Reconciling Sustainability & Experiences of a Lifetime

Machu Picchu

I’ve never really had the urge to travel the world before and it hasn’t really played on my mind that I might be missing out…until now that is.

There is a certain level of inspiration to be found in the amazing performances in the Olympics right now and in team GB in particular, but this is not the only thing sparking my desire to make more of the opportunities that life presents. I have a friend who is currently touring the United States while posting a series of incredible photo albums of her adventures on Facebook. The photos themselves are pretty amazing but it must be so much more mind-blowing to actually see these sights with your own eyes.

My dilemma comes from my desire to live a sustainable life and how one can reconcile this desire with the desire to see the world, even if only once in a lifetime. It is a tough problem and I am not currently sure how to approach it but I’ve got some thoughts on it that I’ll share with you.

Motivation Made In Nature

I guess the biggest justification I can find for flying around the world to experience the wonders that it has to offer is that it is only ever going to give me a whole load more motivation to continue my push towards a life with as little impact on the environment as possible.

It will push me harder to spread the kinds of messages and behaviours that are required in the general population if we are to meet out goals as a country and as a planet to prevent catastrophic increases in temperature.

I would hate to begrudge anyone the chance to see things that you just cannot see in the UK. Personally I would love to see the Amazon rainforest so that I can experience its importance in real life and to see the conservation work that is going on there. Also, I have always wanted to marvel at the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands and trek to Machu Picchu which I imagine to be one of the most incredible sites and sights that you can experience.

Lifetime Vs. Annual Carbon Footprints

It may sound like I am talking myself into a trip but I think it is important not to confine our horizons based on a carbon footprint for any 12 month period. In an ideal world we would of course maintain a low impact lifestyle year after year but if we are to look on such a trip as a once in a lifetime event, it gives us more of an allowance because we can, in effect, spread the effect over a number of years.

I know that it does not quite work like that and that emissions now are not necessarily equivalent to emissions later and this is one of the main areas where I struggle. We need to be reducing our greenhouse gas emissions starting now and this is not in alignment with a flight half way around the world.

The Rights of the Rich?

Now I certainly don’t consider myself to be rich in Western terms but if you compare my income and lifestyle to that of people living in much of the world then I am certainly well off. This is another good reason why travelling across the globe to enjoy a “holiday” in South America does not lend itself to a fair and equitable distribution of greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words – should anyone be able to pollute to a greater extent just because they can afford it when others have carbon footprints that are so much smaller?

Putting Restrictions on Life

I am pretty torn to be honest because while sustainable living is, by necessity, restrictive to a certain extent, you can overcome most of these restrictions by enjoying greener alternatives; you can use public transport instead of driving, you can enjoy healthy vegetables instead of eating meat every day and you can try to avoid excess packaging in shops.

But it isn’t really possible to see Machu Picchu in the UK (except in photos) and you are not likely to see flamingos in their natural habitat like you can on the Galapagos Islands unless global warming really kicks in!

So is this just something we have to accept? Do we simply have to refrain from travelling anywhere that requires a plane to get there?

What do you think? Is it acceptable to travel by air for any reason or should we keep our feet firmly on the ground? Be as honest as you like…

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


9 Responses to “Reconciling Sustainability & Experiences of a Lifetime”

  1. Ann
    August 12, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    I know we should think of the next generation but life is too short and a once of a life trip would be permissable as long as you dont do it all the time after all the plane will go there even if you dont. We cant stop this happening. I say go for it, do you need anyone to carry your cases for you?

  2. Chris W.
    August 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    I think that it is okay to take a once a lifetime trip every once in a while. After all, moderation is a good thing. Maybe you could take a trip that allows you to help the planet like an eco-tour. Maybe there is a habitat that needs volunteers to do a restoration.

    • August 30, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      Yeah that is what I hope to do Chris, find a project where I can contribute to some sort of preservation/restoration so I won’t feel so bad about the flights.

  3. Lisa
    August 30, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    I’ve myself have never had the urge to travel the world, or even leave the United States for that matter… But I do worry about our “Beautiful” Earth, and wonder about all the things that we should be doing to preserve it’s “Beauty”…. Generations to come, have the right to enjoy the Beauty as well!!!!

    • August 30, 2012 at 9:25 PM

      I certainly want to preserve the beauty of the natural world for future generations but I would like to see a bit of it too – I am hoping that a once in a lifetime trip would be sufficient and that I could live the rest of my life happy that I’ve experienced the world I am trying to save.

  4. clusteredmaps
    September 2, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    The beauty of nature is apparent in much of the world. Unfortunately it is actually possible to cause desertification by being careless. Clearly it is important to be responsible.

  5. Jenny
    September 2, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    It’s a difficult issue. My husband and I have made a commitment to stop flying. There are undoubtedly downsides, such as not being able to go on holiday with our friends. However, I actually don’t miss it. Also, the fear of my friends and family thinking I’m a hypocrite is enough to put me off. There are also benefits such as knowing that you’re being a role model for others, and feeding back into the British economy, particularly in areas such as Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, which pretty much rely on tourism.

    I think it’s important to think about why you go on holiday, and what your priorities are. For example, my list would probably go something like this: 1. Relaxation; 2. Nice food and good drink; 3. Fun; 4. Learning about places. Your list might have things like ‘visiting amazing places’, or ‘seeing wonders of the world’. This will provide you with a good start. Then, you can think about where you could get those experiences from.

    In terms of alternative ways to travel, you can actually go pretty far without flying. You have options such as Eurostar or ferries if you want to go abroad, or you can also try exploring this wonderful country. You could also travel by cargo ship, which would certainly be interesting and is pretty well carbon neutral. Avoid cruising, though, which produces about double the emissions of flying and is also responsible for dumping loads of s**t (both metaphorically and literally) directly into the sea. Even travelling by car is less carbon-intensive than flying.

    So, there are plenty of ideas. For amazing places, how about taking a train through the alps, or visiting the fjords? Often, the journey itself can become more enjoyable and relaxed.

    • September 3, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      Hi Jenny, thanks for the fantastic comment – I love your idea of listing down holiday priorities and basing your destination around that. Most of the time for me a holiday is about relaxation so I can unwind from work life and the UK is absolutely perfect for this.

      I have looked up travelling by cargo ship and it is very expensive because of the length of time you spend on board but who knows, maybe I could one day have a round the world trip on a cargo ship – that’d be quite some experience!

  6. Chris Willie
    September 4, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I think all of us should realize that we are responsible for what we leave behind us, so everyone should get more involved in protecting the environment and focus on our own recycling habits. However, a trip of a lifetime should not be completely ruled out on environmental grounds – I think it is has to be a balance.

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