Academic Conferences during Climate Crisis: Agora on Carbon Free and More Equal Conferencing

Monday, March 23, 2020, 4-6 pm EST (Video recording:

Academic Conferences during Climate Crisis: Continuing the Conversation

A conversation with Judith Mair and Zsuzsa Millei (Video recording:

This featured panel brings together CIES community to re-examine how we conceive and value academic conferences, and to rethink – and recreate – academic engagements during climate emergency that requires immediate action. A single round-trip flight from Philadelphia to Paris emits the equivalent of about 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2e) per passenger, which is a significant fraction of the total yearly emissions for an average resident of the US (16.5 tons) and Canada (14.7) or Europe (7 tons and less). Moreover, these emissions have no near-term technological fix, since jet fuel is difficult to replace with renewable energy sources. To avoid flying to conferences, this event calls on participants to explore the possibilities of new forms of academic engagements without harming the climate.

These engagements must take as their central problems the following two issues:  first, the climate and human relations to the non-human world; and, second, the operation of persisting geopolitical hierarchies of Global North/South and East/ West academic centers and peripheries. In the context of climate emergency, how can we redraw the existing academic lines and distinctions by speaking back to wider structures of power, political economy, and privilege that structure academic knowledge production in general and academic conferences in particular? What alternative forms of academic exchange could address the problems posed by traditional formats and what new sets of drawbacks should we be aware of? For example, some groups of academics already have taken a lead by developing policy on reducing the frequency of their travel, or not flying at all (e.g. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Lund University Centre for Sustainable Studies and Université de Neuchâtel). Others have successfully experimented with carbon free conferences (e.g., FERAL conference, Displacements and Degrowth of Aviation).

During this session, we aim to interrogate ways in which an experimental modality of carbon zero conferencing could help us to both question the prevailing academic (infra)structures, epistemologies, valuation systems, and communications patterns, while enabling us to envision and engage in academic work differently.

After a series of short presentations – and provocations – expanding our views on the theme by invited speakers and questions raised by each presenter, we will continue with a World Café session to discuss carbon zero conferencing as alternative academic engagement in line with the questions. We hope to contribute to further development of carbon free conferencing both for the CIES community and beyond.

Nicholas Holm is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Massey University, New Zealand, where he teaches courses in popular culture, advertising and communication theory to both traditional and online students. His research primarily explores the political role of popular culture and entertainment media. He is a co-organizer of FERAL conference, one of the first carbon free conferences.

Sy Taffel is a senior lecturer in media studies and co-director of the Political Ecology Research Centre at Massey University, Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has published work on political ecologies of digital media, media and materiality, hacktivism, digital automation, and pervasive/locative media. He is the author of Digital Media Ecologies (Bloomsbury 2019). He is a co-organizer of FERAL conference, one of the first carbon free conferences.

Judith Mair is Discipline Leader of the Tourism Discipline Group at the UQ Business School, University of Queensland, Australia.  Her research interests include the impacts of tourism and events on community and society, and consumer behaviour in tourism and events. She is the author of ‘Conferences and Conventions: A Research Perspective’; ‘Events and Sustainability’; and ‘Festival Encounters’ and the editor of ‘The Routledge Handbook of Festivals’, all published by Routledge, as well as over 40 academic papers in internationally recognised journals.

Zsuzsa Millei (co-chair) is a Professor at the Faculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University, Finland. She is the co-chair of the virtual extension of the CIES conference Miami with Robyn Read and the main organiser of the online conference extension of Childhood and Time conference in Tampere, Finland.

Robyn Read (co-chair) is an independent researcher and knowledge mobilization (KMb) consultant. She has served as an instructor at the University of Western Ontario, Queen’s University, and at the University of Toronto.  She has published on KMb at the World Bank, the knowledge networks underpinning the Education for All Global Monitoring Reports, and on private actors in education finance with a focus on impact investors and private foundations. She is the author of CIES Knowledge Mobilization assessment report.


