Two Simple First Steps to be an Effective Sustainable Traveller
It’s the beginning of the year and the beginning of my blog – which would derive much of its content from travel. Hence I can’t avoid touching on this issue as an environmentally literate person. Most especially post-COP21, which is a landmark deal because as we all know, human beings don’t get around to achieving international consensus unless it is a matter of Ultimate Entire Species Doom. And sometimes not even then.
At no time perhaps in the history of man, has travel been so desired by so many. Not just for the more obvious reasons of the millennial wanderlust and the ascending bucket list culture, but for darker reasons such as economic desperation, and displacement by war or climate change. Quite uniquely for the age, never before has it also been so feasible and safe (I’m comparing at the scale of centuries here) for so many.
But here let us consider only ourselves: those who travel because we want to. Let’s face it. We will invariably do so by air.
There can be no doubt that there are considerable costs to the climate system from air travel. As with virtually anything we buy in the economic system, most of the costs are absorbed by the natural system rather than borne by the manufacturer. These are not factored into what you pay, and so in a way this makes air travel ‘artificially’ affordable.
But you’re about to go already, I know! And for one reason or another, the truth is I too am always in between travel. There are other sites that you can go to for you to learn more about the carbon implications of travel, like this one. In time I may share stories that may evoke your own reflections around responsible travel.
But if you would rather do that later, I just want to talk about two things.
1. Sustainable travel: Take responsibility
Every change starts from a decision, and that decision is to take responsibility for yourself. In the context of sustainability, it is about accepting responsibility for your own impacts.
But this leads to the obvious question – exactly what am I taking responsibility for? And this leads to the next important action, which is to measure.
You can begin to measure what you consume and the weight of your lifestyle on earth, in any number of ways. It doesn’t really matter which – start with the one that is easiest for you.
For some, this could be to start segregating household waste, to see what actually is being consumed and thrown away. This can be powerful, because waste isn’t normally visible to us because it’s so easily taken away by the local council, and we don’t think about it at all. For others, it could be buying an power consumption meter, and understanding where in the house you’re wasting electricity.
For travellers, however, I recommend calculating your travel carbon emissions.
Carbon footprint and offsets
And that brings me to Point One, and why the beginning of the year is relevant for this topic. This is when I do my annual carbon offsetting.
When I decided to begin doing this some years back, it took me some searching to find some means to do it, that also gives some assurance that it would be a real offset. Back then some airlines began offering the option during ticket booking, but I find that gradually they all seem to have given up. One of the options I found then that is still standing is TerraPass. Its user-friendly carbon calculator gives you a quick idea for the carbon emissions for your flights.
While it is not a substitute for even more sustainable habits (fellow environmentalists would be quick to point out), it is at least owning some of the costs of our current ones.
Just to give you an idea for how reasonable it is to be accountable for your own emissions: my entire year’s total offset costs me about as much as two good restaurant meals. (Full disclosure: I do strive to live sustainably; my air travel emissions form the lion’s share). That’s all. It is really a negligible incremental cost to your total travel budget!
2. Sustainable travel: Intention
My second recommendation is to set – and re-set – your intention. Whatever it is that you resolve to do to become more sustainable, take some time to make that intention. What this does, is get you used to creating the mental space for you to recognise your habits, and create a different action to change it.
Now, as anyone who has ever made New Year’s resolutions would testify, sticking to the intention is a different kettle of fish! That’s why I ask you to re-set the intention, over and over again. Even if you failed miserably to keep it.
Maybe it was too ambitious. Maybe you discovered an obstacle that you need to remove first. Whatever it is, learn from the attempt and do the intention again. And again, and again.
What this does is gets you to a place where you’re used to not giving up. Used to turning a deaf ear to unsupportive people. Used to sticking to things you know are important even if you sometimes feel alone.
This is the most important thing for any long-term change – it can be slow and with small steps, but you cannot give up.
Travel with teja – travel with purpose
Now to Point Two. We are a collection of very different people, and there’s no telling what each of us values in the way that we travel.
There is great gain in travel, and there is also cost. It is a thing still out of reach of so many, and so remains a privilege. So indulge in a little teja practice, and reflect on why you’re going. Be honest and even if that’s all you can do for now without changing anything, do it anyway. Even if you admit to yourself it’s actually a terrible reason but you don’t want to stop. Do it anyway and leave it be.
Then tomorrow do it again, at breakfast perhaps, or before sleep. And again, all the days of your travel. Even if you don’t change anything. Just think about it, and know why you’re there. Do this one small thing, if that’s all you can commit to doing. But do it every day.
Be happy, but be also aware. Train yourself to be aware. Then in time, let the travel itself change you. Then, you’ll be ready for the practical tips and ideas for more sustainable travel.
But for the very beginning: take responsibility, and know yourself.
Then come join us on the horizon.