Two things I’ve been thinking and reading* a lot about lately are climate change–and how we can mitigate this already-occurring disaster by developing more sustainable ways to live–and travel. I’m having trouble reconciling my feelings about them.
On the personal level, my brightest-burning desire right now is to see the world. I’ve been outside the Northeastern US only a few times in my life, and I really want to see more of both my own country and other countries. I love New England–in fact, I’m pretty sure my veins run with maple syrup–and I know I want to settle down here eventually. This is my home, my community. The land I feel in my bones. I know that’s a gift: to be so connected to a place in this age of disconnection and displacement.
But I know I can’t settle down without experiencing at least a few of the natural beauties, and the cultures, of other places. I’m still working out the practicalities, but it’s definitely something I want to do.
And yet. I know that traveling, especially by airplane, has a huge carbon footprint.**
There’s just no way that regular international or even intra-national travel is sustainable–even at current levels, let alone if everyone in the US started doing it.
When I read articles like this one, about why a gap year should come to America, I find myself nodding my head. Yes, it would be great for more young people to get outside their comfort zones, experience other cultures, gain a greater understanding of the world.***
But there’s no way it would be ecologically sustainable for a large percentage of Americans to take a traveling gap year, or even the occasional shorter trip. And that doesn’t even take into account the billions of people in India, China, and other countries who might also want to see the world if they acquire the resources to do so.
I feel uncomfortable wanting something that I don’t want the rest of the world to have.
I feel torn reading so much about the benefits of travel, wanting it so badly, and yet knowing that it’s ultimately unsustainable. That the earth is already in crisis, and every gallon of fossil fuel we use makes it that much worse.
I don’t have a conclusion. I’m not even sure I know what questions I’m asking. I just feel conflicted.
I don’t know how to reconcile my desire to see the world with my desire to save it.
*My way of processing ideas involves a shit-ton of reading. Sometimes I wish it involved more doing.
**The linked piece gets into a whole other issue that I’m not going to cover here: traveling to see family. I’m lucky that my close relatives all live in the Northeast, but that’s not the case for a lot of people, and there’s no easy answer to the question of how they can visit their family without harming the environment.
***I do have to note that 1.) there are ways to take a gap year without traveling, or at least without going very far, and 2.) there’s a lot of privilege involved in being physically, mentally, and financially able to travel. That could be a whole other essay.