Climate change and quizbowl

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Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Tue Jul 23, 2019 10:30 pm

When I first started writing this post (version 6 of my haphazard attempt to convey in text the extent of my distress and to offer something of value to a discussion that should be discussed in every circle), I drove home through flooded streets and torrential rain only to get home and read more upsetting news about the future of the planet and the apathy and downright malice of many living on it. In a community that highly esteems the attainment of knowledge, I think I can assume that no one would reject the warnings of virtually the entire scientific community (and the very clear signs that things are changing for the worse right outside one’s doorstep)--but there is still a large gap between knowing about climate change and acting on climate change. I think it is time that we, as a community, reflected on how quizbowl contributes to climate change.

I do not wish to imply in any way in this post that the onus for fixing climate change falls on the shoulders of a small community with relatively little political power. I recognize that mass political mobilization and systematic regulation of the corporations destroying this planet is the only way to guarantee a livable future for my generation and the generations following. But I do know that many others in this community have anxieties for what the future holds and care about getting society off this path to total destruction. Furthermore, it is clear that first-world lifestyles, as they stand, are not sustainable in the face of climate change. Many of the conveniences which we enjoy cannot exist in their current state in a carbon-neutral world. In order to respond to the threat of climate change, our lifestyles must necessarily change. Wasteful corporations may be the biggest culprits here, sure, but consumers sustain those corporations and enable their harmful practices. And, insofar as individuals can practice environmental stewardship, I think we have a moral imperative to live “cleanly.” In the same way that the onus is on the individual consumer to choose not to smoke in order to protect his/her health, each consumer should also have the responsibility to make environmentally-sound choices to the extent of his/her capabilities. We choose not to litter because it defaces our surroundings and hurts wildlife. Obviously, not throwing our trash on the ground is a lot easier than making the conscious choices to avoid beef or single-use plastic or excessive fuel consumption, particularly when the outcome of those choices does not stare us in the face, but all are still conscious choices nonetheless.

A study at Lund University found that the four best recommendations for an individual to take to reduce their carbon footprint are, in increasing order, removing animal products from one’s diet, limiting air travel, limiting driving, and not having children. These are personal choices, and I don’t want to use this post to discuss actions that aren’t relevant to quizbowl, but air and ground travel are clearly a huge part of how quizbowl operates.

We could talk about driving, but so many people in this community are students who drive much less than the average person, and the economic motivation to carpool for quizbowl purposes is high enough that there isn’t really too much to merit an in-depth discussion here.

So let’s talk about flight.

The average American carbon footprint for a year is close to 16 metric tons, with the worldwide average being about a quarter of that (and those 4 metric tons a year are already considered too high). Out of those 16 tons, slightly 0.5 to 1 ton is attributed to air travel. Given that one passenger flying from New York to Atlanta roundtrip generates within the ballpark of 0.5 metric tons of CO2 (different calculators will give you different values given the high amount of variables--but most calculators will all give results within the ballpark of each other), I think it’s safe to say that for many players and staffers, air travel emissions are significantly higher than the nationwide average. If we extrapolate the average emissions of one person to the sheer number of teams, coaches, and staffers who fly for quizbowl purposes both to national and non-national tournaments, we’d get a staggeringly-high total value of emissions. I'm by no means asking for all teams and staffers to start biking to Atlanta or Chicago or DC, and as I pointed out earlier, I recognize that air travel is still a fraction of the total emissions generated from normal utility usage and an even smaller fraction of the total emissions generated from all societal and corporate functions. However, air travel is projected to rise over the next few decades, and given that airlines are making fairly pitiful efforts to use cleaner fuels, this will become a larger and larger portion of society’s emissions. Doing away with flying for quizbowl purposes is not a good solution to this issue, but bringing our total airfare down at the very least helps normalize limiting air travel, which is among the many lifestyle changes which society will likely have to get accustomed to within the not-so-distant future. Widespread purchasing of carbon offsets is also a small but powerful action this community could take to make its practices more sustainable, which I will touch on in a bit.

I would hope that this thread opens up a discussion of what this community can measurably accomplish to take an active stance against climate change. I understand that, by its very nature, quizbowl is dispersed throughout the country, and that there is no feasible way to keep events like national tournaments successful and fun without some degree of long-distance travel. However, I have the following points that I hope quizbowl organizations and clubs can take into consideration when planning their events. I would love to see quizbowl organizations make action plans, no matter how small, regarding their own practices.

--Hosting national tournaments in sites that are geographically closest to the greatest number of attending teams possible. I recognize that fields are constantly changing year by year and that booking a location for national events isn't something that's done three months in advance. However, I think all quizbowl organizations should reflect on how they decide on hosting sites--given the general mapping of your field in recent years, what proportion of teams will likely have to fly to attend? What proportion will be able to make a (relatively short) drive to the tournament site? I don't have right or wrong answers to this question. I recognize that no one's planning on hosting HSNCT in Alaska. But I'm skeptical that there isn't any possible area of improvement for any nationals host to consider--particularly for hosts of tournaments that change locations year by year. NAQT uses these ( (https://www.naqt.com/nationals/future-championships.jsp) factors to decide on a national site--but when it comes down to it, which ones are the deciding factors? Atlanta doesn’t immediately come to mind as the most optimal site distance-wise--but I could definitely be wrong about that. ACF also lists its policies here (https://acf-quizbowl.com/hosting-guidel ... -nationals)--but what does “the need to rotate [ACF Nationals] to different areas of the country over time” mean? Is that done primarily out of fairness to teams, or is done out of transportation considerations?
--Related to this, in addition to hosting tournaments closest to the greatest number of teams, it also seems beneficial to host tournaments in locations with relatively developed alternative transportation options--trains and long-distance busing are still good alternatives for players and staffers, and, if a potential tournament site is also easily accessible for a large chunk of tournament attendees through these options, that’s an important factor to consider.

