We’ve all heard that hopping on a plane is one of the worst things we can do for the climate. So how do we justify the environmental costs of world travel? Seeing the effects of global warming for yourself could be one argument for getting on that flight. For James Sano of the World Wildlife Fund, things got real on a trip to Antarctica.
“I was expecting lots of crevasses and big chunks of ice,” Sano recalls. “But then I suddenly found myself with my skis on a beach. And in the ensuing hundred or so years, the glacier had receded significantly so that there was no ice fall.”
Jennifer Palmer of Women for Wildlife has traveled the world spreading awareness about global warming. She believes that helping to connect those who are being hit hardest by it makes the carbon cost worthwhile.
“There is a piece of me that sits on a plane and says I’m contributing to this,” Palmer admits. “[But] when you think about it in the grand context of the people that I'm helping have the experiences, and they’re becoming ambassadors for these places. They're coming back and they’re telling stories and they’re creating videos and they’re having dialogues. And they’re creating change.”
One memorable experience for Palmer was sharing the film “Chasing Ice” with a community of Bajau people in Indonesia.
“We actually screened the film in the middle of the ocean on their settlement on stilts,” she remembers. “We tied up bed sheets…and they were literally hanging out on boats.”
“To see the looks on their faces as they learned about what is a glacier and how that’s connected to the issues that they’re going on and seeing…to make that connection and to be able to have a dialogue with that community was very special and heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.”
Jim Sano had some travel advice for those who want to lighten their carbon travel footprint. Take fewer, long trips if you can, he suggests. Avoid flying first class. And consider your routing:
“Many people don't know that a great majority of your carbon footprint is associated with takeoffs and landings,” he reminded the audience. “So while your airfare may be less if you do a one stop, if you take a direct flight, your footprint would be far less.”
Norbu Tenzing, whose father was one of the first people to reach the top of Mt. Everest in the company of Sir Edmund Hillary, welcomes travelers, trekkers and tourists to his beloved Himalayas,“.unequivocally, the highest and most beautiful mountains in the world.” But, he adds, it’s vital to travel responsibly.
“You go to places like Nepal, Tibet or the Himalayas where we have massive problem with global warming,” he says, “it's important to go over there and see firsthand what the issues are, and to come back and try and do something about it.”
Whether we’re scaling Mount Everest or diving with sea turtles in the Galapagos Islands, it’s important to tread lightly – and respectfully – on every corner of our planet. And ideally, use the experience to make the world a better place