Why I encourage overseas travel (even though flying’s terrible for the environment)

I consider myself an environmentalist and an avid traveller – is that a contradiction?

Strictly speaking, I suppose so, yes. As an environmentalist you are expected to live as lightly on the planet as possible, but flying has a huge carbon footprint. We could purchase carbon offsets for every flight we travel on but that doesn’t change the fact that boycotting the aviation industry would be more effective. Yet, despite being aware of that I’m still a huge advocate for overseas travel, and here’s why: 

Travel fosters empathy

And I believe that empathy is a valuable, no, crucial trait for the human race to possess in order to thrive in the future.

When someone has visited a place and socialised in their community you’re much more likely to care when something goes wrong there. Why do you think many of us seem to care so much more about the atrocities occurring in London rather than similar horrors happening in Syria? I’d argue it’s for two reasons:

  1. We can imagine it. We can visualise it because many of have been on London Bridge, we’ve eaten at Borough Markets and;
  2. For many of us Australians the cultural similarities between Oz and the UK also enhance our connection to Mother England’s people

When we have the privilege of experiencing a culture and people distinct from our own we are able to embrace our commonalities as human beings rather than our differences as Australians versus Kenyans, for example. I love this quote from Maya Angelou:

So whilst we expend precious carbon emissions in travel, I believe the personal growth it cultivates will reap benefits for fellow humans and our planet in the future.

Travel highlights natural wonders on our Mother Earth

It may not happen for every traveller, but I believe it does for many – we get to see some incredible natural wonders and consequently develop a reverence for the staggering beauty of our planet. This awe often translates to a determination to protect it.

If you’ve had the honour of swimming with whale sharks in Mexico, you’ll be almost personally affronted to hear that their home, the ocean, is being used as a plastic dumping ground and entering their food chain (and ours too, by the way).

If you’ve witnessed the Hindu pilgrims descend on the Ganges River in Varanasi to cleanse their sins in its purifying waters, you’ll be disgusted to hear that those so called “purifying waters” are strewn with toxic chemicals released by the textile industry – causing many health issues as well as the expected environmental catastrophes.

If you’ve snorkelled or dived in the Great Barrier Reef you’ll be gobsmacked to find out that the Australian government is permitting its destruction by allowing one of the largest coal mines on the planet to go ahead despite its ports and coal ships expected to run through the Reef (and this isn’t even considering the global warming implications of extracting yet more coal).

All these strengths of emotion will fuel action. And activism is imperative in this pivotal moment in history. Complacency will seal our fate, and heads up for those of you who aren’t sure what that fate is – there’s no happily ever after.

Travel promotes experiences over stuff

Moments not things. If we can move from stuff to experiences for how we enjoy ourselves it will more than likely be a positive for our planet’s wellbeing, and our’s too. When you travel, every thing you need is in one suitcase or backpack – and most of the time within those limited options there are items we never use! We realise how little we need to get by in life when we travel and it’s a liberating feeling. If we can remember this when we’re back home, it’s a valuable and earth-friendly lesson to keep.

If everyone on the planet consumed like Americans do (and Aussies, we’re on par) we would need 5 planets to meet our demands on resources. Globally we are consuming resources at a rate of about 1.4 planets annually – in other words. we’re not giving Mother Earth enough time to recover and recuperate and we just keep on taking more and more and more.¹

There is limited space and resources on this planet and it’s the only one we’ve got, so spending your afternoon at the beach or on a hike is much kinder to Mother Earth than spending it at the mall adding to an already overflowing wardrobe.

Travel is all about experiences and if you’re a lover of doing rather than accumulating, of being rather than having; well that’s going to work in the planet’s favour long-term and that’s a win for us too.

 

What do you think? Am I naive to believe that the long-term benefits of travel and being a traveller outweigh the short term negative environmental impacts of travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! – xxx

¹The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard (2010)

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