--Prioritizing geographically-close staff. I know some qb organizations already do this to some extent, and this also involves some self-selection among staffers, but I think insofar as competent staff are available in a given tournament location, those staff should always be prioritized over staff that have to fly across the country to attend, even if the latter group is willing to spend their own money to finance their trip. I don't want to sound hypocritical here--I've made the commitment to myself that my only quizbowl-related flights from here on out will be for competing in national tournaments (I will no longer fly to staff any events), and that I will drive to compete at nationals as well whenever it is more efficient.

--Discouraging teams or individuals from flying to remote non-national tournaments. I know this doesn't happen terribly often neither at the high school nor at the college level, but flying to different parts of the country for the advantage of stronger fields seems rather frivolous. Given that quizbowl as a whole can be reduced to a frivolity, this seems like an easy place to start. (EDIT: I neglected to mention that the rise of online/Discord mirrors has made it possible for people to play sets that don't have physical mirrors nearby. I know online quizbowl isn't as engrossing as the real thing, but I think that, when faced between the option of flying out to a distant mirror or playing a set online, the latter option should always be chosen.)

--Purchasing carbon offsets. Offsets aren't perfect. They don't disincentivize people from wasteful actions. Some are provided by shoddy organizations or carry big caveats for the actual amount of emissions they can mitigate. However, flying 2000 miles and donating $20 to the construction of a solar farm is still better than flying 2000 miles. Particularly for national tournaments for which the travel of staff is covered by the hosting organization, it would be quite admirable for staff to purchase offsets corresponding to their travel for that event. It would be great if event hosts officially sponsored the purchasing of offsets to their attendees by having some sort of donation box onsite for the purpose of purchasing offsets, inviting a local offset organization representative to hold a booth at events, or by providing all attendees a list of reputable carbon offset organizations upon the completion of each attendee's registration. I purchased offsets from myclimate.org (European-based) for my flight to staff HSNCT (valued at $17). I will soon be doing the same for my flights to Nats, NSC, and my personal flights to Europe and New York last summer with some other organizations. Aside from myclimate, here’s a list of North American organizations: https://www.green-e.org/certified-resou ... on-offsets

--Miscellaneous use of resources. One really small but cool thing I saw at NSC this year was that staffer nametags/lanyards were collected at the end of the tournament. This makes sense. Why purchase more plastic lanyards each year when a very large chunk of your staff will be returning year after year? An overall push to limit the use of single-use plastics at quizbowl events is a simple action we can all take.

I think air travel constitutes such a large part of quizbowl's total impact and of society's total impact that it necessitates discussion before other steps. Again, I recognize that we are a very small community whose impact on emissions is very small, but collective responsibility entails individual action. As a community that embraces knowledge, we should employ that knowledge to effect positive change in the world around us. Every step, no matter how small, is an investment in our future. People have of course made the argument that one individual’s actions are meaningless in the face of widespread inaction. I don’t see how this situation is fundamentally all that different from voting: there’s been a huge movement to increase voter registration and voter participation--and that’s still very much a net positive, despite the fact that a single voter is incredibly unlikely to tip the scales in an election.

Personally, climate change is an issue that causes me stress every single day. I've become rather cynical about the world around me and I've often had to deal with the fear that my college education, my professional goals, my quizbowl career, and all my other personal aspirations are meaningless in a civilization which may be in total chaos by mid-century as the world makes what often feels like a slow but steady march toward self-destruction. And this doesn't even begin to take into account the fact that climate change is already disproportionately affecting people whose carbon footprints are tens of times smaller than those of residents of wealthier countries like the US, who can afford to withstand the effects of climate change (at least for a while). I want to have hope about my future and the future of this world, and I've begun making lifestyle changes of my own to address this. I don't wish to advocate for the total upheaval of quizbowl as it is today, but I do want to advocate for a more mindful community who will make its own small but not insignificant stand in favor of a better future.

https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf
https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1 ... aa7541/pdf
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC
http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon- ... -factsheet
https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/148cb0_9 ... da04d4.pdf
Last edited by username1 on Fri Jul 26, 2019 12:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by vinteuil » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:28 pm

This is a phenomenal post. Two points to build on it:

1. "Eating local" (e.g. not making frivolous trips to other regional tournaments) isn't some dreary punishment; it has its own joys too. Building relationships with the other teams in your circuit, watching their younger players develop, helping their team grow—all that's a big part of the fun of quizbowl for me.

2. I've seen a lot of crap—really, crap, bad arguments—about how "individual choices [functionally] don't matter" when it comes to matters like flying and driving less. Is turning out the lights when you go to the bathroom going to save the planet? No. But any plan to sufficiently reduce emissions involves you and I—members of the most carbon-greedy society on Earth—cutting out things like frivolous flights. That is: maybe you think that your contribution doesn't matter, that bad actors will offset it anyway. Maybe. But literally any way to achieve the result you want will involve you, yes you, making these reductions.

Besides, even as a community of a couple thousand people, most of whom live in relatively climate-conscious circles, we can choose what examples we set and what pressures we put on our peers.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by heterodyne » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:41 pm

I endorse these posts.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:43 pm

I find this post (the original post, other people posted while I was drafting) very interesting and thoughtful. I appreciate your attempts at addressing an issue that obviously is important to society and far beyond quizbowl.

In general, I have two reactions to the post:

1. Many of these points make sense, as you point out, for reasons not necessarily related to climate change. As you say, in terms of driving, quizbowlers generally have the incentive to carpool and tend to drive less than the average person. In terms of tournament locations, it makes clear sense to try to put tournaments in central locations--obviously both NAQT and ACF are hampered by things like "locations big enough to host massive fields" and/or "who is able to bid to host the tournament," but in general, I think they want to see tournaments in fairly regionally central locations, with strong public transit options. I think tournaments also generally try to defray costs by turning towards qualified local staffers first.