After the initial presentations from our guest panelists, the group will split into roundtables. Each group will have a different theme with questions for discussion, and will be facilitated by one or two CIES members with expertise and/or interest in that area. The roundtable session will last for a total of 30 minutes. On the conclusion of the small group roundtables, we will come together and share the ideas from each thematic discussion group for planning further carbon zero conferences. 

Roundtable Questions

(1) Brains on Planes facilitated by Jayson W. Richardson:

What do you think about academics’ identities and flying, university internationalization and flying, personal and university benefits of flying less? What do you and your institutions currently practice? What implications does this all have for environment sustainability and academic and professional lifestyles?

(2) Benefits of Virtual Conferencing facilitated by Gustavo E. Fischman and Janna Goebel:

What are the benefits of conferencing that virtual conferencing needs to fill? Should the social aspects be recreated in an online environment? What are the scholarly and financial dimensions of traveling to attend conferences? Would universities and organizations pay conference fees if there is no travel involved? Is there research showing advantages and challenges of virtual conferencing in the social sciences?

(3) Politics of Virtual Conferencing facilitated by Marianne A. Larsen, Lynn Murphy, and Radhika Iyengar

How do pressures academics face (from academic communities, their institutions, etc.) to participate in face-to-face research meetings, conferences, and symposia abroad re-inscribe and solidify inequalities based on gender, race, geographical location, age, etc? And how can virtual conferencing address those inequalities and provide alternative opportunities for those not able to travel across borders to participate in global dialogue about their academic work? How do geopolitics and colonialism shape conferencing (and specifically this conference that brings academics and practitioners from Global North and South) and how to address those?  How could virtual conferencing reinforce such dynamics or address them?

(4) Facilitating Virtual Conferencing and Responsible Academic and Professional Work facilitated by Zsuzsa Millei:

How can we best facilitate virtual participation? What are the problems with virtual conferences? How can academics become more responsible for their carbon-producing practices, for example register carbon footprints, decrease digital data use, providing guides, joining decentralized activities?

(5) Policies for Academic and Professional Work facilitated by Supriya Baily and Mike Russell:

What policies must we consider to change academic work and practices during climate crisis? How can we make universities more responsible and accountable for their energy and resource use?

(6) Knowledge Mobilization facilitated by Caroline (Carly) Manion and Oren Pizmony-Levy: 

What do carbon free academic practices mean for knowledge mobilization?

(7) Impact and Implications for CIES facilitated by Iveta Silova and Robyn Read:

How to go with CIES Conferences from now on? Urgent scientific warnings to immediately reduce carbon emission were received hesitantly by governments to make immediate action. COVID-19 left them with no choice but to act. It seems these actions also created a little breathing space for our planet and for our society to think urgently about how we can maintain our academic work without travel. Groups will discuss future carbon zero conference possibilities for CIES. There are recent studies that show that academics’ carbon footprint shape their legitimacy/credibility in relation climate action.

Discussion Facilitators

Jayson W. Richardson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research, teaching, and service links school technology leadership and international development. Jayson is a Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). Jayson has held faculty position at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and San Diego State University. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science in mathematics education with a minor in Spanish from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. After teaching mathematics on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and in inner-city Indianapolis, he attended Indiana University – Bloomington and earned a Master’s of Science degree in curriculum and instruction with a focus on international and intercultural education. After living in London for a few years and extensive global travel, he earned a PhD in Educational Policy and Administration with a focus on comparative and international development education from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He has written or co-authored over 50 articles and book chapters. His work appears in journals such as: Comparative Education Review, Educational Administration Quarterly, International Journal of Education and Development using ICT, Information Technology for International Development, Journal of International Development, Journal of School Leadership, Review of Policy Research, and The Teacher Educator.

