My mother says I worry too much. She says that I find things to worry about; and she is probably right. I worry about things in the future [first mammogram] and things in the past [did they understand what I meant?] and plenty of things to worry about in the here and now. With the worrying comes a big ol’ sack of guilt as well.
However, here is something I have been worrying about for awhile – and it’s a doozy.
I love to travel. LOVE. I grew up exploring the country with my family – we moved every three or four years, and I developed quite a taste for seeing and experiencing new things. Since my junior year of high school, I have lived right here in Maryland. That is ten years in the same place. A record for me. (Granted, I moved out of my parents’ house, went to college, and then bought a house with Kris, but it was still within a 30-mile radius) I get an itch to pick up and move far away (I am looking at you, Pacific Northwest) but there are some great things here too – like our jobs – so we stay. And how do I scratch that itch? Well, I go on trips. I travel around.
I love travel so much that I signed up for a class this summer called Travel Writing. I thought that my travels might be something that people would be interested in reading more about… even thought about a little side project as a writer. I have picked up some good tips, and have received some favorable and complimentary feedback from my instructor and my classmates.
One of our recent assignments was to write a list of the top 50 places we wanted to travel – off the beaten path kind of places – and how we could sell that trip to a publisher/magazine. I had 90 places on my list. I wasn’t trying to “outdo” anyone – I was just writing down the places I wanted to see and experience! No doubt, I could come up with some more without too much trouble. Just a quick flip through one of my magazines (my favorites: Budget Travel, and National Geographic Traveler and Adventure) reminds me of about 10 other places that I want to see.
The other side of the coin: In my daily life, I consider the consequences of my actions. I consider the footprint that I leave. I want to live with the lowest impact possible.
There is a lot more that I could do. Yet, I already do quite a bit. I am committed to the cause. Each day I learn something new (many thanks for the dynamic discussion in the Ravelry GreenCraft group) and I adopt new practices.
How do I reconcile my wanderlust and my (intense) desire to see/experience the world while considering my footprint?
Jet fuel emissions are extremely harmful and not sustainable in the least. Air travel is very ineffecient energy-wise, and depends on a non-renewable resource. Driving a car is not much better, and train travel is only slightly better. What about the places that I want to see (80% of the places are over water) but can’t get to without air travel?
According to Salon’s recent article, “You Are Now Free to Pollute About the Country“,
Flying still makes up a very small percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, just 1.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity each year come from air travel… In the U.S., that number’s about 3.5 percent. Yet those numbers are projected to rise sharply, making air travel one of the fastest growing contributors to global warming, while the world is struggling to reduce emissions. Over the next 20 years, more than 27,000 new aircraft will take flight, and the number of air travelers will double to 9 billion during the same period…
So, yeah. Now you see why I am worrying. It is a conundrum.
Carbon offsets don’t quite fit the bill. You can’t unpluck a flower, so how can you make the carbon dioxide evaporate? Sure, it may be better than nothing, but do those offsets just exist to help me feel psychologically better about my own pollution? I am all in favor of planting trees, funding wind farms, and conservation of energy, but the fact of the matter remains: it is about the CO2 here and now.
The Salon article above points to business travel as the #1 culprit. Cutting down/eliminating transcontinental and transoceanic flights would definitely have an impact. Technology allows us to have web conferences, chat sessions, and live demonstrations. If more companies adopted online meetings, things would get better, without a doubt. What will be the tipping point? When will it be widely adopted and implemented?
And what about the traveler like me? I do a handful of auto and train trips a year – usually about four or five. I go on two or three airplane trips a year; this year, two will be within the States, and one will be outside and far away. I know that my vacations are not the biggest problem, but they contribute to the overall problem. I proscribe to the “every little bit” ethic, and this is another instance, even if it is only a drop in the bucket.
On a related note: When I do travel, I consider the impact of my presence on the land and on the culture. I believe in fair trade and supporting local economies. I believe in sustainable development. I want to see people succeed and live happily and healthily. The social and societal aspects definitely play a role in all of this. [The Rise of the Conscientious Traveler] After years of study about other cultures, I want to witness them first hand. How can I do that while still living responsibly?
Perhaps I will cut my list of PLACES TO SEE down – I know that there is no realistic way to travel to 90 places far and wide in my lifetime. I can visit the library and read about them instead (and still live quite happily with some nice stamps in my passport). See pretty pictures of the people that do live there.
I can research the places and activities planned and ask myself what is the impact on culture and on the environment. I can reduce my consumption while on travel, just as I strive to when I am at home. Use responsible transportation while I am away – walking, public transit, biking. An obvious tip would be to travel close to home. The whole “playing tourist in your own town” goes a long way (it is one of my favorite pastimes). But don’t get me started on the whole driving TO nature thing…
There is simply no clear answer… at least not one that I can see.