2. My other reaction, though, is that while I certainly am not advocating being a capricious disregarder of the environment who never carpools, inefficiently flies or drives all the time, etc., my feeling is that a person's individual actions, especially in the context of their quizbowl behavior (which for most people is simply a handful of flights a year--in my case, I flew twice during this quizbowl season, which I think probably places me slightly below average among quizbowlers), simply are a miniscule drop in the bucket of factors regarding climate change. Climate change is a crisis that is going to take serious economic and political action to resolve--even if every quizbowler opted not to take one or two flights a year, the impact on climate change is very small--those flights would almost certainly still be flying, in all likelihood.

What I would tend to advocate, at the risk of becoming too political, is that quizbowlers who are concerned about climate change (as I think they should be), while working to be responsible global citizens in ways that they define, should be looking more towards political change--voting in and valuing political leaders who advocate economic and political change that can try to check or even reverse climate change (through regulation, incentives, laws, etc.). Quizbowlers who are concerned about climate change should support and back substance-driven alternative energy systems and research into such systems (such as nuclear or solar power). While I am skeptical about offsets, there's some wisdom in such suggestions, and also perhaps in donating money to environmentally conscious candidates, their policies/parties, or research funds.

As I said, I think people should be responsible environmental stewards. If you think actions like these are right for you, then I respect that. More power to you. But I also think that individuals, including quizbowlers, shouldn't necessarily be motivated out of guilt or anxiety or depression (I am not trying to be glib here, I also frequently feel anxious or uncertain about global issues such as climate change). Individual actions, especially at this point in the game, have a very small effect on carbon footprint. That's not a blank check to pollute or act irresponsibly, but I also think it shouldn't necessarily make you feel bad about flying to a quizbowl tournament on occasion.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by vinteuil » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:57 pm

While I don't think that Mike's second point meets my challenge above (i.e. "Say you get your political goals. If the legislation is strict enough to be truly effective, you'll have to drastically curtail this kind of polluting anyway."), I of course strongly endorse his message that activism, especially political activism, is ultimately the most effective way to achieve our climate goals.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by marianna » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:58 pm

This is such a fantastic post, thank you Tora.

I had some thoughts on the environmental impact of quizbowl that I wrote up at the beginning of the year for PACE. These thoughts are not nearly as developed or well-articulated as Tora's above. I've just adapted them below as additional scattered thoughts on this topic. I was inspired by discussions in academia about the environmental impact of conference travel, which can easily apply to national tournaments, or any other major tournaments involving substantial travel.
There is an environmental cost to hosting national quizbowl tournaments, the vast majority due to air travel. Although only a small fraction of people in the world engage in air travel, air travel has a particularly negative and growing impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn contributes to climate change. Of the privileged fraction of people who do engage in air travel, many quizbowlers probably have larger carbon footprints than average, due to the number and variety of national tournaments spread across the US. Quizbowlers attending national tournaments also tend to very young people, and will inhabit this world for a while. In addition, quizbowl is a growing activity, and as quizbowl grows, our environmental impact will as well. As such, I think it’s worth seriously considering the environmental impact of quizbowl, particularly the environmental impact of national tournaments, where much of air travel occurs.

An excellent carbon-reducing move that many national organizations already do is choosing a location that is centrally located and easily accessible by a variety of forms of transportation (eg within driving distance of many attendees, a major airport hub, a train/bus hub, etc). Here are some additional ideas drawn from academia’s discussion of the carbon footprint of conferences - some excellent resources include academic flying FAQ and no fly climate sci.

We can encourage the use of trains, buses, and carpools over air travel. This encouragement could perhaps take the form of promo codes, differential reimbursements, active organizing of carpools, and other incentives?

The value of a single national tournament can be maximized by co-locating other events that would otherwise require additional travel. Other events (eg side events, side conferences, panels, other events) could be co-located with a national tournament. If a national tournament is on consecutive weekends with another national tournament, perhaps we could incentivize travel straight between those two tournaments.

We can also reduce the carbon footprint of national tournaments by reducing the opportunity cost of not attending. Excellent social media, livestreams, liveblog, live coverage in general, as well as the materials and videos archived for subsequent access, can allow spectators who might otherwise feel like they have to come out to support their team and follow along from afar.

Some academics have also proposed purchasing a carbon offset for conferences, although I’ll note there’s controversy about how much good this actually does, as opposed to an indulgence to wash away an environmental sin (see links above).

Encouraging attendees who are able to use stairs rather than elevators reduces the carbon footprint a tiny amount (as well as alleviating crowd crush and letting those who need to use the elevators access them).
Last edited by marianna on Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Progcon » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:00 am

This is a good, thought-provoking thread.

Perhaps we should using paper packets as often as we do. I can't imagine it's very environmentally conscious to use the thousands of pieces of paper that HSCNT or similar tournaments require. A proper substitute for paper packets (PDFs and laptops) has existed for decades so I would encourage the national organizations to take advantage of this and save trees.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:12 am

In response to Jacob's post, I think there is a substantial difference between you (or even a couple hundred of "you") opting as individuals to make an action like "not buy a plane ticket" and things like political change resulting in better funding for mass transit, airline industries being regulated or taxed in different ways, airlines being forced to use different types of fuel systems, etc. This, of course, does not render the moral or ethical aspects of your individual choice differently, but I think the contexts are very different.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:45 am

Cheynem wrote:
Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:43 pm
What I would tend to advocate, at the risk of becoming too political, is that quizbowlers who are concerned about climate change (as I think they should be), while working to be responsible global citizens in ways that they define, should be looking more towards political change--voting in and valuing political leaders who advocate economic and political change that can try to check or even reverse climate change (through regulation, incentives, laws, etc.). Quizbowlers who are concerned about climate change should support and back substance-driven alternative energy systems and research into such systems (such as nuclear or solar power). While I am skeptical about offsets, there's some wisdom in such suggestions, and also perhaps in donating money to environmentally conscious candidates, their policies/parties, or research funds.

