Travel has an outsized impact on our planetary ecosystem. For many academics, the single biggest way we emit CO2 is long-distance travel, surpassing heating and cooling our homes, growing our food, using power at home and work, and daily commuting combined, regardless of typical carbon footprints in our home countries.

One response is to minimize our carbon footprint. While I lived in New York City, I was able to minimize some of my travel emissions by taking the train rather than flying (less easy here than Europe, alas), and I have purchased carbon offsets for my personal and business flying since 2007.

Another option is to substitute online collaboration for in-person. As someone who came up in academia along with early options for CSCL and CSCW (does anyone else remember CUSee-Me?), I do have a sense of the affordances and limitations for online meetings and collaboration. Although our research may not provide a handy recipe for “when is Zoom good enough?” I know many of us utilize the opportunity to collaborate seamlessly with colleagues at a distance for lab meetings, collaborative writing, and more. Still, there are times where our embodied, fully socially present selves benefit from being together in a room (or outside).

Yet, as much as anonymous conference rooms at chain hotels around the world felt like placeless spaces, conference travel in the past that was truly place-based felt like a key contribution to my own learning and scholarship. CSCL ’99 at Stanford was a moment of being in Silicon Valley at a time when understanding the nascent Internet industry really mattered. Experiencing ICLS in London during an unprecedented heatwave or a conference outing from the urban core of Taipei to a traditional potterymaking village helped many of us experience cultures of learning, scholarship, and human life that enhanced the ways we can think of our work globally, more than the conference sessions alone could. Travel provided contexts in which ideas, relationships (new and old), and shared work could take place. And, as those who remember the tensions at CSCL in Bergen at the founding of this new International Society of the Learning Sciences might or might not remember, the ways in which being physically present with each other, drinking expensive beers late into the sunlit midsummer night allowed tensions to dissipate, voices to be heard, and trust to be established across disciplinary and regional differences. Travel—moving through the world—can open our hearts and minds in unique ways, if we let it.

We are trying hard as organizers to make traveling physically to Buffalo, New York worth the carbon footprint the annual meeting incurs. Our Community Engagement Day will provide an opportunity for people to learn about and from the spaces and contexts of Buffalo and Western New York. Our plenaries are scheduled for an inspiring architectural space that hopefully will help us experience the keynotes in a way that a livestream would not. And our daily schedule will always include a certain amount of moving through and in Buffalo, a city with lessons to share on community, resilience, and healing.

However, responsibility for making our carbon footprint count falls on you as much as it does the organizers. Certainly, we hope people will consider ways to minimize or mitigate the impact of traveling to Buffalo. While most people will fly into Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, for many in the northeastern US, the midwest, or southern Ontario and Quebec, traveling by carpool, bus, or train may be an option. (Buffalo’s Exchange Street Amtrak station is near to the conference venues). Purchasing carbon offsets can mitigate air travel. And once you are here, we will share options to use public transit and bikeshares to get around if walking isn’t suitable.

But reducing costs is only one way to shift the cost-benefit ratio. Increasing the benefits is another. We might suggest options such as:

  • arranging necessary face-to-face project meetings with collaborators before or after the conference so a separate trip can be omitted (ask us if you need advice on logistics)
  • using teleconferencing to remote work back to home to allow stringing together multiple trips that otherwise might require additional travel legs
  • combining the conference travel with family vacation (Niagara Falls are close by, and both New York state’s Finger Lakes and the US/Canadian Great Lakes provide beautiful natural settings; Buffalo itself is worth a vacation! The Allentown Arts Festival is scheduled the weekend of the preconference workshops; the city’s Juneteenth celebration is the following week. Some attendees are making plans to cycle portions of the relatively level Erie Canal Bike Trail.)
  • arranging stopovers in connecting cities before or after the conference to combine the trip with other places you need to or want to visit; this usually does not increase airfare.
  • making a point of being mindfully present in our shared physical spaces during the annual meeting, so that the benefits of colocation with colleagues or of experiencing the local context can be maximized

I hope that each of us can consider and be deliberate about how we can make the carbon footprint of ISLS 2024 count.