Overzoomed but climate friendly

In 2020 the Leibniz Institute for the German Language compiled more than 1,200 new German words, many related to the global pandemic. You know, words like Coronaangst (when you have anxiety about the virus) or overzoomed (stressed by too many video calls). We’ve all experienced these feelings that the Germans so tactfully manage to pack into neat tongue-twisting words.

So how can we convince you that having an online conference is a good idea in the era of overzoomed zombies drifting from one online meeting to another?

Well, it’s quite simple actually: the climate. It’s a good idea because of the climate. 

Someone was recently tweeting, she’d always imagined those who save the world as muscular, courageous, cape-wearing crusaders. Instead, here we are, socially distanced world-saviors, couch potatoes, chilling at home in your comfy pyjama pants. This conference isn’t any different. We’re all heroes because we don’t show up in person. Staying at home actually saves us tons of CO2 in traveling and conferencing. 

We’re not just saying that, we’ve actually had an expert run the numbers. Enter Sebastian Jäckle. Sebastian is a political scientist and somewhat of a whiz when it comes to accounting for carbon at conferences. And whereas he might not have made himself popular with his colleagues by pointing to all the CO2-intensive traveling they’ve been making, he’s actually made it his spiel to calculate carbon emissions from conferences. Oh, and he’s also a guy who walks the talk. He made local headlines when he cycled to a conference in Poland.
                                  Sebastian in shiny tights arriving to Wroclaw, Poland. Photo: private.

So why can’t we be all like Sebastian? After all, we pride ourselves in being the ultimate environmentalists, dropping knowledge about forests, environment and sustainability wherever we go.

Well, for this meeting we’re also walking the talk, whether we planned it or not. So here’s how much we’re saving:

                                   94-190 tons of Co2-eq


That is approx. 11-22 years of Co2 emissions by one person living in Germany (Co2 emissions per capita in Germany 2019 = 8.52 Co2). 

How can we know this? Well, here is our conference by the numbers:

146 participants from all major continents, 130 from Europe (registrations as of Friday 12/3 2021). With the same number of participants, the original event planned in Copenhagen would have emitted between 94 to 190 tons of Co2-eq. Had the event taken place in Freiburg the emissions would have been slightly less as so many participants are from Freiburg. The vast majority of the emissions can be traced back to just a few oversees travels so Copenhagen or Freiburg really doesn’t make a big difference.  You find details about both estimations at the end of this post.

In these very conservative estimates the physical event produces at least 340x more CO2-eq than the online event even when using the minimum estimation for the in-person event and the maximum estimation for the online event. In a more realistic and less conservative estimation the physical event emits over 3600x more Co2-eq than the online event.


Even with a mixed conference approach (some participating online, others in person) large Co2-eq emission reductions can be made.

When the highest emitters participate online the maximum emissions drop drastically to under 100 tons Co2-eq.

In addition, when participants accept a maximum of 20 h travel time we can reach almost the same low levels of Co2-eq emissions as if holding the entire conference online – under 20 tons Co2-eq.

These numbers show some considerable opportunities for future conferences to avoid being part of the problem. We can’t say what will happen in the future with the next IFPM. If there’s anything we have learned over the last year it’s that foresight is a risky business.

It’s important that we don’t forget the lessons learned so far. Hopefully the IFPM3 can inspire online conference formats that will live on beyond the pandemic

We are looking forward to meet you all in person when the situation allows, but in the meantime we are happy that we can avoid some emissions

Enjoy the conference and your good consciousness. It’s the year of the overzoomed couch potatoes in tights.

You can read more about the estimations by downloading Sebastian’s presentations here:

Jäckle_Carbon Footprint IFPM3_Copenhagen 

Jäckle_Carbon Footprint IFPM3_Freiburg

All estimations are based on the approach described in:

Jäckle, S. (2021) Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Academic Conferences by Online Participation – the Case of the 2020 Virtual ECPR General Conference, in PS: Political Science & Politics. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096521000020