As I said, I think people should be responsible environmental stewards. If you think actions like these are right for you, then I respect that. More power to you. But I also think that individuals, including quizbowlers, shouldn't necessarily be motivated out of guilt or anxiety or depression (I am not trying to be glib here, I also frequently feel anxious or uncertain about global issues such as climate change). Individual actions, especially at this point in the game, have a very small effect on carbon footprint. That's not a blank check to pollute or act irresponsibly, but I also think it shouldn't necessarily make you feel bad about flying to a quizbowl tournament on occasion.
I want to write a more developed response to this and some other posts in this thread after work tomorrow, but I totally agree that political action has a higher potential to significantly improve things, and I wholeheartedly agree that getting involved in climate action groups and supporting political candidates with strong climate platforms are really good things for everyone in quizbowl to do--it is definitely one of my plans for this fall once I'm back on campus and have easier access to local groups. (And maybe compiling a document of action groups in each state and political candidates with strong climate platforms would be a worthwhile project for the community, even if it's just a matter of finding some existing databases that already have this information and posting it in a place where quizbowlers can more easily see it?)

Echoing Jacob's sentiment, though, I don't think the fact that actions with a bigger potential net positive exist means that actions with smaller net impacts shouldn't be taken as well, and I know that's what you're getting at in the last part the quoted text here. I am also definitely not advocating for every quizbowler to sacrifice their participation in the community in order to have as small of a footprint as possible, but I think a general drive toward conscientiousness within this community, even for fairly small actions, is relevant particularly because emission and pollution tend to have multiplicative effects--me throwing away one bottle of water doesn't have a negative effect only due to the resources expended to produce and transport that bottle to me, but also because of the emissions generated in transporting that bottle to disposal facilities and because of whatever number of marine lifeforms are affected if that bottle ends up in waterways, etc.

And thank you everyone for all of your feedback so far! I'm really glad that this is fostering a discussion!
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:52 am

I wholeheartedly agree that small, conscientious actions are certainly good things and if feasible should be implemented. I really liked Marianna's post explaining some of these potential actions, almost all of which strike me as feasible and logical actions.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by heterodyne » Wed Jul 24, 2019 1:15 am

Also, from a pragmatic point of view, air travel is going to have to become drastically less common in the near future or we're all screwed -- might as well start adapting to it.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by alexdz » Wed Jul 24, 2019 2:02 am

As someone who formerly worked in sustainability, and in particular energy efficiency, I've also thought about a couple of other ways we as a community can be more environmentally friendly and cut down on our impacts on the climate.

Building energy use:
As much as is possible, we should do a better job controlling the amount of energy we consume during tournaments. The largest consumer of building energy is space heating, with lighting also a major contributor. Since quizbowl tends to be an activity taking place during colder months, we should consider our use of heating and minimze it when possible. Obviously we are using buildings in which individual rooms may not have much control over the temperature, but when possible, even a 1 or 2 degree difference in the temperature can represent a significant reduction in heating usage. And the lighting recommendation seems obvious: turn off the lights in rooms when they aren't being used, such as over lunch. Also, if the room has windows and enough lighting can be obtained by using them for part of the day, then that's a great solution, too!

Hospitality:
A significant amount of waste can be generated from breakfast, snacks, and lunches at tournaments. There are ways to provide these things with less waste; one way I've thought about seriously is heavily encouraging the use of reusable water bottles instead of providing single use plastic ones. Nearly all buildings that host events also have water fountains that people can use to refill their bottles. Perhaps national tournaments could even consider providing reusable bottles for staffers? And any way to minimize waste from things like plates and cups would be fantastic, too, if anyone has suggestions.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Jul 24, 2019 4:24 pm

I'm far from a climate activist, but I'll second Harris and Alex D's suggestions regarding plastic water bottles (seriously, just use the fountain or a resuable, we're not travelling in Africa) and especially paper packets. The challenge for the latter, of course, is finding a good way to ensure question security and non-distribution (in the case of NAQT in particular) at the same time - more tech-savvy people might have good comments on how to achieve this, since simple password protection is not enough to prevent foul play here.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:20 pm

I fully support the other qb recommendations made here. I'd particularly like to highlight
marianna wrote:
Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:58 pm
We can encourage the use of trains, buses, and carpools over air travel. This encouragement could perhaps take the form of promo codes, differential reimbursements, active organizing of carpools, and other incentives?

The value of a single national tournament can be maximized by co-locating other events that would otherwise require additional travel. Other events (eg side events, side conferences, panels, other events) could be co-located with a national tournament. If a national tournament is on consecutive weekends with another national tournament, perhaps we could incentivize travel straight between those two tournaments.

We can also reduce the carbon footprint of national tournaments by reducing the opportunity cost of not attending. Excellent social media, livestreams, liveblog, live coverage in general, as well as the materials and videos archived for subsequent access, can allow spectators who might otherwise feel like they have to come out to support their team and follow along from afar.

Encouraging attendees who are able to use stairs rather than elevators reduces the carbon footprint a tiny amount (as well as alleviating crowd crush and letting those who need to use the elevators access them).
Organizational incentives and support of ground travel/carpooling/etc not only increase access to cleaner transportation but also normalize choices that consumers will have to and should start making (echoing Alston and Jacob).

To Marianna's second point, it may well be that the geographic distribution of fields for all national tournaments is very similar (this is something I want to look into at some point for more nationals--I know Alex Damisch has a display of the distribution of common ACF Nats attendees). If that is the case, then the optimal tournament sites for all events should probably all be very close to each other. If location X allows the greatest number of teams to utilize ground travel, while still being an affordable and accessible hub for air travel for teams that have to make long treks, we should aim to have the greatest number of nationals possible in that location. This would allow staffers and players who don't have commitments during the weekdays between tournaments to stick around if they wish and avoid the extra roundtrips.

