Should we begin rethinking our travel habits?

For a very long while cheap, quick air travel has been accepted as a normal part of twentieth century life, seventeen years into the twenty-first century and it might be time to rethink this.

In the twenty-first century we are faced with all manner of environmental impacts from humanities activities (if you’re a denialist I don’t want to hear from you. The evidence is 100% in the bag and you just need to get on board because it’s already becoming too late). This has led the environmentally conscious to point the finger at overconsumption, cheap manufacturing, plastic use and what are essentially little changes that do not affect our lifestyles all that much, simply redirect our cashflow onto more worthy products. For cashed up westerners, “eco-consumerism” is an easy game.

Less easy is self-denial, but if possibility presents itself, if that possibility does have widespread and major negative consequences, if those consequences do not immediately affect us and if the supposed benefits that we are consuming are too attractive for us to resist then perhaps regulation from the structures which are supposed perceive the external costs that are invisible to individual sight. Some things which might fall into this category are: tobacco smoking, sugar consumption, car use, air travel. All these things have invisible short term and visible long term negative repercussions on people, society, the planet but all are presented to consumers as attractive ways to make their lives feel better. Unfortunately, currently, government intervention falls in the wrong direction (except for Australia’s successful campaign against tobacco smoking) through fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

What this means is that the consumer is not even paying the true market price for something, let alone taking the non-market costs into the equation.

Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

For a long time the environmental message has focused on physical consumption, even telling us to “buy experiences, not things.” It’s all been steps in the right direction but as time and the-destruction-of-the-environment-through-human-activity marches on with visible effects increasing, such as a Summer lasting well into Autumn, more heads must roll.

Hopefully we’ve reached the point where we might actually begin to think about how our preciously guarded fun times have direct impacts on the people, the places and the stratosphere that we visit.

I was pretty happy to listen to a broadcast from the inimitable Radio National, on Life Matters, about Carbon Offsetting air travel and I was also pleased that they took it a little further than that and even almost meekly suggested that we might want to rethink our own personal or business trips – you know like, maybe a Skype call will suffice? Maybe a bush bash in some local wilderness will refresh just as much? Or maybe a jaunt at a local, shwanky hotel will provide you with that glam-international-traveler-vibe you’re going for, without the senseless waste emitted from all ends of that business.

Are you going to take your beeswax wraps with you on flight N7589?

There are ways you can “save the planet” at home that you just can’t do when you are spending big in another country. There’s a richness and depth to growing roots and loving your land that we absolutely must rediscover and invest in. It is unnecessary and frequent travel that must cave to this need. And it is a need. The planet needs us to do this and, I think, our personal and collective humanity also requires it. It’s a profound shift from living on the earth – our infrastructure and society sitting on top of our planet like a little legoland – to living with our earth, enriching it with our lives and being enriched in turn. It’s a life that our modern society has not yet lived. But I think it must. It’s a rich, deep, locally lived life instead of a thinly spread, global life which makes paupers of us all. And I would just like to add that digging around in the garden and learning how to help things grow (creating life!) has proven to be the most satisfying activity I’ve ever indulged in.

This shift hasn’t happened yet and I get it (because we haven’t yet been enlightened): we all want to travel. It seems so exotic. It’s nice to pretend to escape our lives every now and then. It’s nice to come back with stories and feel just a little more superior to all the stay-puts. I feel the itch as much as any person does.

Oh but there are sooo many questions this raises. When we really start to dig under the surface of motivation and desire. Where to begin. It even raises questions of identity and disconnection. I mean how does a person descended from European stock but living in the Antipodes connect to such a different place? I myself grapple with this one and all I can say, so far, is that it takes time and education. It takes a lot of relearning. The Australian landscape is just not like a European pine forest.

Really, when you think about it, so much is just frosting on the same, ordinary old cake. International travel is frosting. A particular kind that is also toxic to the very earth that we are travelling on.

The thing is, if we don’t care about this now, if we don’t impose limits on ourselves then something or someone else will – this is something every good parent knows about. It’s the same with population growth. In cases like this where it’s a planet that is exploding at its limits then we’re looking at the planet imposing its own limits and you can use your imagination to figure out how that’s going to look.