Astronomy's above average contribution to global heating. An astronomical institute's CO2 footprint

With weather and climate extremes increasing both in frequency and intensity each year, it is becoming increasingly apparent to the population at large that prediction’s from climate scientists are not depicting a far future, but are already under way and accelerating. The Paris Climate Agreement to limit global heating to under 1.5°C (an acceptable level of “doom”: e.g., at least only ~95% of corrals reefs will die and not all of them) was decided 5 years ago. This goal requires for society to quickly transition away from producing greenhouse gas emissions in all areas of life, including, of course, research.
I’ve been involved in the the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy’s (MPIA) Sustainability Group over the last years before coming to Stockholm and we have looked in detail at the carbon footprint of astronomy, viewed at the level of one astronomical institute. Understanding the distribution of CO2 impacts of different activities commonly undertaken by researchers (flying, computing, infrastructure, telescope operation) has to be the evidence basis for actually achieving carbon neutrality in time to prevent catastrophic levels of warming in the climate system. Climate change in turn has a catastrophic impact on astronomy itself as evidences by, for example, increasigly worse conditions at previously optimal observation sites.
This assessment has to be repeated yearly and combined with an actual path of emission reductions and a concrete plan to achieve said goals. Knowing the CO2 footprint of an institute is only the first step towards this goal, but incredibly important. In this talk I will walk you through the example of what we are, and have been, doing at MPIA, but many of the same conclusions will be applicable to institute’s world-wide. These activities have been put into motion by students and staff and are proof that involvement in this topic can lead to real change. As such this talk is intended to spark a discussion and also be a discussion.