I want to come clean. I love to travel. I love airplanes. I love to fly. I love to GO. But my love of GO as a way to reach my dreams and goals around traveling and connecting with the world involves a size 16 carbon footprint. So when I say I love the planet I have to ask myself, “is this really true?” Do I care enough to make hard choices, sacrifices or do I just expect others to do this – world leaders, president Trump, other people? In this post I’ll cover my plan of top ten ways to reduce my travel carbon footprint. If you’d like to learn a bit more about this topic check out this Carbon Footprint Factsheet.
The more I work to expand Kessi World and express myself fully to the world the more parts of my soul ask for attention. I work hard to bring to life experiences that inspire others to face meaningful connections through purpose based travel. My mission is important to me. This part of my spirit used to be a toddler but now is a moody adolescent with a continued growth trajectory. It keeps waving at me to get my attention; nagging me to take closer look at my core. Walking the talk, so to speak. Up til now, my core didn’t want to believe I’m adding to the problem of climate change by flying thousands of miles a year. Or by using air conditioning in hot and sweaty climates.
But when I take a deeper dive I realize that while I say I want to help the planet heal, am I doing enough, or my part of enough, to really live the talk?
The answer is yes, maybe and no. Let’s whip out my reduce travel carbon footprint scorecard as it sits today.
Yes: Washington State is 90% renewable energy through hydroelectric and 10% offsets are already in place. I recycle, compost food, try to avoid 15 plastic bags from one visit to the grocery store and make soda water with a soda stream instead of copious amounts of cans from the store. I gave up eating meat, except fish, two years ago. It can be inconvenient when traveling but I mostly stick to it unless I’m super hangry on a 10 hour airplane flight with meat and meat as the food options. I try to use those recyclable bags at the store, although that doesn’t really work out too well because I forget them in my car or at home.
Maybe: I make a mild attempt to carpool when possible, use public transportation to go to the airport and walk in my neighborhood instead of drive. But when I’m running late for a flight or want to meet friends out quickly for dinner all this can go out the door and I end up voting for convenience over the planet. At least when I use Lyft I know that they already pay offsets to cover their travel carbon footprint. I try to avoid cranking up the a/c in a hotel room but if I’m staying with some of my vampire friends who seem to need the room at 50 degrees, I tend to eventually lose that argument. I don’t water my lawn in the summer time and I use a front loading washer and dryer system. I try to pack light when traveling and wear my shoes to the bone.
No: I travel an immense amount of miles. Fly and every other form of transpiration possible, including my car at home. Maybe the human rickshaw in India has a neutral footprint but the rest of it, especially flying, makes an impact in the minus column for sure!
Reducing travel carbon footprint can seem futile when the world appears to be going in the opposite direction.
I’ve traveled to many places like Rome, Venice and Barcelona with over tourism and it hurts to know that I’m contributing to local people not enjoying their own lovely homes because of the constant noise. Noise meaning people, the sound and the energy. The energy of rushing, list checking, selfie-snapping that goes on as thousands of tourists descend on these world gems.
These crowds of people bring water bottles, hyperdrive a/c and thousands of takeoffs and landings on every type of airline. Not the best way to reduce travel carbon footprint.
Also journeyed to locales in Malaysia and Vietnam where plastic washes up on the beach, or even, the travelers at these places simply throw their garbage on the ground when they’re done. Or maybe less deliberate littering that comes from a plastic bag that happens to blow away when someone removes that one plastic bottle of water bought in the nearby ABC store in Hawaii.
Am I complicit in this mess? After all, I’m walking on the same beach with the litter bugs. I’m using air conditioning in my hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m also trying to get a photo of the Trevie Fountain. Since I didn’t fly in a glass airplane like Wonder Woman with no carbon footprint (of course Wonder Woman is carbon neutral), the answer is: I produce carbon when I travel. I’m still part of the problem. I might even be worse because I know the impact travel has on the world.
But I don’t want to stop traveling. I want to continue to experience new places and people and foods and weather and airplanes and airlines. I want to share these experiences with the world in order to help people connect to themselves and others in more meaningful ways. I have a mission.
What to do?
Travel writing community and carbon offset
Travel writers and bloggers all love exploring the world. Then they share their experience with others. Many careers depend on this. I’m part of a travel blogging community on Facebook in a private group. It’s a great source of support because there are many new writers and bloggers, just like me, who can reach out and get timely honest feedback from others on a variety of issues around the topic of travel and writing. Things like “help, I just crashed my site!” and questions around the science of Google search.
