Digital Kayak

Have Guilt, Will Travel

I wonder how many trees it would take to absorb the carbon I've burned in my trip to Europe.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published November 23, 2006

(A version of this piece first appeared in Ade's blog.)

This trip to Europe is thoroughly enjoyable, but I feel uneasy as the mountainous terrain near Florence flashes by the windows of the train.

My wife and I arrived in Europe by plane, of course, a form of transportation that is bad for the environment, particularly because of its production of greenhouse gases. Now we're getting around by train, which is less harmful but still not great.

The source of my unease is the papers I have with me, the Guardian and the International Herald Tribune, both with stories emphasizing my personal contribution to the planetary problem of global warming.

IHT carries a story about an advertising campaign in British newspapers that targets the airline industry. "Eco-campaigners say air travel is one of the fastest-growing producers of emissions linked to global warming," it reports, adding that the British Conservative Party leader favours a "carbon tax" for short-haul flights (we could use that kind of conservatism in Canada).

In the Guardian, Madeline Bunting writes a wistful piece set forty years in the future in 2046, explaining how things are now to an imaginary grandson:

The problem was that we were intoxicated with an idea of individual freedom. With hindsight, that understanding of freedom was so impoverished that it amounted to nothing more than a greedy egotism of doing whatever you wanted whenever. We understood freedom largely in terms of shopping and mobility (we were restless, and liked travel of all kinds).

Harsh words, and like many of the people who've read them, I'm sure, I sit here trying to figure out why they should not apply to me.

Truthfully, I don't travel in pursuit of thoughtless pleasure. For me, travel is an unfolding of new experience that I hope will change my perceptions in some way.

It's true one can grow while staying in the same place, but traveling to new places really boosts the chances that one will meet someone interesting or that something interesting will happen. Travel is an opportunity to experience a different way of life.

Paradoxically, these ways of life often teach environmentalism by example. I'm thinking of the superb waste management of The Netherlands (they have no landfills), the dense, functional and vibrant city centres all across Europe, and Paris' incredible transportation systems.

The water conservation techniques of arid countries in the Middle East also come to mind, although I've never seen them first-hand. This is a good lesson, because none of the things other countries do better than Canada require travel to understand.

For the average person who doesn't read about urban planning or recycling facilities in their spare time, however, travel powerfully illustrates the possible.

I'm forced to admit that for me, these are nothing more than rationalizations. I enjoy non-fiction. For now, I'm left lamely committing myself to buying fluorescent light bulbs and maybe some more insulation. And I wonder how many trees it would take to absorb the carbon I've burned this trip.

Maybe I'll switch to one-ply?

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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