It is two years since Michael Paul Gallagher, sitting in a video-conferencing studio in Blackpitts, Dublin, ran a seminar for 600 educationalists gathered in Wellington, New Zealand. They already had some 30 images which Michael controlled with Powerpoint as he talked on “The courage to be different: educating a Christian imagination in today’s culture”. Despite the 12-hour time-gap and the planetary divide between speaker and audience, they enjoyed a lively exchange. Fr General, acutely aware of what video-conferencing could offer, had already expressed an interest in setting up a studio in the Roman Curia. When Jesuits travel to distant meetings, they pay a heavy cost in time, energy, money and the enlarging of their carbon footprints. Perhaps the days of flying to international meetings in costly carbon-spewing airplanes are numbered. Read Jim Corkery’s rich reflection on his experience of video-conferencing.
I like to travel, to meet new people and to see new places. But the size of my carbon footprint sometimes bothers me. I have similar concerns about the Society worldwide and about how, as an international body that needs to maintain connections across countries and continents, we might achieve these connections in more ecologically responsible ways. It seems to me that – while it is important to meet face to face – it is not always necessary to continue doing so, once we have come to know one another personally.
This is where video-conferencing suggests itself as a genuine alternative. I experience it already as a member of the Steering Committee of the Irish School of Ecumenics Trust, which meets from time to time in Dublin in video-conference with its Belfast members. The first time we did this I found it a bit strange. Now, when we meet in this way, I tend to forget that my Belfast colleagues are not actually in the room because the conversation flows so freely and we can all see and hear one another very well.
Kevin O’Rourke tells me that more video-conferencing is envisaged for his ‘four provinces’ work; so we are moving in the right direction! This is consistent, also, with emphases in recent papal statements and with the Society’s ecological concern, expressed anew in its (recently re-named) Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in Rome.