People are usually more than willing to help out, share their best practices with the group and contribute to conversations. Since there are about 3400 of us, every question/post usually drives several comments right away. I’ve asked some questions and received responses within a few minutes form several really friendly, helpful individuals.
So it’s funny to me that the other day I reached out to ask the tribe for best practices around carbon offsets for the travel that is required for many of us in order to create content to share on our blogs, sites, interviews, etc. I wanted to learn about the most efficient organizations; those that best leverage the money raised to fund projects that really make a difference.
Crickets. Crickets. More Crickets. So many crickets.
I began to wonder if it was me? Am I just a loser that no one wants to help? Was it a dumb question? Is there something obvious that I’m missing?
A few days later a kind soul gave me a reference to a UK-based site that helped get me on my way towards some of the best carbon offset programs. I mean, I could simply Google this topic, but I was really hoping the group would have some deeper insights into a very relevant concern for our “industry.”
My point is that even a group you’d think might be consciencous travelers who’ve seen the world and want to help save it seem to be at a loss for ways to really make a difference. I’m making a huge generalization here, but I took the silence to mean either one of two things – not really giving a F about it or feeling guilty for not giving a F about ways to reduce travel carbon footprint.
A light bulb went off in me.
We just aren’t in practice with discussions around actual practical incremental steps that can be taken to begin the long trudge up the environmental hill looming ahead of us. Discussion is held at such a massive, almost abstract level that it can seem there is no clear place to begin. It’s easier to complain about the environment and hurricanes and floods and the lack of political wherewithal to move the needle than to isolate a few key actions we each can take.
So let me begin.
First of all, this isn’t a blame or shame game
I don’t blame this Facebook group, or any other one citizen for that matter. It’s the output of our common day condition of overwhelming information that leaves us in a struggle to even get out of the proverbial bed to making a start. I’ve definitely felt the “what’s the use, I’ll be dead in 50 years” sensation before.
The first step is acknowledging that even though one person won’t put the rain forest back together again or prevent another hurricane in Florida, by little increments, we all can make an impact. The second step is accepting that a greener way of life might cost a little more or be less convenient.
We can drive down demand for beef.
We can use one or two or three less plastic bottles when traveling to a country that will just throw them away or even worse, dump them into the ocean.
We can vote with our travel dollars by supporting companies, destinations and channels that work towards a greener world.
It’s uncomfortable to think about the impact travel has on climate change, especially when livelihood depends on travel and going places and using carbon to take a taxi, bus, train, plane, boat or tuk tuk. Maybe only rickshaws are the way to go, but not very realistic.
Starting an open discussion is important, and my recent conversation with relatives digressed to political changes required in the USA in order to pivot policy to get things back on track. Yes, large scale work has to be started in earnest, but I’m tired of waiting for “It” to happen.
I want to start to be more responsible with my travel and while it still makes me cringe to look at the impact of my flights to Asia and Europe, not to mention domestically in the US, there are many things I can and will do. From offsets for my flights to a pescatarian diet to working hard not to waste food, I’m determined to try harder.
So what’s the plan to reduce my travel carbon footprint?
Please don’t take my ambition for pontificating from on high. I believe I can do better and maybe some of this resonates with you too? I want to do my part to improve and grow and be more aware, everyday whether at home or exploring other parts of the planet.
Do I have a plan? I’m so glad you asked. How about these top 10, for starters:
10. Reduce travel carbon footprint through “green” dollars, or euros, or pounds or yen…
We all vote with our dollars and I want to try better to support companies, hotels, airbnbs, and energy options that work hard toward sustainability. LEED platinum hotel? Okay. Eco-resort with showers from 7-8pm? Alright. A few dollars more for wind energy on my power bill? You bet. Lyft, for example, already pays offsets for all their rides. That matters to me more now.
I can also be more aware of each destination and how power is sourced. Iceland is a geothermal playground while many tropical islands burn oil to make power for air conditioning and a plethora of other things. There is a vast difference.
9. Waste not, want not
I want to limit wasting food and other items, both at home and while traveling. This year I’ve traveled so often that I have food in the house that goes bad by the time I return home, which is wasteful of not not only the food but the energy it took to get it through my door.
8. Support local
Local means local in my area of the Pacific Northwest, but when I do pick a little something as a souvenir I’m trying harder to find “Made here” stores and support local businesses and artists. The same goes for food and it’s usually fresher and more interesting.
7. Consume less stuff
This applies to life at home but especially helpful on the road, in particular places that might not have support systems in place for garbage/compost/recycling. Refilling water bottles is a quick one that comes to mind as well as minimizing the use of plastic bags for small purchases. But really, just taking it easy on consuming things in general. I tend to keep luggage and clothing forever and where possible, I want to limit the need to keep buying stuff.
