For UBC Faculty Only

Open Letter


Please note: this open letter is for UBC faculty and instructors only. Faculty at other universities who want to develop their own letter are welcome to use our text!

September 2019


Dear President Ono, Deans of the Faculties at UBC, and Board of Governors,


As concerned faculty, we write to you regarding our shared climate emergency. Last year’s IPCC report said that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half over the next 11 years so as to keep the Earth within 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Given its recent ranking as #1 in the world for university climate action, UBC is leading the way towards a low-carbon world. While we are proud of UBC’s recognition, we know there is much more to be done. UBC has an opportunity to lead on further reforms, modelling best practices and encouraging other universities and workplaces to dramatically lower emissions.


One issue that we feel we must address collectively is aviation emissions among UBC faculty and administration. Aviation emissions are not counted in UBC’s assessment of its overall emissions, even though one study found that air travel emissions amount to 40% of UBC’s total greenhouse gas emissions on campus. In fact, these numbers are a low estimate, as they only include travel billed through the university. Our faculty regularly fly all over the world to give lectures, present their work in colloquia, participate on external reviews and committees, etc., and while these events have benefits, we are worried about their collective deleterious effects, and the absence of avidly sought alternatives. What’s more, while UBC is committed to the reduction of emissions, a number of its policies and practices work to promote more aviation travel, and thus more emissions. This is not a blame issue: we fully recognize that this is a systemic problem in academia and beyond. But we feel that we can no longer ignore the issue.


Our interest is in changing the culture at UBC to support fewer work-related travel emissions. Such a change requires incentives and institutional support. Toward this end, we have five requests:


  1. Videoconferencing. Investing in high-class videoconferencing facilities and making these facilities available to faculty, researchers, and students for free would encourage people to consider virtual presentations as a viable and attractive option. While there are some spaces on campus for videoconferencing, they are often over-booked and unavailable. What we need are high-class, earmarked spaces for videoconferencing with IT staff that can ensure a smooth delivery. We also request that UBC subscribe to a broader range of the best available conferencing software options. The bottom line is: with better facilities and better platforms, faculty will take this option seriously.
  2. Tracking Tools and Incentives. Tracking carbon emissions in an easy way is crucial to helping people reduce their emissions. We request that UBC invest funds in an app that is specifically designed for our community to track its carbon emissions. Such information could be used to provide incentives to departments that reduce emissions on a collective scale.
  3. Merit and Promotion. Many faculty feel compelled to travel so as to boost their CV and chances for merit and promotion, particularly to give keynote lectures or participate in colloquia. We request that in-person international presentations be removed from consideration for merit and promotion, as this only serves to encourage faculty to rack up international invitations. Toward this end, faculty who are trying to reduce emissions could be encouraged to list their declined invitations on their CVs, and faculty could be encouraged to present remotely at such conferences (as some of us have). Regional invitations/talks or video-presentations could be given equal or more weight. Faculty could be asked to evaluate the impact of their travel before accepting or declining invitations. For many, having an “excuse” to decline certain invitations (“My university is encouraging aviation reduction”) would actually be welcome. But for this to work, departments, DAC and SAC must all rethink the weight that they give to such presentations.
  4. Workshops and Speakers Series. Departments regularly fly in speakers from around the world to give talks to their faculty, often for only a day. Many of us organize workshops with national or international participants. UBC should offer incentives to departments that pledge to reduce the emissions of their invitees. This might include pledging to reduce the distance travelled by speakers on an annual basis, reducing the number of speakers in a given year, inviting more regional speakers or visitors, engaging more videoconferencing with interactivity, organizing more regional gatherings, pooling interest across units to encourage longer visits, etc. While decisions would be made at the departmental level, support at a higher level would help make that attractive. One way to do this would be to make UBC a regional hub for workshops (perhaps in partnership with other green-aspiring local universities involved in PICS) , and to earmark funding for workshops or speakers that are low emissions.
  5. Committees and External Reviews. Major funding agencies often require faculty to be present in person to evaluate grants. External reviews of departments require people to come to campus in person. We request that you give serious thought to how we can adapt some of our policies and requirements—and urge others to do the same—in the context of our current climate emergency. One way to do this is to work with the national funding agencies to consider low-carbon criteria in research applications and to pursue the lowest carbon strategies for adjudication.


