SIGPLAN and Climate Change


Airplane travel is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are a significant contributor to global warming and attendant climate change. SIGPLAN hosts several annual scientific meetings at various locations throughout the world. While we believe such meetings are very important for furthering important research, we would be remiss in not exploring possible mitigations. Accordingly, we have formed an ad hoc committee to study the climate impact of conferences and possible steps that SIGPLAN might take in response. The committee chair is Benjamin Pierce; its other members are SIGPLAN EC members Crista Lopes and Michael Hicks. An interim report summarizes a number of ideas under consideration, following intensive discussions within the committee and with the overall community at town hall meetings.

Current action: Carbon Offsets (POPL’18)

For this year’s POPL, we are experimenting with carbon offsets as a mechanism for reducing the conference’s net carbon impact. The POPL registration website includes a link that participants may choose to follow to reach an offset purchase page at atmosfair, a major carbon offset vendor. Participation is voluntary, and ACM is not involved in the purchase in any way. (We realize that offsets might be easier to reimburse from research grants if they were included in the conference registration fee. We are investigating whether this can be done for future conferences.)

Carbon offsets have the potential to reduce POPL’s net carbon impact while furthering sustainability and developmental goals. They help fund projects that would not otherwise be economically feasible given start-up costs or the means of the communities they are servicing. Ideally, they address the potential trade-off between reducing carbon emissions and furthering the progress of less-developed parts of the world. They are not a long-term solution to the problem of carbon emissions from scientific conferences, but they are a useful stopgap, slowing the overall growth of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations while other fossil fuel reduction strategies are being developed. An excellent discussion of the pros and cons of carbon offsets in general and of specific project types can be found in a recent report from the Stockholm Environmental Institute.

Atmosfair is a non-profit originally created as part of a research project by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. Its carbon offset projects are registered through the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) standard and are either approved by or awaiting approval under the Gold Standard — these are widely recognized vetting groups. Projects that atmosfair supports include:

Atmosfair has worked with companies and organizations such as Cisco, Dolby, Merck, and Greenpeace. Its web site provides detailed background on its organization, policies, standards, and projects.

For those that like comparison shopping, we can recommend CoolEffect as another excellent carbon offset vendor — for example, their project that funds building converters from cow manure to biogas. However, their web site is somewhat US-centric.