Gustavo E. Fischman, Ph.D. is professor of educational policy and comparative education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University. His research focuses on understanding and improving the processes of scholarly-production, assessment and exchange between researchers, educators, activists, practitioners, administrators, media workers, policymakers, and the broader public. His research interests also include sustainability and education. and the uses (and misuses) of global learning metrics and international large-scale assessments in educational reform projects. His scholarship has been distinguished with several awards and  he has been a visiting scholar in several universities in Europe and Latin America. Dr. Fischman has  authored over 100 articles, chapters, and books. He is the editor of Education Review and a consulting editor of Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Marianne A. Larsen is a Professor at Western University’s Faculty of Education in London, Canada. Her research on higher education internationalization has focused on global citizenship education, international service learning (and the impact on host communities), and other forms of academic/faculty mobility. Her 2016 book, Internationalization of Higher Education: An Analysis through Spatial, Network and Mobilities Theories brought together her interest in theorizing ‘outside of the box’ about diverse processes of higher education internationalization. More recently, she has been researching how academics are urged to ‘go global’ by attending conferences abroad, and teaching and researching overseas, as well as the negative effects on academics who face personal, political, financial and other barriers in their efforts to travel abroad for their work.

Radhika Iyengar has a Ph.D. in Economics of Education from Teachers College in 2011. Her research interests consist in conducting evaluations of educational programs and international educational development.

Lynn Murphy has worked in various capacities in education over the past 25 years: a bilingual teacher, researcher and scholar, large-scale funder, movement builder, strategic advisor in U.S., Europe, and across the Global South. She currently works as an advisor, researcher, and activist among foundations, NGOs, and community projects focused on international education, regenerative systems, conservation, learning communities, decolonizing practices, and ways to work “across the divides” to seed social change. Lynn holds a PhD and M.A. in International Comparative Education from Stanford University.

Supriya Baily is an activist, a scholar, and an educator.  Her work, spanning thirty years, began as a teenager in India as a community organizer and leader.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Education at George Mason University, focusing the rise of nationalism in South Asia, the marginalization of girls and women in educational policy and practice, and the role of teacher education to address educational inequity.

Mike Russell is an environmental economist and doctoral candidate studying comparative education at Lehigh University. His dissertation is focused on disciplinary structure and how the emerging academic field of sustainability studies is organizing itself. He is using network analysis to compare undergraduate sustainability programs at institutions in the United States with similar programs in environmental studies. He is formerly an Assistant Professor of Economics and Sustainability at Centenary University in rural New Jersey, where he was also director of the Center for Sustainability. From 2014 through 2018, he served as chair of the Comparative and International Education Society’s environmental and sustainability education special interest group. Before returning to graduate school, he taught math, science, and social studies in Lake and Pen School District in rural Alaska.

Dr. Caroline (Carly) Manion is a Lecturer at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Her teaching and research interests are anchored by equity and social social principles and objectives, whether she is working on issues related to gender, intersectionality, school improvement, the politics of education, civil society and social movements, or educational multilateralism and governance. Carly is very concerned about the climate crisis the planet is facing and is keen to explore the possibilities for change amongst faculty and the institutions of higher education that they work in, to meaningfully contribute to environmental sustainability efforts.

Oren Pizmony-Levy, Associate Professor of International and Comparative Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Trained as a sociologist, his research focuses on global educational movements – including international large-scale assessments, environmental and sustainability education, and LGBT education – and their impact on policy/practice. Oren is the founding director of the Teachers College Center for Sustainable Futures. He leads a research-practice partnership with the New York City Department of Education to promote and advance sustainability education.

Janna Goebel is a Doctoral Candidate of Educational Policy and Evaluation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She is a Global Development Research Scholar through ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. With the support of First Solar and the United States Agency for International Development, Janna is completing her dissertation research based on her time on family-owned coffee plantations in rural, Southeastern Brazil. Janna’s research focuses on the ways that education can be conceptualized beyond the human. It explores how relationships among humans and the more-than-human world matter in how we approach sustaining life on our planet.

Iveta Silova is professor and director of the Center for the Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. Born and raised in Soviet Latvia, Professor Silova has a unique first-hand experience of the events leading up to the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Since then, she has been fascinated with learning how different countries have responded to the postsocialist transformations. Her most recent research focuses on ecofeminism, environmental, and sustainability in education.