Walking the talk - how can HIFA members reduce global aviation emissions? (8) Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford?

9 January, 2020

Below are extracts from a BMJ article on this subject, by Malcolm Green, professor emeritus of respiratory medicine (with thanks to Rachel Stancliffe for putting us in touch). It is from 2008 but remains highly relevant today.

CITATION: Head To Head: Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a358 (Published 26 June 2008)

Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1466 [restricted access]

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to minimise our contribution to the acceleration, putting off the day when the environment becomes terminally unstable for human existence.

If we stop going to international conferences we can make a significant difference and be seen to be giving a lead. By finding new ways of communicating with our colleagues in other countries, we can save time, energy, and carbon emissions.

Could conferences be as good at a distance? The answer is a resounding yes... Some are so vivid that in the heat of discussion members forget they are separated by oceans. At a recent transatlantic conference a participant in New York asked his colleagues if they would like coffee and several hands were raised in London.

There would be costs associated with setting up virtual conferences, but these will be much less than those of flying people around the world, staying in expensive hotels. Our grandchildren will view with amazement our profligacy and inefficiency in flying across continents in great clusters to exchange information. Huge international conferences will be as outdated and unsuitable for a modern world as the dodo, the fax machine, carbon paper, and the horse drawn carriage. We must be bold and act now to plan and welcome the new world of information transfer.


Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org