There's already been a big push for better social media and live coverage of tournaments so far--if one of the externalities of this is that some parents/assistant coaches/supporters choose to tune in from home instead, that's certainly not a bad thing.
alexdz wrote:
Wed Jul 24, 2019 2:02 am
Building energy use:
As much as is possible, we should do a better job controlling the amount of energy we consume during tournaments. The largest consumer of building energy is space heating, with lighting also a major contributor. Since quizbowl tends to be an activity taking place during colder months, we should consider our use of heating and minimize it when possible. Obviously we are using buildings in which individual rooms may not have much control over the temperature, but when possible, even a 1 or 2 degree difference in the temperature can represent a significant reduction in heating usage. And the lighting recommendation seems obvious: turn off the lights in rooms when they aren't being used, such as over lunch. Also, if the room has windows and enough lighting can be obtained by using them for part of the day, then that's a great solution, too!

Hospitality:
A significant amount of waste can be generated from breakfast, snacks, and lunches at tournaments. There are ways to provide these things with less waste; one way I've thought about seriously is heavily encouraging the use of reusable water bottles instead of providing single use plastic ones. Nearly all buildings that host events also have water fountains that people can use to refill their bottles. Perhaps national tournaments could even consider providing reusable bottles for staffers? And any way to minimize waste from things like plates and cups would be fantastic, too, if anyone has suggestions.
These are both excellent points--particularly regarding heating/lighting. Moreover, these are easy things to implement. It's just a matter of awareness.
Progcon wrote:
Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:00 am
Perhaps we should using paper packets as often as we do. I can't imagine it's very environmentally conscious to use the thousands of pieces of paper that HSCNT or similar tournaments require. A proper substitute for paper packets (PDFs and laptops) has existed for decades so I would encourage the national organizations to take advantage of this and save trees.
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
Wed Jul 24, 2019 4:24 pm
I'm far from a climate activist, but I'll second Harris and Alex D's suggestions regarding plastic water bottles (seriously, just use the fountain or a resuable, we're not travelling in Africa) and especially paper packets. The challenge for the latter, of course, is finding a good way to ensure question security and non-distribution (in the case of NAQT in particular) at the same time - more tech-savvy people might have good comments on how to achieve this, since simple password protection is not enough to prevent foul play here.
Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't really understand why tournaments still use paper packets. And I get that you're still consuming energy to read packets online, but it seems like the energy expended in the entire lifecycle of paper products and printers in order to print out the dozens to hundreds of packets needed for every tournament is a lot higher. I can understand paper scoresheets, although I think the training necessary to use online scoresheets is low enough that it wouldn't be too disastrous to switch online, particularly for smaller nationals that tend to have more experienced staffers.

Similar to my point about PACE reusing name tags from NSC, when we look at all the simple and relatively easy actions we can take to reduce waste (setting transportation aside for a moment) I can't help asking why not? These actions take very little effort from individuals, and I don't see why we shouldn't be conscientious about these things whenever possible, particularly if they have as inconsequential of a basis as bringing a personal water bottle to a tournament rather than using however many plastic cups or sharing information to staffers and players via email rather than in print.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Wed Jul 24, 2019 9:53 pm

I think the challenge at large, national tournaments regarding the use of paper packets or not is:

1. Assuming that all staffers will have the ability to read electronic packets (i.e., possessing an electronic device, such as a laptop or smartphone). Seems simple...until a staffer's computer crashes, staffers realize they left their charger at home or in the hotel room, or someone doesn't have the right program. Or I suppose the staffers who don't have laptops or smart phones which they can use to read.

2. Issues of packet security. It's easier with paper packets to control the release of such packets. Electronic packets would probably require some form of password protection, which adds another fillip to staffing (you would presumably have to release the passwords prior to each round). This could be cumbersome, but is also potentially easy enough to work around (put the password on the score sheets, for example).

3. Ideally, you would e-mail the packets one at a time and include the passwords. Of course, this might get into trouble if the wifi drops or, in the case of most of these major hotels, the wifi is notoriously awful in the basements. You could, of course, use flash drives.

All of these, of course, are easy enough to work around and I would predict that in the future most tournaments will shift to being entirely electronic in both score sheets and packets. The biggest stumbling block I think organizations like PACE and NAQT face at their very large tournaments is 1 and 2. Things already go wrong enough using paper packets, so I think there's some reluctance to shift to fully electronic at the moment. My ideal scenario would be to have staffers verify their equipment works beforehand (perhaps a check in before the tournament starts) and have some laptops they could borrow to use if there is an issue (in the same way that laptops are available to be checked out in classrooms by students).
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Thu Jul 25, 2019 11:59 am

I'm very glad this discussion has started and generally agree with everything said by Tora, Jacob, and Marianna.

A word about paper packets: if I recall correctly, the main reason national tournaments exclusively use paper is because of several (or perhaps many; I'm going off hazy memory here) incidents where laptops didn't do the job. This includes people not bringing their chargers, computers crashing in the middle of the tournament, not displaying special characters and fonts correctly, people not being able to access the files due to internet, etc. (EDIT: just realized Mike said this already). Paper, by contrast, is relatively foolproof. It forces the TD and tournament staff to put the effort in ahead of time to make sure everything is nicely sorted and labeled, rather than just assuming every moderator at a 50+ team tournament will have computers and working internet on the day of the tournament.

In the past, one solution floated about was for the large organizations (e.g. PACE) to buy their own Ipads or similar devices, so they would not be dependent on their staffers' computers. But it takes minerals to make those, and if they just sit in a box for 51 weeks of the year, I can't imagine they would provide any long-term environmental benefit over paper.

In summary, I'd love it if we could find a friendlier alternative to paper, but we need to be realistic about logistics. Even if we're stuck with paper there are steps we can take. At NSC this year, the hotel did not provide recycling, so in the control rooms: we took the unread packets out of the boxes they came in, then repurposed those boxes as recycling bins for used packets. I took the filled boxes to a recycling center the next day. I would encourage future nationals to appoint someone local to do the same.
Last edited by Lagotto Romagnolo on Thu Jul 25, 2019 12:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Cheynem » Thu Jul 25, 2019 12:10 pm

Also, at least at HSNCT, aren't the packets compiled and distributed to the teams?
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Important Bird Area » Thu Jul 25, 2019 12:23 pm

Yes, NAQT's standard practice for all of our national championships is that the paper packets are distributed at the end of the tournament.

