On the Ninth day of Christmas

My True Love gave to me… Nine Lords a leaping.

leaving Amsterdam in May 2010

Leaping from place to place is what we do across the nation and the world. We love to travel the globe. I did my first trip abroad this year, going to the Netherlands to visit some college friends. I would really love to do more but wonder about my impact on the planet.

I’m currently reading a book by Joan Dye Gussow called Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables. The New York Times calls Joan a nutritionist and matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement. But in this book she journals about all things environmental as well as understanding her feelings about losing her husband of 40 years to cancer and growing older.  In one of her rants on travel, she talks about how so many of the people of “money” seem to think they need to escape their large homes for an exotic locale. Joan feels that, if they are so unhappy in their homes, with swimming pools and tennis courts, that they need to escape to some other place, then they must not be really happy and that if we all stayed home more we would be happier and the planet would be better off. And what about those people in the slums who really deserve a chance to escape to one of those island paradises.

She had read an article in the NY Times about Penguins in Trouble World Wide because global warming was melting the ice on which they lived and later in the day she emailed a farmer friend this letter:

“I had an Aha! today when I saw in the paper that the penguins are disappearing. My first thought was “Oh, God, I’ve got to go see them before they disappear.” My second thought was “It’s that sort of impulse that is helping them disappear.” If we all travel all the time to see things before they’re gone, we’re helping warm the planet, which means they will be gone. We’ve gotten used to thinking that because we can do everything technically, we also can do it, so we go ….on and on.”

One of the points Joan is making is that we can’t create livable communities if we are out escaping to somewhere else. She sees this as a moral issue. By burning fossil fuels, which raises the CO2 level of the atmosphere and causes parts of the planet to warm. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of the polar ice sheets, thus threatening the wildlife and their food sources.

Lonely Planet has a wonderful article about Responsible Travel and how our tourism has had an impact on cities across the globe turning them into shopping meccas and disrupting the infrastructures of these places. They have made a commitment to advise travelers to be more responsible. They say, and I totally agree, “that it’s only through travelling, through meeting people that we begin to understand that we’re all sharing this world. We are all coming along for the ride, despite the barriers which governments, religions and economic and political beliefs often seem to build up between us.”

One way to have less guilt about travel is to purchase carbon offsets. Climate Care is the site that Lonely Planet recommends and Green Irene has a series of carbon offsets for not only air travel but also SUVs that you may own. You can also offset your large home or a small car. Carbon offsets are set up to pay into a company or project that is creating efficient energy. The most common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects. Some of the most popular carbon offset projects from a corporate perspective are energy efficiency and wind turbine projects.

While carbon offsets, like Cap and Trade policies, are somewhat helpful, I don’t think they are the end all fix. To me, it is basically paying a fine in order to be allowed to break the law and trash the planet. Interesting article about that here at Green Living Review.

street scene in Haarlem, Netherlands

I have told my Facebook friends who do lots of traveling that I can go to so many places by looking at the photos they post. Many of them are traveling, not so much for pleasure but out of necessity for family or work. While they go they take photos and share with me so that I can take virtual trips. This year, I have been to Rome, Greece, and China virtually and physically to the Netherlands. I dream of places I’d love to see before I die but know in my heart I may never physically see. I feel good about the efforts I am making in my own backyard to make my own little place my exotic escape.