Climate change is a global crisis that sees us racing towards a more than 2oC change in temperature that could lead to disaster. The major industrialized countries are not meeting their environmental goals and the ‘leader of the free world’, President Donald Trump is denying the existence of global warming, and wants the US to leave the Paris climate agreement.
Experts are all on the same page: climate change is happening now. However, as temperatures drastically rise, environmental legislation takes its time. This is one of the biggest problems with the work to prevent global warming. It’s often up to individuals to make changes, rather than policy makers. It’s a global crisis yet the responsibility is still very much on us as citizens to make climate-smart decisions. If politicians underestimate the gravity of the situation, maybe the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to make efforts as individuals even though it is only a minor part of a global problem. As Michael Jackson put it “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.” So that’s exactly what I did.
I am environmentally conscious. Vegetarian, obviously. Why wouldn’t you eat less meat if you understood the impact it had on the planet? I switch the lights off when I leave my apartment. The bicycle is my primary mode of transport. I recycle, and mostly buy second hand clothes instead of supporting consumerism. I do my part for a more sustainable planet, and I don’t even brag about it. It’s a myth that vegetarians always talk about their vegetarianism. Despite this, have I really done everything I could to reduce my ecological footprint?
Well… probably not. Over the past two years I have flown to South America once and southern Africa twice. It has become cheaper to fly and flights can take you just about anywhere at any time. No wonder more people get on airplanes. So I guess I am a hypocrite since flying is the one major thing that you as consumer can change to reduce emissions. It doesn’t really matter if you make all the right decisions but still fly around exploring all corners of the world. The effect flying has on your ecological footprint outweighs all other decisions you could possibly make.
Traveling is a big part of many young peoples’ identities. Adolescents want to be well traveled, visit different countries and explore before they settle down. Especially in a European context, this is seen as something positive, and something that many build their lifestyle around. You get out of your comfort zone, you build confidence and learn about different cultures and languages. But more importantly, it’s cool to be a world citizen, and people who have the opportunity to travel but not the interest are often regarded as closed-minded.
In a way, aren’t backpackers the real enemy? (Photo: Kishore Kumar, Flickr)
The hypocrisy is that I get credit for not eating meat as an environmental act, but I haven’t heard once someone being critical of me flying up and down the surface of our planet. Using a footprint calculator, it would take 4.3 planets to support everyone having the same lifestyle as me. Even though I rarely drive or use means of transport other than my bike, transport was my largest source of emissions by far. Based on these results I can conclude that the only way to save the climate is not by legislating against emissions. That could be the solution, but not at the current pace of legislation. It’s not consuming less. It’s not bringing your own hipster tote bag to the supermarket. It’s not selling your car and commuting via other modes of transport. It’s definitely not going vegan.
It’s making traveling uncool. It might be a long and hard fight since traveling is regarded as one of the coolest things to do, but it’s a fight worth having. We should, instead of giving people credit for traveling, start shaming travelers, including myself. The phrase “when I was in India” should be perceived as worse than a racist slur. The swing over the water on Bali, seen on numerous Instagram accounts, should become the worst place to sit at if you want to be perceived as ‘cool’ and ‘aware’. Start commenting “polluter” if someone posts a picture of Machu Picchu and someone as much as thinks of an international carrier, unfriend them on Facebook immediately.