Medical conferences in the era of environmental conscientiousness and a global health crisis: The carbon footprint of presenter flights to pre-COVID pediatric urology conferences and a consideration of future options
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INTRODUCTION: Medical conferences are integral to academic medicine, with academic posters being a well-established medium for presenting research. However, conferences carry an ecological footprint due to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, traditional conference formats have recently not been possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Herein we examine the carbon footprint associated with travel by presenting delegates to the Fall SPU conferences from 2013 to 2019, and the 2015 ESPU conference. METHODS: Online programs for the targeted SPU Fall meetings and the 2015 ESPU Annual Meeting were retrospectively reviewed. Variables collected included meeting location and presenter home base. Distance traveled by the presenter, and likely CO2e of this return trip were estimated using online calculators. Analysis was performed using the Kruskal-Wallis-H test with pairwise comparisons to detect differences in round trip distances and CO2e between meeting locations. RESULTS: Six Fall SPU conferences and one ESPU conference were reviewed. The majority of presenters were from the region (North America and Europe, respectively), for both SPU and ESPU. The median round trip distance was 2596.34 miles (IQR 1420.96-4438.30), and the median CO2e 0.61 metric tons (IQR 0.36-1.02). We found that the distances traveled to conferences in the Western USA and Europe were slightly further than those to conferences in Central Canada and the Southern US. The difference in CO2e between these locations did not achieve statistical significance. CONCLUSION: Presenter travel to and from pediatric urological conferences generates an important carbon footprint and may not be possible in the medium-term future due to a global pandemic. We should explore strategies to allow meetings and knowledge exchange to continue whilst reducing the need for travel and the ecological burden of conferences. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III: Most comparative level of evidence.
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