Soooo I’m back! Sorry for disappearing like that, thesis defense + paper presentation at an international conference + some travels will do that for you, I guess. This trip has been… interesting, to say the least. Definitely a growing experience, though in which direction I am still not entirely sure.
See – I am just on my way back (provided there is no volcano eruption, which might very well be the case) from Iceland, where I was able to present a paper at the International Society of Ecological Economics’ biannual conference. Which was a great great great experience – to learn about ecological economics, to meet interesting people, to practice presentation and self-representation skills (and how to not mention you just finished your Master’s without outright lying in order to keep people’s interest 😉 and also of course to get to know Iceland and its people more in depth. However, flying here – again, after my tourism trip over Easter, which I had planned long before the conference came up – came attached with some rather hefty feelings of guilt.
First of all, can we just mention the hypocrisy – that we all chose to ignore – of talking about increasing human footprints and the necessity to downscale our environmental impacts after having all flown to the possibly most remote location of Europe for a three day event. Not to mention that the conference wasn’t particularly environmentally friendly in its organization – paper cups and exotic fruit abounded -, but just the intense hedonic aspect of meeting somewhere nice where nobody has ever been before so people can do more travels there (which is why Reykjavik might be the conference capital of the world) gave me some bellyaches when what we talked about was the need to dematerialize our throughput and find alternative sources of happiness.
Then, I guess, came the fact that I was still not quite sure I belonged there. Sure, I had been pretty involved in the background work and the writing of our paper, and the fact that I got the opportunity to present it as well (which my team leader had originally been allotted but assigned me) was a bit more of a justification, but I felt that the Society could have well survived without my presence, and I could have probably learned just as much sitting at home reading through the abstracts. Would it have been the same thing? Absolutely not! But would it have been sufficient? I daresay yes. And this is complicated, because if everybody thinks this way, conferences wouldn’t happen anymore. And if just the ‘important’ people show up, how are up-and-coming young professionals supposed to make their way and network? Plus, I didn’t feel like I didn’t have interesting points to make or thoughts to contribute, on the contrary. But in my status as a young researcher, it still felt superfluous. Or just extremely selfish – a plane ride just to be able to put ‘presenter at ISEE conference’ on my resume? Is that forward-looking or just vain?
I guess what it comes down to is the fancy psychological term of cognitive dissonance – I wasn’t acting in a way that was true to my ideals, or true to the way I would like to perceive myself – as environmentally responsible, sensible, and somebody who can weigh pros and cons and make selfless choices. In the very moment when I was presenting a paper on the motivational factors for engagement in sustainable consumption, I was doing the very opposite of sustainably consuming.
Struggling with that guilt, and the attached guilt of taking another week of not-totally-necessary vacation in Iceland in which I did have extremely gratifying and pleasant experiences, sort of overshadowed my trip in general, if I am quite honest. Which is a shame, because it was a great opportunity to take advantage of, and take advantage I did – just with that voice in your head that asks ‘did you really deserve this? and did you really need it to be happy?’
I don’t know what the answer to that question is. And as I will do more travels and have more experiences in the coming year than (probably) ever before, I think I need to come to terms with this voice in order to get the most out of the experiences while still remaining humble and minimalist in my ways. As I said, a growing experience for sure.
However, one way I justified my conference participation to myself is that I will blog about the topics I found enlightening, thought-provoking or plain interesting to put in the general arena, even if they are not closely linked to food policy per se. So keep your eyes peeled – the next posts will be coming soon!