In general, we agree with what Mike and Aaron said about the logistical benefits of using paper packets for large events. (In particular, paper packets reduce to near-zero the rate of "moderator accidentally reads the wrong round" errors.)
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Amizda Calyx » Thu Jul 25, 2019 9:33 pm

I brought this up years ago on the irc, but there are several companies that rent out laptops for business conferences. We could even pre-load digital scoresheets and packets onto them before distributing to moderators.

I don't know how much this would cost, or how much more we're willing to pay in the interest of being environmentally friendly, but it could be an option (especially as a backup for personal computer crashes etc.).
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Thu Jul 25, 2019 11:45 pm

I don't want to give off the impression that I want organizations to cut corners in every possible way in an effort to reduce waste--Mike, Aaron, and Jeff's points about paper packets are all valid, and I understand that the answer to a lot of these issues isn't as simple as it is being laid out here.

Joelle's idea about laptop rentals is really worth considering--it sounds like some of the common issues that pop up could be addressed by downloading packets ahead of time onto these rentals, and ensuring that any laptops rented have long battery lives, so that they only need to be charged during lunch breaks or something like that. And it doesn't seem like it would be completely necessary to have a 1:1 ratio of rentals and readers; staffers who have slow or unreliable computers could instead use rentals, and a handful of others could be rented as backup.
Lagotto Romagnolo wrote:
Thu Jul 25, 2019 11:59 am
At NSC this year, the hotel did not provide recycling, so in the control rooms: we took the unread packets out of the boxes they came in, then repurposed those boxes as recycling bins for used packets. I took the filled boxes to a recycling center the next day. I would encourage future nationals to appoint someone local to do the same.
I really appreciate that this was done at NSC, and I agree that giving packets to teams or taking them to a recycling center is still a step in the right direction.

It's great that issues like this are being addressed from people with more insight into tournament operations, even if we find that the least bad solution isn't the cleanest--having these discussions in the first place about as many areas of improvement as possible is so crucial, not to mention the fact that it reinforces the importance of conscientiousness both in and out of quizbowl.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Muriel Axon » Wed Aug 21, 2019 6:15 pm

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation for the amount of CO2 released due to printing packets at a very large tournament (think HSNCT). Here, I assume that an HSNCT-sized tournament would use ~31000 sheets of 80 gsm paper. I used two separate life-cycle assessments of paper product emissions -- one based on data from the U.S., the other from Portugal and Germany -- and assumed that there's no carbon cost to using readers' laptops (perhaps not exactly true). I also made a few further assumptions about energy sources for paper production. In the end, I estimated that using paper packets instead of laptops would cause about 300-400 kg CO2 emissions (probably underestimating the uncertainty somewhat). For reference, the per capita CO2 emissions in America are about 16 metric tons.

I also considered a scenario where tournaments order food for staffers: moderator lunches may include 350 kcal of ruminant meat (e.g. cow, goat, alpaca), or that ruminant meat can be replaced by almost anything else (non-ruminant meat or vegetarian). It hardly matters what the "almost anything else" is because -- except for fish caught using certain methods -- virtually any non-luxury food produces far lower greenhouse gas emissions than ruminant meat. Per staffer, the meal with ruminant meat would have about 7-8 kg CO2 equivalent higher emissions than the other meal. (Feel free to multiply that out by the number of staffers.) Here, I used figures from my friend Mike Clark's paper -- which, if anything, might be lowballing emissions estimates from ruminants.

These figures are very rough estimates, but they suggest that, when tournaments order food for staffers, they should treat vegetarian meals or meals with non-ruminant meat as a default. This change could have more than five times the impact of eliminating paper packets.

It's a bit complicated to calculate figures on air travel -- enough that I hesitate to do it -- but I'm sure flying has much larger impacts than either of these two. As Tora said in her original post, any intervention to reduce air travel would probably be the most effective change one could make.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat » Fri Aug 23, 2019 10:36 pm

My biggest takeaway from Shan's post is that nothing we do has an impact that's even close to the same scale as travel. I did a pretty rough calculation of my emissions from the flights I've taken this year (decent proxy for the average HSNCT attendee or staffer since they're mostly 500-1,500 mile domestic flights on Delta) and got around 160 kg per one-way flight. Basically, the savings of using laptops at HSNCT is one person's round-trip flight - and think how many hundreds of flights are booked for the tournament.

I'm not trying to recommend any actions here since a) all quizbowl travel is nothing compared to the total business / conference, vacation, and visiting friends and family travel out there, realistically not even enough to make the airlines add any additional flights and b) it's still better to do something environmentally responsible like using electronic packets than not, provided it doesn't adversely impact the tournament. I'll just emphasize that, as we consider quizbowl's environmental impact, the vast majority is from air and car travel.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Sat Aug 24, 2019 6:22 pm

Thanks Shan and Joe for doing those assessments. I agree that switching to electronic packets pales in comparison to other waste/emissions reduction options in QB, and anything this community does to reduce its footprint is still microscopic compared to total human and corporate activity.

I'm also not opposed to the idea of providing only vegetarian and white meat options at QB events. I'm afraid of veering too much into virtue signaling with this sort of thing, but I think it can be universally agreed upon that the beef industry is extremely destructive, and, in academic settings, this does have a precedent: https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... ate-crisis

And, on the point that any actions taken by this community have a relatively small impact, I think Joe is right in that we should still strive to generate less waste whenever possible.

Update regarding an effort related to this thread that I'm trying to get off the ground to come soon.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Adelaide Glaciarium » Tue Aug 27, 2019 6:16 pm

Just want to add a bit on the transportation side of things - I don't think the issue is air travel, but rather mileage.

