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Green BAAS Climate Action Plan

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BAAS Climate Action Plan (March 2024)

Climate emergency defines the 21st century. We now live in an era of rapid anthropogenic climate change on a global scale, which affects peoples and nations unequally. The emergency is very real: in recent years, we have witnessed melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, extreme weather and food production crises, rising temperatures, wild-fires, drought, and floods. In 2023, the co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hans-Otto Pörtner, warned that “unequivocal” scientific evidence shows that climate change “is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet”, and that we have only “a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”.[1]

This moment, the UN secretary general António Guterres argued in 2022, represents

a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”[2] Ironically, the Global South, which has least contributed to the making of this emergency, is bearing the brunt of its effects. In industrialised nations, groups that have historically been oppressed along the lines of race, ethnicity, class, and gender, are also the most likely to be affected by extreme weather events. Climate change is a social justice issue.

This is the time for urgent, far-reaching, collective climate action.

Green BAAS is the environmental and sustainability network of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS). It was founded in 2019 to respond to increasing concerns about the environment and the United States’ relationship to climate change, and to consider and direct the changes that BAAS can make to contribute to collective global climate action. As Americanists based in the UK with, for most of us, passport privilege, we have long benefitted from the ease and relative affordability of air travel. For those of us with a decade or more spent in academia, we have amassed archives, visited field sites and jetted off to conferences and seminars. In doing so, we have gathered knowledge and built a network, a list of publications and a career. But trailing behind us was the long-lasting carbon spewed in the process. We do not want to deprive early-career scholars of those same opportunities, nor do we pretend to give lessons to other academic communities, especially in the Global South. But we do want to take responsibility for the complicity of the British Americanist community in contributing to climate change.

As Americanists, we are also keenly aware of the fact that the US is a major contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The U.S. is “the world’s leading producer of both oil and natural gas” whose “GHG emissions” are “the primary driver of climate change.” And it is “the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter” in the world, “contributing about 13.5% of the global total”.[3] In addition, the U.S. has been very slow in its response to the climate change, only enacting its first-ever climate legislation – the Inflation Reduction Act – in 2022.

Climate change and America’s role within it is increasingly central to our understandings of American politics, culture and international influence. Drawing on BAAS’s lengthy and influential history at the centre of American Studies in the UK, Green BAAS is therefore well positioned to contribute to and shape academic responses to climate change in the UK, and this begins with organisational transformations to address the effects of our own work on the environment and aim for an American Studies discipline that is carbon-neutral. This Climate Action Plan is an evolving document that will be updated on an annual basis, keeping us accountable on behalf of our members.

KEY POINTS

Sustainable conferences and meetings Existing commitments

  • Sustainable conferencing starts with the obvious: should the conference happen on-site at all? Most carbon emissions in conferencing are linked to flying and should be reduced to the minimum required to create meaningful connections and dialogues. Starting in 2024 with Digital BAAS, BAAS has made a firm commitment to alternate between on-site and online annual conferences every three years. Concretely speaking, this means that the 2025 and 2026 conferences will be face-to-face but that we will be back online in 2027. The average BAAS conference releases about 80 tons of CO2e (CO2 equivalent) in the atmosphere, mostly due to flying emissions. Alternating between online and on-site is the single most important commitment BAAS can take as an organisation to reduce its carbon footprint and that of individual delegates.
  • Since 2019, we have introduced a variety of measures that work towards sustainable and waste-free conferences, through less printed matters, the elimination of single-use plastics, and the introduction of at least one plant- based meal (and aiming for more). Recommendations for sustainable conferences and events.
  • Hybrid conferencing: our long-term goal is for all our conferences to be hybrid. At the same time, we want to be mindful of the workload implications for the conference hosting teams and the limited capabilities of on-campus rooms fully equipped for smooth and comfortable hybrid conferencing. We want to balance practicality and accessibility (especially for members for whom on- site conferences are not an option for various reasons). Our future hosts for 2025 and 2026 are considering all hybrid options. At the very least, all BAAS events should offer the option of delivering a paper online if a presenter wishes to do so.
  • If the conference happens on-site, BAAS should consider picking a site with decent train links so that most speakers can avoid flying and have access to.

decent train options; we are aware that this works to the detriment of universities and academics located in distant areas of the country and we need to consider how this can be counter-balanced in meaningful ways.

