What can you do at home?We're green travelers abroad. We take short showers in communal hostel bathrooms, we hoard soap slivers rather than use shampoo in hotels' complimentary plastic bottles (yeah, those don't exist in hostels, anyway -- which are energy-savers in their own right, with unheated/uncooled dorm rooms sleeping ten often being lit by one or three light bulbs); we walk and use public transportation a lot, seldom renting cars; we usually eat very locally abroad -- like from produce markets and street stands -- thus supporting local grassroots/farm economies...and so forth. You can bring some of the ways you travel abroad back to the US: the US's Earth Day on April 22 (international Earth Day happenings happen at the vernal equinox in March -- learn why there are two Earthdays) is a perfect time to think about how to do that:
Carbon Offsets and Plane TravelI guess I tend to hope that my household's everyday general life offsets some of the things I do (like flying) that may be less than perfect: I've recycled forever, I drink from the tap... blah blah. (Amazing how quickly I can fall into self-justification when feeling potentially defensive.)
On the guilty side: when in developing countries and truly too beat to face walking even two more blocks, I take exhaust-spewing buses that probably, with one short trip, offset every plastic water bottle I've ever recycled in my life (though the devil on my shoulder always says, "That bus was traveling anyway...."); I do drive around North America, often in an old VW bus (and I do hope to buy a used hybrid vehicle this summer). And I do fly in planes. Quite a bit.
Which brings us to carbon offsets and green travel. I've felt guilty for ages about flying around at some cost to the planet. (Here I go, associating green and guilt again. In fact, I also sometimes feel sorta guilty for promoting travel to relatively less-invaded spots on the globe, but I can quickly justify that: backpackers and independent travelers must leave a smaller footprint, even if only out of economic necessity, than mainstream travelers.
As a frequent flyer, I've been wondering about the concept of buying carbon offsets on airplane flights for some time, and today noted a Google alert for Iva Skoch's "Can you buy your way out of hell with carbon offset fees?" with interest. (I loved the first sentence of her piece: "Carbon offset fees work like penance in the Roman Catholic Church.") Her Gadling blog post referred me to About.com's own Arlene Fleming, who details what which US airlines do with one's carbon offset fees, which are voluntary contributions made in hopes of beginning to offset the environmental damage one human does by being a passenger on a plane. (According to SELF [Solar Electricity in the Developing World]: "A carbon offset is an initiative which neutralizes the impact of a carbon emission.")
Arlene's also got the scoop on which US airlines have plans for carbon neutral programs; as well, you might find West's "European Union Tells US Airlines to Go Green or Get Lost" interesting. Globally, check out a blog post stating that "...only 24 out of 374 world wide airlines offer a carbon off-set policy" (via Gadling).
What do you think? My conclusion on the question of whether or not to pay an airline's carbon offset fee is basically the same as Skoch's: why not?
More Green TravelIn the interest of learning more about just how green (or not) I may be as a traveler and how much greener I can get with some more effort, I've started following Go Green Travel Green's blog, where Earth Day provided impetus for the launch of a cool series, "25 Days to Green Travel." I took the UK Guardian's Green Traveler Quiz, where I was stunned to learn that I'm an "eco warrior," and interested to note that the answers most naturally appealing to independent travelers were the "right" ones for green travelers. I used The Nature Conservancy's carbon footprint calculator to learn that my estimated greenhouse gas emissions are below the US average and hugely above the global average (it was the driving-around-North-America thing).
As for "green" travel outfits, tours and possibilities -- boy, that's a can of possibly-not-organic worms, isn't it? We're all beginning to see travel stuff claiming green-ness, like tours that I would want to research to the nth degree before taking, or really not-green things claiming some green connection -- swimming with dolphins in ecological preserves leaps to mind. (In fact, I'm reminded of voluntourism dilemmas wherein I, for one, always wonder if a given tour/volunteer travel company is merely cashing in on a popular leaning and pocketing profits dispassionately, or really doing its part somewhere... the pragmatist in me wants to say, "Show me the balance sheet!".) For now, I'm planning to keep doing what I do, which is conserve and re-use when possible while being constantly nagged by guilt that I could be doing more, and follow the research of folks like those at Treehugger, Planeta, Go Green Travel Green, and The Nature Conservancy.
Further interesting Earth Day and green travel reading:
- About.com's Student Travel:
- Elsewhere on About.com:
- Elsewhere on the web: