27 JUNE 2014 • VOL 344 ISSUE 6191 1461 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
abatement activities that will occur at a
given market price. We can certainly imagine subtleties that caution us from being
too precise about our rough calculations,
but our review suggests these issues are not
Richard G. Newell,1 William A. Pizer,2
1Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke
University, Durham, NC 27708, USA. 2Sanford
School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham,
NC 27708, USA. 3Duke University Energy Initiative,
Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
1. RGGI Emission Leakage Multi-State Staff Working
Group, “Potential emissions leakage and the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): Evaluating market
dynamics, monitoring options, and possible mitigation
mechanisms” (2007); www.rggi.org/docs/il_report_
2. H. G. Fell, D. Burtraw, R. D. Morgenstern, K. L. Palmer, L.
Preonas, “Soft and hard price collars in a cap-and-trade
system: A comparative analysis” (Resources for the
Future Discussion Paper 10-27-REV, 2010).
3. D. A. Ellerman, F. J. Convery, C. de Perthius, Pricing Carbon
(Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2010).
4. C. Bohringer, Oxford Rev. Econ. Pol. 19, 451 (2003).
A carbon code of
conduct for science
MANY SCIENTISTS SUPPORT emissions
reductions, but struggle with the fact
that our research programs can produce
a substantial amount of greenhouse gas
pollution. When our personal emissions
are greater than those of an average citizen
(1–5), we are faced with a credibility gap
in advocating for others to reduce their
It is unreasonable for modern scientists
to avoid emitting carbon entirely—such
an action could grind research to a halt.
However, it is difficult to determine when
and where we should consider carbon usage
to be appropriate, as there are no broadly
accepted guidelines for ethical emissions in
research. Since emissions are globally harmful (6), this issue requires attention and
debate within the scientific community.
The dilemma of how to conduct research
that causes harm has been thoroughly
explored in medical research, where
experimentation on animals is critical to the conduct of the discipline (7).
Guidelines in modern science are based on
three Rs: replacement with less sentient
animals (e.g., replacing vertebrates with
invertebrates); reduction in the number
of animals used; and refinement of the
research methods used such that pain
and distress are minimized (8). This
decision process can permit the conduct
of research that is painful or lethal to
highly sentient animals, such as primates,
provided that researchers can demonstrate
that they ruled out all other options, and
that the research is necessary. However,
it establishes expectations for research-
ers to minimize the harm caused by their
activities and to adopt alternatives where
possible. These expectations are then
enforced by institutional and national
animal ethics bodies.
Science should adopt a carbon code of
conduct, based on the three Rs. For scientific activities that require the emission of
carbon, researchers should replace with
less carbon-intensive activities, reduce
the scope of the activity, and refine their
research plan to maximize the scientific
return for each unit of carbon emitted.
If the researcher concludes that their
activity is essential and cannot be replaced,
reduced, or refined, then a fourth requirement should be to mitigate carbon impacts
through the purchase of reputable offsets
(9) or by mitigating their emissions in a
tangible and defensible manner (e.g., supporting community-based initiatives, such
as tree planting). This requirement to offset would need to be initiated by funders,
who would have to make such payments
allowable within their granting programs.
It may be argued that the contribution of
the science community to global emissions
is too small to warrant such attention.
However, the magnitude of our emissions
is less important than the harm associated
with the activity. It would not be acceptable
to cause undue, unregulated pain to a single
animal in the name of research, despite the
fact that this harm would represent a tiny
contribution to the collective suffering of
animals around the world. Carbon emis-
sions threaten the integrity of the global
ecosystem, so we should treat them with a
similar level of seriousness.
There is no debate within the scientific community that climate change is
dangerous and that emissions must be
dramatically and immediately reduced to
avoid catastrophic warming (6). Therefore,
our actions and behaviors should match
our messages. If broadly adopted, a carbon
code of conduct would not restrict the
advancement of knowledge any more
than adopting ethical standards in
animal research restricted medical science.
However, it would provide accountability,
help us reduce our carbon consumption,
and ultimately facilitate our ability to
engage the public on the issue of reducing
emissions across society. We have little to
lose and much to gain in seriously considering this most important environmental
issue of our time.
Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources, Fisheries
and Marine Institute of Memorial University of
Newfoundland, St. John’s NL, A1C 5R3, Canada.
1. C. Synolakis, S. Foteninis, Nature 461, 167 (2009).
2. L. Fahrni, Y. Rydin, S. Tunesi, M. Maslin, “Travel related
carbon footprint: A case study using the UCL Environment
Institute” (UCL Environment Institute, London, 2009).
3. W.M.J.Achten, J.Almeida, B.Muys, Ecol. Indic.34,352
4. I. C. Burke, Science 330, 1476 (2010).
5. D. Spinellis, P. Louridas, PLOS ONE 8, e66508 (2013).
6. IPCC, Climate change 2014: Impacts, adaptation, and
vulnerability. Contribution of working group II to the fifth
assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge,
7. C. Palmer, P. Sandøe, in Animal Welfare , M. C. Appleby, J. A.
Mench, I. A. Olsson, B. O. Hughes, Eds. (CABI, Cambridge,
2011), chap. 1.
8. W. M. S. Russell, R. L. Burch, The Principles of Humane
Experimental Technique (Methuen, London, 1959).
9. A. Brohé, N. Eyre, N. Howarth, Carbon Markets: An
International Business Guide (Earthscan, London, 2009).
Scientists should take a page from animal research guidelines to minimize carbon emissions.