The sight of the Opryland Hotel underwater in May marked the beginning of an extreme weather season, highlighting for me the vulnerability of the meetings economy to effects of climate change.
Despite our industry’s proud tradition of planning ahead and anticipating risk, we’re paying little or no attention to the most severe crisis we’re likely to face in our lifetimes. Too many meeting professionals still believe climate change is a myth, despite overwhelming scientific evidence.
Those are the headlines. Now, the weather. The summer has seen massive flooding in Pakistan and northeast China, killer heat and wildfires in Russia, and huge chunks of Arctic ice breaking away from shore. These weather disasters have two things in common. They won’t affect your next meeting (unless you planned it in Rajanpur, Dandong, or Moscow). And they point to a predictable pattern of climate change that will drastically alter the meetings environment in the next five to 20 years.
Climate strategists often divide the response to this crisis into two categories. Mitigation is anything we do to curb the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Adaptation includes measures that cope with the consequences—the ones we’re already seeing, and the wave that lies ahead—that we’re too late to prevent.
To do its part to mitigate future climate change, meetings and events must launch a drastic carbon-reduction plan—making facilities far more energy efficient, reducing transportation emissions, and more deliberately calculating the trade-off between holding a face-to-face meeting and the resulting carbon impact.
It doesn’t mean we never meet. But to justify a meeting’s carbon emissions, even after we’ve bought carbon offsets, we have to be more clear about why each meeting is worth holding. If we can do as good a job or better with a series of regional meetings that requires less air travel and less carbon, our clients will thank us. Our grandchildren will, too.
But look no farther than Opryland, or last week’s five-year commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, to understand why mitigation is no longer enough. This is the moment for coastal destinations to take a second look at their storm-management systems, bearing in mind that the definition of a hundred-year flood ain’t what it used to be. CVBs can work alongside their communities to lobby for infrastructure and contingency plans to help them prepare for climate emergencies—and for legislation like the American Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the U.S. House before bogging down in Senate.
These are not issues that we expected to confront as meeting professionals. I suspect one reason so many planners and suppliers shy away from discussing climate change is that it falls so far outside our training, skills, and job descriptions. But it’s out there right now. We have very little time to solve it. And ignoring it won’t make it any less devastating when it hits us directly.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.