Fab city? A critical discussion.

The organisation of FAB17 and of the Fab City Summit in Bali in October 2022 raises important questions in terms of ecological impacts. That is regarding the events themselves, and it triggers a larger questioning of the sense of the activities of the Fab City initiative – issues that have regularly echoed in Fab City members discussion channels. On August 11th, 2022, thr34d5 hosted a participatory discussion on Fab City.

We proposed an open debate on four core themes:

  • Sustainability: we invited to consider not only the environmental impact of the event, but also the Fab City practices we can afford.
  • Inclusivity: as the main argument for organising a Fab City Summit in the global South is one of inclusivity and de-westernisation, we interrogated the actions taken in this regard.
  • Design: the Fab Foundation, and subsequently the Fab City initiatives, have been strongly advocating for STEM education. In light of the Climate Crisis, we discussed steps that can be undertaken to de-westernise this central advocacy of technology towards enhancing community and ecological resilience.
  • Governance: from a brief activity report on four Fab City nodes, we discussed the articulation of the current governance between local and global-centralised actors of the initiative. This was set in perspective with the public mission of Fab City and its accountability towards all citizens of a territory.

Through these four themes we invited citizens to join us in critically examining the global and local actuality of Fab City for engaging in its future together, and establish what the global initiative should stand for. Three commitments from Fab City were asked to be formulated at the end of the dialogue to act upon on the short-term (1 month), mid-term (6 months), and long-term (18 months).

Members of Fab City initiatives around the world have been invited to join us online, which facilitated an informed discussion. Everyone was invited to participate and ask questions via the Chat during the event, the hosts moderated the comments and animated the dialogue.

Participants in the discussion:

  • Tomás Diez, Fab City Foundation executive director,
  • Peter Troxler, researcher and co-chair of the FAB17 research session,
  • Francesco Cingolani, Fab City Foundation supervisory board member.

The hosts of the event were Nadja Gaudillière-Jami (president of thr34d5) and Adrien Rigobello (VP-founder of thr34d5).

Fab17 / FAB CITY SUMMIT Bali – some data relative to CO2 emissions ✈️

As we prepared this discussion, and in particular the section on the theme of sustainability, we gathered some data on the impact of the Fab City Summit that will take place in Bali this year.

We are aware that CO2 emissions are not the only indicator to measure an environmental footprint, and that this is not the only issue at stake. But we believe that what we gathered here is some useful data to have on the environmental footprint of the event. This is also the data we refer to in the discussion, and we wanted to make it available to anyone interested in the issues we tackle there. For a broader overview of issues at stake, we suggest listening to the video of the discussion and reading our Connecting Terroirs 2019 paper.

1. CO2 emissions of the flights

According to our calculations, the average cost of a round trip to Bali from cities of the network is 1.7T eq. CO2

In order to calculate this, we have listed all the cities of the network as they appear on the map of the Fab City website. The website was updated with this map shortly before we recorded the discussion. At the time of our first calculations, in preparation for the discussion, a full list was not available on the Fab City website, so we had to patch together our own list from various documents of the foundation. Some cities were on that list and are not on the current Fab City map. Some cities are on the Fab City map and were not on our initial list. We updated our calculations as we wrote the present report to reflect the actual list, which explains that in the video we talk about 1.6T eq. CO2, while we give 1.7T eq. CO2 here as average.

1.7T eq. CO2 is the average, a number you might find irrelevant. But looking at the list in detail, it is worth noticing that 8 out of 31 of the trips are above 2T eq. CO2. and that only 4 are under 1T eq. CO2. And there is no clear separation between the impacts traveling from the global South or North – while numbers for people traveling from India or Asia are clearly lower, they are the highest coming in from South America. Finally, we are also happy to update our calculation with exact numbers of people coming to Bali from each location if this data is made available to us.

We used the Google Flights emissions calculator, and cross-checked with the ICAO calculator to verify the results. They are visible in the table at the end of the present document. Depending on the exact travels, Google Flights proposes different levels of emissions for a trip – we systematically picked the lowest.

Some entities in the list are regions, so we had to choose a specific location for the calculation. For some other cities, there was no connection available to Bali, so we used another, nearby airport. In the table, you can see the location used for the calculation for each point in the Fab City network, as well as the source of the data.

2. Putting things in perspective

In order to stay under a 2°C temperature increase, the french agency for the environment (ADEME) recommends that the emissions of a citizen stay below 2T eq. CO2 / year.

So looking at the average cost of flying to Bali for the summit, you’d have about 300 kg eq. CO2 left for the year, knowing that currently in the western world it is very hard to reduce food-related emissions to less than 400 kg eq. CO2, that emissions related to public services are bound to be between 250 kg eq. CO2 and 1T eq. CO2 , and those related to heating are several hundred kilos as well. And we’re not even counting emissions from diverse other sources such as digital or fashion consumption!

ADEME numbers state that emissions related to public services are currently around 1.1T eq. CO2. / year / person, but the EEA states that the aim for European countries is to bring these emissions under 250 kg eq. CO2 / year / person.

Which means that for this Bali round trip, you are bound to overstep the emission threshold recommended by the experts, at least by 50%.

You might consider it worth it, but let’s put this in perspective. 

CO2 emissions are not equally shared. When doing this, it is because you are in a position of privilege that enables you to overstep the threshold. 

In a position of privilege in comparison to other, poorer people of your generation, for one thing.

