ACA meeting to be climate neutral

Science is the search for an objective understanding of the way things are and work. The best scientists are intellectually ambitious, rigorous, and creative. They are independently minded and instinctively look for the weaknesses and alternative explanations in the work of others. Therefore, when scientists in a large and dynamic field reach a consensus their collective opinion should be taken very seriously. So it is with Global Climate Change, where strong scientific consensus states that human activity is on track to cause worldwide challenges that within a few tens of years are likely to be very serious and possibly catastrophic.

Motivated by this concern, members of the ACA have joined in an effort to make their 2007 annual meeting Climate Neutral. We cannot prevent all greenhouse gas emissions, but we can ensure that the net result of our activities decreases rather than increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We therefore aim to offset the CO2 released as a consequence of attendees and vendors flying to the meeting and using the conference center and hotels by supporting a wind energy program that will displace the use of coal.

Most of our electricity is produced from burning coal, a process that causes more than 30% of the total CO2 emissions in the US. While methods are available to sequester the CO2 from these plants, no technology has been developed to effectively utilize this carbon source. More research is needed. Furthermore, use of coal to produce electricity causes 40% of all mercury pollution in the US and the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that one sixth of USA women of childbearing age carry mercury above their level of concern for the fetus. In contrast, production of electricity from wind has very low environmental impact, it is highly cost effective, and the potential for its increased utilization is huge. According to the US Department of Energy we could produce 150% (yes, 150%!) of our electricity from wind, although the current amount is just 0.6%. In contrast, Denmark currently makes more than 20% of its electricity from wind and has recently announced plans to increase this to 50% by 2025.

Therefore, for ACA 2007 meeting, the ACA Council established a wind energy campaign. The original donation to offset the meeting was made by a small number of ACA members and friends, and now that the campaign has been established anyone can contribute to offset additional consequences of CO2 emissions. Total contributions to the ACA campaign will be updated and posted monthly ( Our campaign is run through the U. of Utah and, to the best of our knowledge, it is the most cost effective way for individuals to fund wind energy in the country. The donations fund construction of new wind turbines that serve the Western USA grid and, because of the 1978 energy act, they will necessarily displace the use of fossil fuels, especially coal. The program costs just $3 per mwh and represents a 5% increment on the standard residential electricity rate. The impact of an average domestic US flight would be offset by a donation of $5 ($3 if accounting for just your own coach class seat but not considering empty or first class seats) and the total impact of an average attendee at the meeting (conference center and hotel) would be offset by an additional $2. This campaign is also an effective mechanism to mitigate other sources of emission. For example, electricity used by an average university worker ($30/year), an average USA household’s electricity ($30/year), an average USA family’s total direct fossil fuel use, excluding air travel, ($90/year).

Conservation is an essential complement to the development of alternative energy sources. Typically this includes thoughts of fuel-efficient vehicles, telecommuting, public transportation, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and turning off lights, printers, and computers when not in use, all of which are important. One important approach to conservation would be to support a tropical rainforest preservation/reforestation program. These programs allow local people to develop out of poverty through activities such as highly sustainable harvesting and ecotourism, thereby preventing the release of CO2 through burning/clearing of forest for unsustainable harvesting of wood or for agriculture. This mechanism is effective in preventing CO2 release and, as with most good ideas, there is more than one benefit. Destruction of rainforests has caused more than 20% of all CO2 emissions in recent years. In 1950 tropical rainforests covered about 14% of the earth’s land surface, today it is about 7%, and it is projected that at the current rate of loss they will have largely disappeared in 40 years. Rainforests have been called the lungs of the planet and may be home to more than 50% of the world’s species. Their loss would be an epic calamity.

It is appropriate that scientists take a lead on this issue. Should the organizers of other crystallographic meetings wish to do something similar there are many other programs to consider in addition to the one that we are using, including: - - (note that we are not in a position to endorse any particular program).

Christopher P. Hill

(Robert Bau , Connie Chidester, Catherine Drennan, Judy Flippen-Anderson, Stephan Ginell, Marvin L. Hackert, Jim Kaduk, Lisa Keefe, Brian N. Kelly, Roger D. Kornberg, Christopher D. Lima, Bernard D. Santarsiero, Heidi L. Schubert, Thomas C. Terwilliger, Liang Tong, Jill Trewhella)