At some point—and that time is coming fast—we will simply have no choice in these matters. We are writing to request help at a time when we still have the option to be pro-active. We appreciate you finding ways that you can work with us to change the culture at UBC in a serious way. We know that this would mean all sorts of adjustments and rethinking our current structures, but we believe in the end that it will be for the greater good. Let’s lead by example and show the world that if we can do better, they can too.  

Sign the Open Letter

Please note: signatures will be posted below and names will be updated on a weekly basis


people have signed the open letter

Jessica Dempsey - Department of Geography

Anna Casas Aguilar - French, Hispanic & Italian Studies

Simon D. Donner - Department of Geography

Navin Ramankutty - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)

Lisa Nathan - School of Library Archival and Information Studies

Naomi Zimmerman - Department of Mechanical Engineering

Hannah Wittman - Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

Luanne Freund - School of Library Archival and Information Studies

Kathryn Harrison - Department of Political Science

Kurtis Peters - Department of Classical Near Eastern and Religious Studies

Helen Brown - School of Nursing

Rapichan Phurisamban - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)​

Chin Sun - Department of Zoology

Jared Grummer - Department of Zoology

Tara Martin - Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences

Marie Auger Methe - Department of Statistics

Michele Koppes - Department of Geography

Tim Straubinger - Department of Computer Science

Emily Acheson - Department of Geography

Karen Bakker - Geological Engineering

Stepan Wood - School of Law Peter A Allard

Darren Irwin - Department of Zoology

Camdem Hutchinson - School of Law Peter A Allard

Fidel Vila Rodriguez - Department of Psychiatry​

George Hoberg - School of Public Policy and Global Affairs

Kat McGrath - Library

Karin Mickelson - School of Law Peter A Allard

Sally Taylor - Library

Nina Hewitt - Department of Geography

Shaylih Muehlmann - Department of Anthropology

Olav Slaymaker - Department of Geography

Matthew Mitchell - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)

Stefan Dollinger - Department of English Language & Literatures

Jasmeet Singh - Department of Medicine

Julia Mannheim - Department of Physics and Astronomy

Jonathan Doucette - Department of Physics and Astronomy

Ross King - Department of Asian Studies

Malabika Pramanik - Mathematics

Sara Milstein - Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies

Fernanda Tomaselli - Department of Forest Resources Management

Geraldine Pratt - Department of Geography

Amanda Giang - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)

Maria Carbonetti - Department of French Hispanic & Italian Studies

Heather O'Brien - School of Library Archival and Information Studies

Candice Rideout - Food Nutrition & Health​​

Shelley Reid - Department of Classical Near Eastern and Religious Studies

Athena McKown - Department of Forest Sciences

Christian Levers - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)

Sarah Gergel - Department of Forest Sciences

Marco Todesco - Department of Botany

Claire Kremen - Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES)

Steven Rogak - Department of Mechanical Engineering

Paul Lusina - Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Juliet O'Brien - Department of French Hispanic & Italian Studies

Siobhán McPhee - Department of Geography

Laura Baumvol - UBC Vantage College

Tucker Sharon - Department of History

Don Moerman - Department of Zoology

Izabella Laba - Department of Mathematics

Li Wen Lin - Division of Law​

Peter Dauvergne - Department of Political Science

Sarah Parker - Library

Cristie Ford - Department of Political Science

Anne Olsen - Library

Raluca Radu - School of Nursing

Mollie Holmberg - Department of Geography

Peter Reiner - Neuroscience

Amy Metcalfe - Department of Educational Studies (EDST)

Derek Woods - Department of English Language & Literatures

Alexander Rauscher - Department of Pediatrics

Jeannette Procter - Department of Physics and Astronomy

Michelle Lam - MSc Program

David Li - Department of Radiology