But also in a position of privilege to people of younger generations. You might say that 3T eq. CO2 a year instead of 2 is not that bad. The American average is 15,5T eq. CO2 / year after all. But even that comparatively small overstep has consequences on what younger generations will be faced with, what their horizon will be. A study by Carbon Brief shows that people born after 2017 – so your children, our children, not later generations – will have to respect a much lower threshold if we don’t respect ours more strictly: 0,8T eq. CO2 / year (source 1, source 2). And it is likely that they will not be faced with choosing whether they are at 2 or 3, at 0,8 or more, but that they will be forcefully constrained to 0,8 given the climatic situation. Anyone traveling to Bali and in doing so overstepping their threshold (for there is no alternative to overstepping if you fly) is very literally taking possibilities away from someone else.

This led to the question we asked in the discussion:

Looking at it like this, is it really worth it, is it still acceptable, to organize an event without even offering the possibility of a hybrid format?
To listen to Tomas’ answer and the ensuing discussion, you can find the link to the video here.

Questions have also been raised regarding the environmental cost of a digital event in comparison to these numbers. We found the following numbers: an 80-hours HD conference on Zoom with 500 participants per call would consume 1 485 kW/h electricity and emit 344 kg eq. CO2 (source). In total, not per participant. It’s 1 500 times less than the total flight-related emissions we calculated. And while we are aware that meeting people in Zoom does not amount to meeting in real life, we believe such numbers should be given consideration.

3. Offsetting the footprint

If you are of the opinion that the impact of a fully local event makes it worth spending that much carbon, one last key element is to consider whether the emissions can be offset.

The ADEME states that compensation mechanisms can only be carbon capture devices, or drastic measures to decrease our collective carbon footprint, such as taxing kerosene. Which means that any other measure will have no meaningful impact on the matter.

Tomas mentions in the video that some efforts have been made to limit the impact of the Bali Fab City Summit, specifically citing a collaboration with local plastic recycling companies. For now, we found no data on other efforts from the foundation to diminish or offset the footprint of the event. However, as we suggested at the end of the video, we hope to keep gathering relevant data on the environmental footprint of the event, and add it here for anyone wishing to gain an overview on the matter.

Table 1 – CO2 footprint of travels to Bali from cities of the Fab City network

City or RegionLocation used for calculationCO2 emissions (1-way)
(kg eq. CO2)
CO2 emissions (round trip)
(kg eq. CO2)
Source for CO2 emissions calculation
Auvergne-Rhône-AlpesClermont-Ferrand7671534Google Flights
BarcelonaBarcelona8821764Google Flights
Belo-HorizonteBelo-Horizonte13912782Google Flights
BrestBrest8581716Google Flights + SNCF Connect
Cambridge (USA)Cambridge (USA)9991998Google Flights
CuritibaCuritiba13942788Google Flights
DetroitDetroit9091818Google Flights
EkurhuleniBloemfontein5881176Google Flights
GeorgiaTbilissi6181236Google Flights
HamburgHamburg6801360Google Flights
KamakuraKamakura425850Google Flights
KeralaCochin294588Google Flights
Mexico CityMexico City10372074Google Flights
OaklandOakland8541708Google Flights
OccitanieToulouse8851770Google Flights
ParisParis8561712Google Flights
PlymouthPlymouth6671334Google Flights
RecifeRecife12312462Google Flights
RennesRennes8571714Google Flights + SNCF Connect
SacramentoSacramento8721744Google Flights
Santiago de ChileSantiago de Chile9451890Google Flights
Sao PauloSao Paulo13222644Google Flights
SeoulSeoul328656Google Flights
ShenzhenHong-Kong273546Google Flights
SomervilleSomerville10442088Google Flights
SorocabaSorocaba13372674Google Flights
ToulouseToulouse8851770Google Flights
VelsenVelsen7071414Google Flights
YucatanCancun13692738Google Flights
ZagrebZagreb7351470Google Flights

Average emissions of a round trip (kg eq. CO2) = 1 722,07

Total emissions of travels for the event (kg eq. CO2) = 516 619,35
(300 foreign participants hypothesis)


Screen capture of the Fab Fest Bali website (16/08/22).

You might have seen the list of speakers of the Fab Fest Bali, aka FAB17 & Fab City Summit. The third keynote speaker that is announced is renown as the son of a former Indonesian president and chairman of The Habibie Center, a foundation founded by the former president. While the Fab event organisers have recently launched the Fab Island Challenge inviting foreigners flying to Bali to save the local environments (areas of intervention on the screen capture below), Ilham Habibie is also chairman of two companies. The first, PT. ILTHABI Rekatama, is an investment company active in Oli & Gas, Coal Bed Methane, Gold Mining, Kaolin Mining, Coal Mining, Banking, among other fields. The second, PT. Regio Aviasi Industri, is an aeronautic industry manufacturing regional aircraft (80 and 100 passengers).
Ilham Habibie is chairperson of the board of trustees of The Habibie Center and founder of CAST, two supporting organisations of the Fab Fest Bali event.

We present these information publicly for anyone to make an educated opinion for themselves on the coherence of the discourse of the Fab City Foundation and Fab Foundation on sustainability. Moreover, in the discussion with Tomás Diez, we now understand better the sense of the “false dilemma” that he presented, asking “should I accept money from an oil company to do something good for humanity?” (watch to this moment in the video). What is good for humanity?, we answer here, How are you making an educated decision on such an ethical issue?, With whom and for whom?.
Further on this ambiguous dilemma in Tomás Diez: https://theindexproject.org/community/guest-blog-design-in-the-time-of-cholera
You really always have a choice in your patterns of consumption.

Screen capture of the Fab Island Challenge website (16/08/22).
Screen capture of Ilham Habibie LinkedIn page (16/08/22).
Screen capture of the CAST About Us website (16/08/22).
Screen capture of the The Habibie Center Organizational Structure website (16/08/22).