Air travel is about 0.18 kg of CO2 per passenger mile, based on data from Delta Airlines. It should be noted that Delta is one of the more environmentally conscious airlines, and this is likely the low end for airlines. If you are going directly to your destination rather than transferring at a hub, airlines would also give additional efficiency by having a lower travel distance than other options. For comparison, Amtrak performs somewhat better, coming in around 0.13 kg per passenger mile - though it should be noted that the fully electric and high frequency Acela corridor would be below that and the diesel powered, low frequency trains outside that region higher than that. Intercity bus service is a bit more difficult to find information on. Greyhound gives emissions per capacity mile, and assuming a load factor equal to that Amtrak (a best case scenario, and probably not realistic) gives 0.12 kg per passenger mile. The final option to consider is a personal vehicle. The average new personal vehicle generates about 0.25 kg of emissions per mile, and that value has seen a large improvement over the last few model years. Carpooling would obviously have a benefit in spreading the emissions per mile over multiple passengers. The issue with using personal vehicles for long distance travel is that they increase the overall emissions generated by transportation, as another source of emissions is added to the already scheduled emissions by airlines, bus lines, and trains.

So what can be done?

First, it is important to keep in mind that there is not a single best option that works for everyone. The mode that works best for Tora in Minneapolis is probably not the one that works best for me in Rochester. Organizations running national tournaments should be cognizant of that and not suggest a one-size-fits-all solution for staff travel.

Second, instead of a focus on reducing flights, the focus should be on reducing mileage. While these are fairly synonymous for current quizbowl travel patterns, as most long distance quizbowl travel is done via air, the difference is in how they can be applied to reducing the carbon footprint of national quizbowl tournaments. Rather than reducing flights arbitrarily, long distance flights in particular should be targeted. Also, reducing staff requirements would result in a decrease in mileage. An important addition to the above is that national tournament organizers should track their carbon footprint. As the old adage goes, what isn't measured isn't managed. Measuring this also gives organizers the chance to create goals for reduction of their carbon footprint.

For non-national tournaments, there are still ways to reduce mileage, and thus carbon footprint. One thing that can easily be done is having many smaller mirrors instead of a few larger mirrors. There isn't really a need to have teams travelling far for a 20+ team "main site" of Random Regular Difficulty Set #235, when it can be split into two smaller sites that reduce overall mileage.

Finally, you as transportation consumers should make your voices heard about environmental concerns. Corporations, just like all other people, can't read your minds. So, they typically will send out surveys to their customers asking about their performance. Noting that you want them to improve on their environmental impact should prompt them to more seriously consider measures to reduce emissions.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by CPiGuy » Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:44 am

Reducing air travel by not flying in staff to national tournaments is likely a bad idea, because it reduces the quality of the staff pool while not really making an impact on the environment (as others have observed, those flights are almost certainly taking off anyway, with or without NCT/ACF Nats/PACE staffers).

What organizations utilizing significant travel as part of their tournaments should look into is purchasing carbon offsets for staffers' flights. My family bought carbon offsets for their flights to visit me in Michigan and it cost them $20 for a round-trip flight for the three of them. NAQT, for example, could likely increase the entry fee to HSNCT by $5 and cover carbon offsets for every single staffer's travel to the tournament. This would be a significant way to ameliorate the environmental impact of a major quizbowl tournament without incurring considerable financial or quizbowl cost.

I'm generally strongly opposed to claims that private individuals should incur considerable life sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprint, seeing as the vast majority of emissions come from large corporations -- it reminds me of austerity programs that require ordinary individuals to face cuts to social services while corporations continue to receive billions of dollars in government assistance -- but you should definitely do things that are *not* considerable sacrifices, and I think paying for carbon offsets for staffers' travel is something most major tournament organizers are capable of doing relatively easily and with little to no significant financial hit.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Benin Rebirth Party » Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:02 am

The majority of tournaments still happen in schools, and digital packets and e-scoresheets should be used as much as possible there. School and/or board administration may need to cooperate to make sure there’s enough chromebooks or equivalent if staff and players providing laptops is insufficient.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Progcon » Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:24 am

CPiGuy wrote:
Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:44 am
Reducing air travel by not flying in staff to national tournaments is likely a bad idea, because it reduces the quality of the staff pool while not really making an impact on the environment (as others have observed, those flights are almost certainly taking off anyway, with or without NCT/ACF Nats/PACE staffers).

What organizations utilizing significant travel as part of their tournaments should look into is purchasing carbon offsets for staffers' flights. My family bought carbon offsets for their flights to visit me in Michigan and it cost them $20 for a round-trip flight for the three of them. NAQT, for example, could likely increase the entry fee to HSNCT by $5 and cover carbon offsets for every single staffer's travel to the tournament. This would be a significant way to ameliorate the environmental impact of a major quizbowl tournament without incurring considerable financial or quizbowl cost.

I'm generally strongly opposed to claims that private individuals should incur considerable life sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprint, seeing as the vast majority of emissions come from large corporations -- it reminds me of austerity programs that require ordinary individuals to face cuts to social services while corporations continue to receive billions of dollars in government assistance -- but you should definitely do things that are *not* considerable sacrifices, and I think paying for carbon offsets for staffers' travel is something most major tournament organizers are capable of doing relatively easily and with little to no significant financial hit.
This is demonstrably false and ignores any incentive or dynamic effects. Even a 20 dollar offset per staffer is significant given the amount of staffers who fly out to the tournaments of interest. I'm not privy to the finances of either organization involved, but asking them to front extra thousands of dollars surely eats into the profitability of the tournament and adds to staff expenses. In effect, you have basically imposed a small tax on each staffer flown out. It's unknown how this effective tax will be borne out but it's highly likely that in equilibrium, consumers will have to pay higher fees and the profit for the company goes down. These effects depends on the elasticities that the producers and consumers of quizbowl content face.

