Add university research to the long list of human activities contributing to global warming.
Hervé Philippe, a Université de Montréal professor of biochemistry, is a committed environmentalist who found that his own research produces 44 tonnes of CO2 per year. The average American citizen produces 20 tonnes.
Hervé Philippe"I did my PhD on nucleotide sequencing in the hope of advancing our knowledge of biodiversity, but I never thought that the research itself could have a negative impact on biodiversity," he said, during a recent biology department symposium.
Philippe has a well-established international reputation for his work on phylogeny and according to his calculations his computers produce 19 tonnes of CO2 per year, the air conditioning in the laboratory produces 10 tonnes of CO2 per year, and transport from one meeting to another produces 15 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Philippe doesn't believe in the myth that technology is the solution. "In 1973, that type of rhetoric already existed," he says. "But environmental problems have gone from bad to worse. In Canada, for instance, oil consumption is 1.7 times greater despite better technology."
It will have taken 200 years of oil exploitation to dry up the reserves that took 200 million years to build. "This fact has been known for 50 years but we've done nothing about it. By viewing oil as an unlimited resource we are making a tremendous mistake."
He doesn't believe in one magical solution, but rather in transformations adapted to each area. For universities, he recommends having less frequent international conferences, increasing the use of videoconferences, avoiding research on well explored topics, reducing publications and evaluating the amount of CO2 produced by research projects.
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