A friend of mine loves to travel, but vows never to fly anywhere ever again. This is not because of a fear of flying or a desire to avoid the dreaded TSA indignities, but because of the carbon footprint it leaves on the planet. According to this article in the Seattle Times, one roundtrip flight from Seattle to Rome emits the same amount of carbon per person as 9 months of driving in the average American car.
I’ll be the first to admit that this is a horrifying statistic. I struggle with this concept every day. In Sweden the term for this type of flight shame is “flygskam”.
While I admire my friend’s commitment to the planet, I have mixed emotions about how small her world has become. In this era when nationalism is on the rise, bringing with it an increase in hate crimes, we need to broaden our horizons, not shrink them.
Perhaps if Trump had studied abroad in Mexico as I did, he wouldn’t have said, that “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
I genuinely believe that it’s a great deal harder to demonize people when you’ve broken bread with them. I have no desire to wall a child off from safety when I’ve held one just like her in my arms. And I can’t close my mind and pretend that my way of living is the only right way since I’ve witnessed so many other people living differently and thriving in their own ways. I also truly believe that when I travel to other countries, I am helping those economies, and I am also acting as an ambassador to demonstrate that some Americans are good people, too. I think travel is essential.
So what to do to mitigate this flygskam?
In that same Seattle Times article, it mentions that Rick Steves is donating a million dollars a year to groups that help people who are negatively impacted by drought and famine. This will sort of offset the carbon footprint of the large number of people who fly with his tour groups to Europe each year. It’s a start.
But Should You Buy Carbon Offsets? That link suggests that this type of financial salve on your environmental guilt is akin to paying people to do the right thing so you don’t have to. Well, as with all things regarding this issue, it’s not quite that black and white. If you find a legitimate carbon offset, then you’re actually paying someone to do the right thing who couldn’t or wouldn’t have done so in the first place. That, to me, is a good thing. Because of this, I vow to pay 50 dollars in carbon offsets for every roundtrip international flight I take, and 25 dollars for every domestic one. But I can’t stop there.
The best way to reduce your carbon footprint in this world is to do it yourself. I’m committed to recycling, composting, threadcycling, getting energy efficient appliances, turning off lights, reducing my heating and cooling, buying locally, and eating less meat. I’m building a bug house. I’ve got a bat house. I’m also looking into wind turbines. The state of Washington is on the forefront of green burials, so I will have one when the time comes.
I also think that corporate travel needs to be drastically reduced. In this age of video conferencing and virtual reality, there’s no reason for the vast majority of it. And telecommuting needs to be considered for more jobs.
I think carbon neutral perfection is unobtainable. I have feet. I’m going to leave a footprint. But if I can do something, I will, and I must.