These theoretical arguments do not undermine the argument for the use of Carbon offsests but it is not accurate to say that there is "little to no significant financial hit." Carbon taxes will almost assuredly increase the price of things produced using CO2-itensive processes because this is how taxes work. All things have trade-offs and it's a fair question to ask, in my opinion, if the supposed staffer quality drop from decreased flights is worth the more Eco-friendly approach to quizbowl. I'm going to be agnostic on this question until I know what the supposed quality drop actually means.

(Aside: This may be getting a little too political, but do you think corporations are monolithic entities with no outside effects Conor? They are made of stock holders, owners, and they produce products bought by consumers. Every economic policy affects all levels of a supply chain and it's reductionist to pretend that we can localize a policy outcome to only affect corporate profits. Economists are in broad agreement that carbon taxes will increase the cost of stuff that uses Carbon which makes sense. )

Additionally, I feel strongly that NAQT's comment on the paper packets misses the larger issue that Joe points out. Much of the paper packets used are not used at HSNCT but at local tournaments. In 2019, every other question provider uses PDFs and other online question sources. I have ran several tournaments using PDFs and/or Google Drive and not once have I had a question security issue. It's as simple as password protecting each file or the Drive. NAQT really needs to get with the times and stop selling massively overpriced paper questions from 2013 (!!!) to high schools teams that are not aware of the comprehensive free archive and needs to modernize how they distribute their questions. It's a waste of a staffer's precious time to scan a packet and print hundreds of sheets of paper when using the PDFs is easy and occurs around the country with few issues. (Also, printing 100+ packets is a real cost that teams like MSU have to face non-trivally because we received zero university funding. Transporting hundreds of paper packets is also a royal headache.)

Questions played in past years should be available online as well perhaps behind a password-protected NAQT paywall. Does NAQT really think that colleges keep hundreds of paper packets in cardboard boxes and binders from 6+ years ago? Schools change leadership all the time and moving mountains of paper is a pain especially when your university does not just gift you a room on campus to store boxes of old papers.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by Mike Bentley » Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:49 pm

There's already a pretty strong correlation between the money spent on transportation for a national quizbowl tournament (by both teams and the organization hosting the tournament for staff) and the total carbon produced from this transportation. All quizbowl organizations are already optimizing towards keeping the costs of these national tournaments as low as possible to preserve the pretty marginal profits that result from them. I'm not sure there is all that much more to squeeze from being more efficient in terms of locating national tournaments while still having the same number of teams / staffers attend. In other words, national tournaments are already in locations where there's a heavy congregation of teams and staff that are able to drive to them (which is why there hasn't been a college or national tournament on the West Coast in over 15 years). Fully pricing carbon into transportation costs (perhaps with the $20 in offsets mentioned above) might slightly change the calculus of one city vs. another, but I don't see it having all that much impact.

There are certainly things that can be done on the margins that have been discussed in this thread, but so long as national quizbowl tournaments require the same number of staffers and teams to run, I don't see there being much change in this respect. I suspect the biggest positive impact on carbon emissions for a national tournament would be coming up with a solution where each room only needs one staffer without jeopardizing the quality of the tournament.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:01 pm

CPiGuy wrote:
Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:44 am
as others have observed, those flights are almost certainly taking off anyway, with or without NCT/ACF Nats/PACE staffers).
I disagree with this line of argument, mostly because airlines do want to maximize profits. If I forgo the last spot on flight A, someone who would have otherwise chosen flight B might choose A instead, leading to a now-available spot in B, and so on. At some point, that loss of one passenger will be felt by the airline, and this effect is multiplied by multiple potential passengers forgoing their flights.

A lot of climate scientists and individuals concerned about the climate have stopped flying altogether, and while I am not of the opinion that everyone here should do that, I don't think those groups have made that decision solely out of ethical concerns. Given that air travel has been and is projected to keep increasing across the world, while the total efforts of airlines to reduce emissions has been slim, I do think cutting down on air travel, in and out of quizbowl, is something worth considering for everyone. Unless anyone here has the leverage to discourage corporate air travel, which is, admittedly, a huge and often unnecessary culprit, spending one's money elsewhere is the only immediate thing one could really do to counter this.
CPiGuy wrote:
Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:44 am

What organizations utilizing significant travel as part of their tournaments should look into is purchasing carbon offsets for staffers' flights.
I have also purchased offsets for some of my air travel, but while I think some sort of offset purchase, even if it's not an offset in the traditional sense and more of a donation to a reputable environmental organization that is voluntary to contribute to, would be a good idea, I think asking organizations to purchase offsets for staffers or attendees would be too pricey, and, given that (at least in college) many competitors are not paying out of pocket for their travel to nationals, and that many staffers have their travel expenses covered by national hosts, it would make sense to encourage that more on the attendee side.
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Re: Climate change and quizbowl

Post by username1 » Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:28 pm

I am excited to announce the formation of an inter-organizational committee to identify organizational changes that can reduce the carbon footprint of quizbowl events, primarily national tournaments. This committee consists of myself, Jeff Hoppes of NAQT, David Madden of IAC/NHBB, Fred Morlan of IQBT, Will Nediger of ACF, and Marianna Zhang of PACE. This committee has begun addressing the topics discussed in this thread and will continue to do so for the next 3-4 months. The final output of this committee will be a formal action plan outlining organizational changes that these five organizations are able to commit to and adopt within the next 2-3 competition cycles. I envision that some of these measures will be adoptable by local/regional organizations as well, so, once this action plan is complete, I will invite any tournament-hosting smaller organizations that are interested to sign on to items in the action plan as well.

An additional output of this committee will be an education and action resource for community members (particularly young members) to learn about climate change and issues relevant to it, as well as opportunities for climate action (local organizations to join, etc). Olivia Lamberti will be helping finalize both the aforementioned action plan and climate action resource.

This committee will strive to address the wide variety of concerns and issues discussed in this thread, and, if you have any additional concerns or comments that you wish this committee to discuss, please feel free to post them below, PM me, or email me at husar009@umn.edu.
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