A Real Guilt Trip: To Go or Not To Go

My bags are packed (well not really, but I’ve made a lot of lists) and I’m ready to go.  My first real vacation in six years is coming up and….I’m feeling guilty.   Excited, but guilty.  I hesitate to calculate how many miles I’ll be flying in the next month, but it’s well over 20,000.  And that’s bad for the planet.   The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organizations Carbon Emissions calculator says that my share of that trip will spew over 2,000  kilos (4, 550 pounds) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It gets worse: my flight leaves at 1:00AM, bound for Singapore.  Studies show that flights in the tropics are worse for emissions than in temperate zones, and night flights cause more damage than those during the day.  Argh.

So should I stay home?  Here’s where it gets even more complex.  What if I and all the other over-consuming developed-worlders decided not to travel?  Damage to the atmosphere would be reduced as airplanes stopped flying.  But environmental justice includes the human side: what of the economic effects of tourism?  The travel and tourism industry creates millions of relatively safe jobs for people at all levels of education; tourism is an economic lifeline for many developing world countries. Would the environment be saved by those grounded planes? Tourism is the spur to creating national parks and conservation areas in places that would otherwise be exploited for their natural resources.  If I don’t visit the jungle, there’s less economic incentive to preserve it, and it’s more likely to be burned down.

Every day we, as members of the Care2 community, make calculations, balance choices, and take action.  So I’m going on my trip, but I’ll be travelling consciously, using my guilty conscience as a spur.
Coming up:  the search for offsets….

Photo © Stephen Strathdee


LMj Sunshine

Good article and comments.

LMj Sunshine

Good article and comments.

LMj Sunshine

Good article and comments.

Hannah H.
Hannah H.7 years ago

You should definitely go on the trip, with or without you, the plane will still fly out letting all that Carbon Dioxide into the air anyway. Sorry, hate to make the truth known, but its true.

Graham M.
Graham M.7 years ago

When we travel, we need to be aware of what we are doing. If we take a flight, it must be for a purpose. There are ways we can reverse the negative impacts of flying. Planting native trees, caring for sick persons in the place we go to, spreading ideas about conservation. The idea of a vacation for vacation's sake is irresponsible and damaging to future generations. It is important to relax the mind, but one does not have to use up massive amounts of oil, and expend many tons of CO2 in order to do that. So, if you make the trip, make it count.

Monica D.
M D.7 years ago

About the national parks that tourism is supposed to be helping to protect - I read recently that the wildlife has been decimated in what sounded like one of the national parks in Africa. It is a national park, tourists go there to see the wildlife - and the locals farm their cattle in the park and hunt the wildlife. I read that 95% (?) of the giraffes have disappeared in that park in the last 15 years largely due to those activities, and large proportions of other wild species there. The ecotourism thing might be just another greenwash in some cases like this - a situation where locals want to have their cake and eat it too. By flying to these places, you might not be doing as much as you think!

cecily w.
cecily w.7 years ago

I love to fly, but realize reducing carbon-emission-due-to-flying will require a multifaceted "chip away" approach. Many of those business-related conferences and conventions could take place electronically. Most of those junkets the politicians travel for have no value for the rest of us, and we are paying for them. And that's just the beginning. . .

Monica D.
M D.7 years ago

I agree with Aisling - we need to adjust our expectations and our lifestyles to enable other species on this planet to continue. We should not be using our unsustainable lifestyles as justification for continuing these same unsustainable activities. For example, perhaps people should be considering whether they should in fact be moving overseas away from their families, and expecting lots of visits. Fundamentally, our lifestyles need to change - and they must, sooner or later. I think that sooner is better than later!

Thomas S.
7 years ago

You think private jets are disgusting? Last week I saw a jet powered speed boat in Mamaroneck, NY. First I smelled the jet fuel fumes, then heard the whine. He was slowly pulling out of the harbor, and there was a massive whirlwind of visible fumes spewing upward. He then upped the thruster and rocketed away. So thoroughly wasteful!

Aisling Wheeler
Aisling Wheeler7 years ago

So we "have to" fly for business, to see family etc. But given nearly 7 billion people on the planet, a safe limit of CO2 per person per year is about one ton. The current US output is around 17 tons per person per year, in the EU around 11 tons per person per year. A medium haul oneway flight is minimum 2 tons per person. We also have to live within the biological limits of the planet we happen to live on. We can't get away from the facts of climate change, doesn't it make more sense to live within those limits rather than justifying our reasons for living beyond our biological means?
The availability of cheap fossil fuels has made it possible for those who can afford it to zip around the world at dizzying speeds, but at a huge cost to the planet and all its inhabitants.