The AAS Sustainability Committee aims to inform and support AAS
members in matters relating to the environmental impact of our work and provide facts, information and recommendations to its members for engaging in dialogue with students, colleagues and the broader world community.
Why does the AAS have a Sustainability Committee?
The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe. We believe the advancement of astronomy requires that we provide ethical guidelines for AAS members and, for that matter, anyone involved in professional astronomical activities. All scientists should act ethically in the conduct of their research, in teaching and education, and in relations with both members of the public and other members of the scientific community.
AAS Ethics Statement, January 2010
Raising awareness of our environmental impact, and taking action to reduce it, are important ethical actions. These actions are based on our understanding of scientific evidence. While not representing scientists actively researching human impacts on our environmental change, the AAS nevertheless recognizes the work done by our fellow scientists on, for example, anthropogenic climate change.
In its 2012 statement on Climate Change, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has reconfirmed that there is compelling evidence of human impact on the climate system with potentially far-reaching consequences for ecological and political systems. The AGU has made a powerful case that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere significantly contributes to the warming of the global climate.[...]The American Astronomical Society (AAS) acknowledges the AGU’s careful review of the current body of knowledge using sound scientific methodologies, and recognizes its collective expertise in scientific subfields central to assessing and understanding global change. The AAS joins the AGU in calling for continued peer-reviewed climate research to inform climate-related policy decisions, to provide a basis for mitigating the harmful effects of global change, and to help communities adapt and become resilient to extreme climatic events.
Many AAS members agree with the National Academies' conclusions about climate change, and the need for rapid mitigation and adaptation.
The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to begin taking steps to prepare for climate change and to slow it. Human actions over the next few decades will have a major influence on the magnitude and rate of future warming. Large, disruptive changes are much more likely if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue building up in the atmosphere at their present rate. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require strong national and international commitments, technological innovation, and human willpower.
What can Astronomers do?
Astronomy is a profession like any other, and astronomers are citizens too. As all professional bodies should, the AAS strives to minimize its overall environmental impact as it carries out its mission ("A Greener AAS", 2007)
. Likewise, many astronomers seek to minimize their environmental impact while at work: the AAS Sustainability Committee support AAS members in such activities.
Astronomy is a pure science, driven by human curiosity. Nevertheless, the techniques and models developed in the process of conducting astronomical research often have broad utility. Advances in understanding of the Sun and of the climates of other planets help illuminate critical issues and inform thinking about climate change here on Earth. The impact of recent discoveries and the many new opportunities that they have created have led to great interest in astronomy.
Scientists play an important role in society - that of informing and educating the public about both the natural world, and the process of rational enquiry that allows us to understand it. Astronomy is a particularly accessible science, "stirring the public imagination and the human spirit" (Astro2010)
. Indeed, sensing this, "astronomers have seized opportunities to be innovators in public outreach" (Astro2010)
, and consequently speak to quite large audiences, either directly through the media or indirectly through their local networks. Astronomers not only have a responsibility to act ethically towards their environment, but, because their influence is amplified via their engagement with the wider public, they also have a responsibility to inform and educate those around them. It matters what astronomers say and do.
The AAS Sustainability Committee provides support for astronomers when teaching science and engaging with the public, including raising awareness about human environmental impacts, and the need to reduce them.