from across the world contact us to ask for a visit. Usually I kick off the programme by giving a presentation about the EEA after which I am joined by a couple of experts on a specific topic that the visitors are interested in.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like to lead a team and see how the members complement each other’s competences.  Allowing each team member to use their full potential and develop new skills is rewarding to me.

Working in a European body and for the environment feels good. I believe the EU is the biggest peace project in the world.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

I find it challenging when it is difficult to measure the real and tangible impact of outreach or communication. It is also sometimes difficult to prioritise activities and to work within the limited resources we have available.

Sometimes we cannot avoid influences from geopolitical storms – it is hard. Europe is about working together and building bridges for everyone.

What advice would you give to a researcher who is interested in a career with the EEA or the EU more broadly?

  • Firstly, you have to be an EU national to apply to the EU institutions. At the EEA, we have 33-member countries and you have to be citizen of one of these.

    Map of the 33-member countries

  • If you see an interesting job advertised in the EU institutions or EEA, apply as many times as you want.
  • Do not give up.
  • Keep your CV updated.
  • Follow EU politics.
  • Read up on EU affairs – it will make a difference in the interview.
  • Apply for jobs in national ministries or institutions – it can sometimes be a gateway to finding a short-term contract as a seconded national expert in the EU or at EEA. Look for a job in an EU lobby organisation who could benefit from your specific research.
  • Apply for the EU Blue Book traineeships https://ec.europa.eu/stages/
  • Register to EPSO – the EU portal for jobs: https://epso.europa.eu/apply/job-offers_en

Do you have any advice for scientists wanting to communicate their research with policymakers?

Less is more. Policymakers will find your research useful if you have concrete examples on how to contribute or solve some of the challenges a policymaker faces.

Use easily understandable language in your communication material. One A4 page is a good length for anything.

Is there anything else you’d like to say or comment on?

Surround yourself every day with people who are positive and who give you energy and pull you up. Believe in yourself and in your passion for what you do. Be proud of the choices you have made and trust in those you will make. There is a reason for everything.

Editor’s Note: since this interview took place, Petra has changed positions within the European Environment Agency and  is currently working as a stakeholder relations expert 

 

An overnight train view of China’s Anthropocene – Part 2

An overnight train view of China’s Anthropocene – Part 2

Science fiction is no match for industrial non-stop China. Electric bikes zip across the cities of Shanghai and Beijing, and soundtrack the neon nights with their passing whirr. Here, some kind of two-wheeled revolution has taken place which are we completely unaware of in the West. It’s Blade Runner meets Total Recall in a future which has already come to pass.

The very existence of our elegant night train from Shanghai to Beijing is itself a reflection of the causes of air pollution and the associated health problems in China. So are the gigantic skyscrapers which hang over Shanghai, the cars and motorbikes which fill its streets, and the factories that crowd the landscape in and around the city.

This is uncapped capitalism, with government officials that often appear reluctant to implement major environmental regulations to safeguard its citizens. According to a 2017 Chinese media report, an assessment of companies in the Beijing area established that more than 70% are violating air pollution regulations.

This is grim news. But what about the environmental movement? Well, it’s growing.

Grass-roots environmental activism has gained ground in China, but has often been confronted with suppression, as police forces have been known to break up protests and detain activists and journalists who speak out against the powers that be. Without these forces at work the people have no voice and industrial actors can continue polluting the lungs of their fellow citizens without major repercussions.

That being said, over the last few years the Chinese government has announced several initiatives to tackle air pollution and other environmental issues in the near future. This includes implementing a carbon trading scheme, establishing a ban on petrol and diesel cars, capping coal-fired power use, to name a few projects. Recently, China has laid out a new Air Pollution Action Plan, requiring many key regions to meet strict air quality targets by 2020.

These projects have potential, as past policies have experienced degrees of success. For example, China’s 2013 Air Pollution Action Plan helped lower the annual average PM2.5 level in Beijing to 58µg/m³ by 2017, a 35% drop in air pollution.

However, at the moment, it remains unclear what the impact of new these plans will be, or if they will be enough to address human health risks. In the case of Beijing, the level of air pollution in the city is still well above the standard set by the World Health Organization, who recommends that the annual average PM2.5 level should be below 10 µg/m³.

Air Pollution in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. (Credit: Yym1997, distributed via Wikimedia Commons).

For sure, investment in renewable technologies – itself a way to create employment in research and development – will also help reduce the burning of unsustainable fossil fuels. The electric bikes which surround us as we walk the streets of Shanghai demonstrate progress. Additionally, China has become a leader in renewable energy investment, accounting for 45% of the world’s commitment to renewables in 2017. But there remain problems around emissions from the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, themselves major contributors to air pollution in the country.

There have been steps in the right direction, and China has the potential to become a world leader in renewable tech; after all, it is likely that Earth’s next super power will be accelerated, not retarded, by a clean energy revolution. But for now, the smog clouds remain, and for me they serve to warn that governments and corporations worldwide are taking control over nature. The consequences will not be pleasant.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the impact of air pollution in China and the country’s steps taken to user a clean era for the 21st century. You can read Part 1 via Geolog.

By Conor Purcell, a Science & Nature Writer with a PhD in Earth Science

Conor Purcell is a science journalist with a PhD in Earth Science. He is the founding editor of www.wideorbits.com and can be found on twitter @ConorPPurcell and some of his other articles at cppurcell.tumblr.com.

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.