Although I usually go pretty light, I’ll also try to pack a little less junk with each trip. Create less weight on the airplane and in other modes of transportation since weight equals more fuel and more fuel equals more carbon. I probably won’t win fashion awards but I’m good with it.
6. Get the biggest bang out of the fossil fuel buck
Public transportation is not as convenient as my car, but I want to do better with commuting to/from the airport on light rail or other more efficient modes of transportation.
I love local getaways with friends, especially to the Oregon Coast and the Olympic Peninsula in the summer time. Yet, I notice sometimes when a group of friends meets up we take several cars, instead of coordinating one or two. I want to make a better effort to save energy by carpooling when possible, even if that means not 100% convenient for me.
5. Use less energy in lodging options
My cousin Monica and her family, like many of the people living in Hawaii, do not regularly use air conditioning in their home. It is possible to sleep comfortably and enjoy their paradise island of Maui without perma-frost a/c. I know it can be done, but sometimes it’s so nice after a long hot and sticky day in, say, Bangkok to return to an ice cold room. I want to do better with this and try to edge up the temperature at least five degrees to save a bit more energy. This is especially important in places that derive energy from burning fossil fuels.
4. Walk more
This applies both at home and while traveling. Great way to get exercise. When I’m on the road walking is already my favorite form of transportation because I get to see all the nooks and crannies of the destination, not to mention the awesome photo opportunities and potential interaction with locals. I want to work to be better at planning because when I’m running late the response is to go with the quickest option, which is usually a car.
3. Vote for people and policies that will help make a measurable difference
Science exists to help humans help themselves through better technologies for renewable energy and I plan to pay more attention to voting for candidates who aim to help us as a society drive to new options. And of course, I already vote in each and every election.
2. Continue a mostly plant based diet
Well, as I mentioned above, I stopped eating meat two years ago after watching the movie, “What the Health.” I tried the complete plant-based life… for two days but couldn’t give up cheese and eggs. You can’t take away all the fun at once! I also didn’t really believe the whole argument around not eating fish because of the mercury in the water. I’m still not crazy… yet. My goal was to lower a creeping up number of cholesterol naturally before the doctor force fed me Lipitor, and over a few months, it did work.
My cholesterol is back to normal. But my motivation to not eat meat evolved during this time towards less impact on the planet. In addition to general health reasons, it’s good to not eat beef and other red meats to lower the demand in the world which reduces the incentive for less developed countries to clear forests in order to create pastures for meat animals.
1. Pay carbon offsets
Today, after some research, I added up the impact of all my flights this past year, which is 32 metric tons of carbon. I’m not an expert in this material, but when I compared this number to the average in the US (16 metric tons of carbon) all I thought was “Wow!” That’s a lot.
Removing flights (which account for almost 26 carbon tons) lowers my footprint to something similar to the average in Europe (6.4 metric tons.) So it seems my Seattle life is doing much better than the average American but travel life blows it out of the water.
Offsets are a must for me.
Individual carbon offset seems to be a relatively new concept and through my research I narrowed in on a company called carbonfootprint.com and donated money to match my last year of carbon. There are a variety of selection options for programs to support and I selected a portfolio of items which totaled $247. Moving forward I want to keep track of all my trips and of course continue to contribute offsets.
Another part of mitigating my footprint with airline travel will include focusing on more efficient routings (nonstop where possible) and itineraries while leaning heavily where possible towards airlines with modern fleets that burn less fuel. For example, in the international space, composite airplane models like the Boeing Dreamliner (787) or the Airbus A350 are among the most efficient flying today.
Is this just window dressing to make myself feel better or real impact? Probably both. Maybe I should physically feel the contribution and go get my hands dirty in the ground planting trees somewhere in the world?
Perhaps this conversation helps give voice to the little part of my heart that is begging to be a bigger part of my heart. I want to pave a new way that is more thoughtful and genuinely focused on doing my part to fend off the gloom and doom of a world trashed by oil and other destructive practices.
I hope this writing also inspires you and others to look at some simple baby steps to move in the direction towards optimism and the notion that, as Gandhi put it,
“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
Epilogue: Speaking of trees – the masters to reduce carbon footprint
Speaking of trees, nothing lowers my blood pressure more that touching the bark of a tree and glancing up the trunk to the branches high above. They clean the air. They calm us down. They protect the sides of mountains. They are working 24/7 to help us out. Go out and find a tree to thank, today!