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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Travelin’—in this Dimension and Others

As I’m working on getting together what I’ll need for an upcoming trip to the United Kingdom, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about air travel. Mostly because I’ve avoided it like the plague, except for things like my mother’s funeral where I had to get to where I was going faster than I could drive. Not that automobile exhaust is any better for the atmosphere than jet fuel exhaust,  but I think it would take hundreds—if not thousands—of cars to equal the damage one jet aircraft does to the atmosphere every time it leaves the ground.

You see, I really do believe we’ve done a stellar job of squandering Earth’s resources. The fallout is creating an environment that, sooner rather than later, will no longer support the seven billion people populating the planet. That’s another problem—how many of us there are. But that’s not the topic of today’s blog.

So, I’ve tried to do my part. You know, walk rather than drive. Have all my vacations be backpacking trips where I leave from trailheads I can walk to. Turn down the thermostat. Try to recycle, schlepp reusable bags to the supermarket and be a responsible consumer. Of course, balanced against the millions in China and India who are first time car owners, my paltry efforts probably don’t count for much.  Then there are all those new coal-powered plants scattered around the globe. Coal is about the dirtiest energy source imaginable.

And that’s just it. Everyone seems far more focused on now, than on the future. On What's In It For Me. Friends have scoffed at me for not traveling. “Everyone does it,” they tell me.
My response has always been, “Yes, and that’s the problem. We make everything someone else’s problem rather than taking responsibility for what we can do to improve things.”

I’m not sure exactly what my internal process was, but I caved. And it bothers me. Last October, we bought a motorhome. A small one, but it still only gets twelve miles to the gallon on a good day—much less if it’s climbing uphill. It’s better than flying, but even I recognize that reasoning as bald-faced rationalization. Then there’s this upcoming trip across the Atlantic. There are other trips I’d like to take, too. It remains to be seen whether my guilty conscience will manage the transition from responsible human being to a profligate using more than my share of Earth’s limited resources. “Just this once won’t hurt,” is an excuse used by every dieter, drug addict and law breaker since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, I know different. Every time hurts. And every time is cumulative.
Is this something any of the rest of you think about? Since hardly anyone lives in a cave, making certain they are zero carbon footprint producers, how do you square what you do with your conscience?

8 comments:

  1. "Of course, balanced against the millions in China and India who are first time car owners"

    Though it's interesting to note that people who had gas-powered scooters (a VERY popular mode of transport in both India and China) often now have electric ones. And the fuel efficiency of cars in those countries is much better than the so-popular SUVs in the US. China is at least very concerned with the environment, knowing it has such a large population, and is definitely pushing things like electric vehicles. It's the places where gas is cheap that people have no respect for it. When we were in Libya, for example, gas was about 17 cents per gallon there. People drove around unnecessarily, doing wheelies in the desert, they through trash out the window...the landscape near the cities was littered with stray plastic bags.

    As for us, we definitely think about these things. When we fly, we try to use low-cost airlines with minimal amenities, meaning they can also use less fuel. And in the UK and in Sweden, we do our best to always sign with electric companies that use only renewable resources (Lots of hydro-electricity here.) and even our neighbors across the way have just put up a wind turbine, something we're also considering. We drive very little (and have no car at all in the UK.) though lots of good public transportation makes that easier. we recycle, we grow a few of our own things in the greenhouse. (I recently read an article that said if everyone grew just one tomato plant and had the (limited) tomatoes from that, the overall impact on energy/environmental savings would really be rather large, once taking into consideration the transport and other logistics.)

    The house is well-insulated and Sweden typically has triple-glazed windows everywhere anyway. We're also considering investing in shares of a wind turbine farm not far from here. And solar panels have recently decreased in price enough that we're seeing them pop up regularly around us. Did you know that recently, about 30% of Germany's electricity is provided by solar energy now? This, I think, is great! We need to head more in that direction. Denmark has good incentives with private wind turbines--it's connected directly to the national grid, and if you have more electricity than you're using, it feeds back into the grid, and you get a discount on your bill. More incentives...that's the thing people need if any big change is going to happen.

    As for flights between countries, though? I don't see that decreasing. The world has become smaller through air travel. The only way to improve things there is to find a more environmentally friendly means of propulsion.

    There, that was long and babbly. :)

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  2. Hi Jess,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Wind turbine farms haven't been terribly popular, at least here in CA. It's sort of a NIMBY thing where people think they're a good idea but don't want them close to their homes. We've considered solar, but there are too many trees around us to make that practical. Plus, the heavy winter snows would destroy all but the most hardy platform. We have double glazed windows and woodstoves with catalytic converters to reduce emissions. I've considered a greenhouse. That's the only way I'd ever be able to grow anything at 8000'. Of course, we'd have to dismantle it in the winter.
    One of the things that really, really bothers me is going to the grocery store in January and seeing the produce counters overflowing with fruit from Chile. Quite aside from the indefensible carbon footprint hucking fruit thousands of miles creates, things become less special when they're available all the time. We've become quite the consumers, though. So long a there's a market for things, there will be someone to fill the niche.

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  3. Interesting thoughts. I guess in the end we're all changing the planet and have been through history. I remember being stunned to learn that the Lake District--so gorgeous and natural--wouldn't look anything like it does except for the actions of mankind. That said, now we know so much more about our effect on the planet, we really ought to be more careful.

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  4. Thanks for your comment, Sheila. We'll be in the Lake District in about three weeks, so I'll get to see what you're talking about for myself. I do agree with you about being careful, though. And thoughtful, too.

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  5. While there's a lot individuals can do, in the end this is not an individual problem. The response has to be on the group level, that is, political, because it is through politics that we make decisions as a group. So besides doing what I can in my own life, I am active politically. I have to be, because the people who don't care about the environment are also doing what they can to make laws that permit the destruction of the environment for short-term profit. I will fight them.

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    1. Good for you, Sue. I admire your courage. I, too, have tried to fight the "princes of profit" and have always come away feeling discouraged. Yet, that's not a reason to give up. People I respect have told me that I need to be "neutral" so as not to potentially alienate those who might read my books. But if too many of us are neutral, we will lose our planet to environmental erosion.

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  6. Someone asked me recently about Swedish "fjärrvärme" (translates loosely to distant heating), because there was some company somewhere in the US looking to create something similar. I thought perhaps given this topic, you might be interested in reading about it too, just for the heck of it.

    http://www.svenskfjarrvarme.se/In-English/District-Heating-in-Sweden/District-Heating/What-is-District-Heating/

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    1. Interesting article, Jessica. Thanks for the link. I'm still hunting for the U.S. company. We actually could use geothermal power here, but Southern California Edison doesn't want to invest in the infrastructure that would give us access to "free" heat.

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