  • Conference organisers should provide detailed public transport information (including multi-modal transport options) on how to reach the site using active travel and low-carbon means of transport. We are considering whether BAAS could offer incentives to speakers who avoid flying or driving (for instance by organising a prize draw for attendees who used trains or car-sharing).
  • All meals should be plant-based by default (meat by request for participants with specific dietary requirements); reusable crockery should be used exclusively; conference “swag” should be avoided; preference should be given to excursions using public transport. Sustainable banking Ongoing commitments

• For several years, BAAS was banking with Barclays, the “dirtiest bank in Europe”. Thanks to the efforts of our treasurers, Dr Mark McLay and Dr Catherine Armstrong, our Barclay funds were recently moved towards a new bank account with Co-op banking, which has excellent green and ethical credentials.

Research culture Existing commitments

  • In 2020, the BAAS Award subcommittee reconfigured the Travel Awards offered by BAAS annually into Research Assistance Awards that offer the choice between using the funds for travel or for the employment of a research assistant based in the US. Several of our awardees have now used research assistants with success, thus reducing the carbon footprint of their research.
  • Since 2022, all BAAS research grant applications require applicants to include a climate & sustainability statement if they apply for travel funds. It requires applicants to provide justification on why they need to travel, and it states that research projects that are considered wasteful in terms of their carbon footprints will not be supported.
  • Every year, Green BAAS opens a separate call for paper for its targeted- research panels and hosts a special event on sustainability and environmental topics. We encourage BAAS members and non-BAAS members, especially BIPOC, to submit their papers and ideas.
  • The Green BAAS network is a group of scholars at different career stages that are committed in their research and/or teaching to understand, highlight and combat the environmental and climate emergencies. All BAAS members are encouraged to join the network and, even better, our steering committee. Please email rebecca.tillett@baas.ac.uk and elsa.devienne@baas.ac.uk if you are interested.

Recommendations

  • Climate change can only be addressed as a social justice issue by attending to its political and historical grounds and addressing its social impacts alongside scientific evidence. As a scholarly community, BAAS is committed to connecting climate research in American Studies to settler colonial histories, and its ongoing forms of inequalities and injustices that make Indigenous and Black populations more vulnerable, and their older and continued expression in American literatures. We encourage members to submit panels on critical race studies, climate/environmental literatures and to engage with community research and activism that centres the voices of Black and Indigenous people of colour (BIPOC). These can be generative sites to redress these gaps between academic research and testimonies of ongoing crisis.
  • BAAS members are encouraged to meaningfully consider how they can carry out their research in less carbon intensive ways, particularly re-evaluating the number of long-haul trips flights that are taken to carry out research, attend conferences, and develop partnerships or collaborations. Teaching Resources
  • Green BAAS has developed resources for educators who would like to teach the climate and environmental crises to their students in the context of American studies degrees or modules. We recommend you consult the pedagogy roundtable, “In Practice: Teaching Environmental American Studies in a Time of Crisis” edited by Professor Eithne Quinn and published in The Journal of American Studies as well as the roundtable on “Embedding Climate and Environmental Justice in the American Studies Curriculum” edited and introduced by Dr Elsa Devienne and published in Transatlantica. In both cases, the contributions to these roundtables include many references to excellent research from various disciplines on the topic of environmental American studies.
  • We will update these resources every year to provide members with the most up-to-date pedagogic publications on the topic.

The Green BAAS steering committee
Date: 17 January 2024; revised 25 March 2024.

[1] See https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/28/ipcc-issues-bleakest-warning-yet-impacts- climate-breakdown

[2] See https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/aug/09/humans-have-caused-unprecedented-and- irreversible-change-to-climate-scientists-warn

[3] See https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-united-states-can-take-climate-change-seriously-while-leading- the-world-in-oil-and-gas-production/; and https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/08/09/what-the-data-says-about-americans-views-of-climate- change/#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20is%20the%20second,13.5%25%20of%20the%20global%20total

[4] See Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene,”ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 16, no. 4, Dec. 2017, pp. 761-80.

[5] See Mike Hulme, “Meet the humanities” Nature Climate Change, vol. 1, 2011, pp. 177–179.