University research linked to global warming

Fri, 2008-05-09 11:13Bill Miller
Bill Miller's picture

University research linked to global warming

A Canadian scientist says university research should be added to the list of human activities that contribute to global warming.

Professor Hervé Philippe from the University of Montreal has discovered that his own research produces 44 tons of carbon dioxide a year. The average American citizen, in contrast, produces 20 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

According to Philippe, his computers produce 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the air-conditioning in his lab produces 10 tons and transportation to and from his many environmental meetings produce another 15 tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Philippe, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Bioinformatics and Genomics, was shocked: “I did my PhD in the hope of advancing our knowledge of biodiversity, but I never thought the research itself could have a negative impact on biodiversity.”



Often when a scientist is doing research to save something, there are negative effects of their work acting against them. I used lots of electricity, used up and disposed of heaps of plastic and radioactive and otherwise toxic materials, and directly killed fish that I was studying. The purpose of the study? To determine the genetic impacts of (and best mitigative actions for) hydroelectric dams on bull trout populations in the Canadian Columbia River. On top of that I killed lots of wildlife just driving, from butterflies, to bats, to bears. But this comment isn’t just a confessional – I intend to make a point.

A lot of research doesn’t NEED to be done. In my case, it could have been assumed that bull trout were generally similar other salmonids (like, uh, salmon!), and go to their natal streams to spawn, and respond poorly to dams and elimination of spawning habitat. But it was convenient to assume otherwise and throw a little bit of money at the question to try and find a cheap way of fixing things rather than do the much harder work of protecting the creatures and their habitat. (That’s overly cynical: I greatly appreciate the efforts of various people involved and I’m thankful for the training I received. Like I said, I’m trying to make a point.)

As for Prof Phillipe’s statement that he didn’t think his research could have a negative effect … I find that surprising. I was appalled at the waste early in my work, so I started trying to re-use the tubes for my genetic research and the poly-acrylamide gels. Unfortunately, impurities made it difficult to re-use the tubes, and the gel pictures were always uglier/messier when I staggered multiple samples. Technological improvements have reduced waste in recent years (at least the volume of waste per item of information as observed in the lab), and that’s positive. But the more general point I’m trying to make is that research shouldn’t be exempted from the cost-benefit analyses that everyone should be doing for most large endeavours. I greatly doubt that NSERC (large source of funding in Canada) has useful guidelines regarding the ecological impact of research, although a lot of attention is generally given to animal welfare. That should probably change.

Given the concision and relevance of the point I tried to make above, perhaps I should have turned my computer off instead. Oh well, such things are often clearer in the rear view mirror. –end

BTW, the link to his research takes me to Fox ‘news’: Al Gore blames AGW for Myanmar cyclone.

Actually, the link is to a roundup piece headed by Gore’s cyclone comments. Just scroll down to Philippe’s findings. Thanks for pointing this out. Cheers

Good God, what an idiot. Why is it that nowadays academia seems to be a haven for fools?

He can’t get that hair-shirt on fast enough.

Why doesn’t he just pay for (or, more likely, demand his university pay for) some carbon indulgences from Pope Gore? That should allieviate his purple, throbbing conscience.

The biggest energy glittons on campus are probably chem labs whose hoods blow enormous amounts of expensive heated or cooled air right up the stacks. Plus it take a lot of electricity to run motors of the exhaust fans 24/7/365. We use lots of Dry Ice for cooling traps of our vacuum system. We chemists are living in CO2 sin. but we really don’t care.


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