Carbon Footprint in the Field of Astronomy

Apr 6, 2022

We exist at a moment of delicate balance where small actions that we take now could tip us into one of two very different futures.

Have you ever wondered how the study of the universe beyond our Earth’s atmosphere is adversely impacting that very atmosphere? Astronomy is a power hungry science and its associated carbon footprint is quite substantial. Some ongoing research has been targeted at ways to reduce the carbon footprint in the field of astronomy. In the last year, a number of studies have been published analyzing and quantifying in detail the carbon footprint of various entities of astronomical research: observatories, institutes and conferences.

On an average, an astronomer has a carbon footprint 40% larger than the average adult. An Australian study found that 60% of astro emissions come from supercomputer usage alone. Flights and conferences make up 17% of astronaut work-related emissions and 10% comes from powering space observatories and buildings. We exist at a moment of delicate balance — an unstable solution — where small actions that we take now could tip us into one of two very different futures. Astronomers need to collaborate globally - both as representatives of their profession and as individuals and operate in synergy to solve the climate crisis, with these few steps: As an astronomer: Switch to cloud computing: Computing power is the most energy and carbon intensive segment in astronomy and tackling it first makes most sense. Cloud computing is much cheaper than cluster computing, and cuts carbon emissions by a factor of 9. Embrace virtual conferencing: The average emissions associated with visiting a single in-person conference are similar to the annual per capita emissions of developing countries. The upside of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it has enabled many industries to effectively adapt to remote networking. Virtual conferencing has proven to be more ecologically sustainable and inclusive.

Recently, many astronomical conferences and societies have been meeting remotely, and this has cut down on flight related carbon emissions. Petition institutions to cut ties with fossil fuel companies: Many institutions remain invested in fossil fuel companies and making a clean break from such organizations will be beneficial for the astronomical community. As an individual: Advocate for climate : Spread awareness amongst the community about the need for energy conservation and combating climate change. Build a culture where sustainability is celebrated : Switching to renewable energy sources as individuals and families is a small but significant step towards curbing power consumption. Reduce your own carbon footprint : Scrutinising how and where to reduce the carbon consumption in our lifestyles is key. When we have the extent of our carbon footprint, we are empowered to eliminate it.

Employ the energy saving device FORCE for a reduction of 10-15% drop in power consumption and a major reduction in your carbon footprint. These few measures might tilt the balance in favor not only of astronomy, but of humanity.