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Balancing International Travel

I love to travel. Next week I am departing for Ecuador to see monkeys in the rain forest, Incan ruins in the Andes, and giant tortoises in the Galapagos. I love the thrill of figuring out the local bus system, feeling a little bit lost, wandering in and out of old cathedrals and town squares, and meeting all of the other travelers in the same boat.  Was that a Red-footed Booby?? I think so.  Well, I can cross-that-one off the bu-cket-list. See endangered species in the wild – check!

My coworker tries to make me feel guilty about my international travel.  He says that all of the other things that I do to reduce my carbon footprint during the year are negated by my biennial zest for exploration.  Ugh.  Really?  I metro to work and bike around town.  I collect water from the bath and use it to flush the toilet.  I set the programmable thermostat to automatically set back at night and when I leave for work. I recycle. I’m 90% vegan.  On weekends we skip the casinos in West Virginia and instead take Zipcar to the mountains for backpacking, practicing leave no trace principals. I’ve consciously made these lifestyle decisions because I want to be a part of the masses that are doing something to spare future generations from impending doom.  Should I feel guilty about my upcoming trek?

Here’s the thing – I don’t feel guilty.  THIS TRIP IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!  I also feel incredibly fortunate to be living in a day and age where this kind of trip is possible. Are two, eight hour flights really that bad?  Can’t I just stop by Whole Foods, buy some biodegradable sunblock as recommended by my eco-tour provider, and call it a wash?  Michael D. Rosenwald wrote an article for the Washington Post about the good/bad balance sheet that we all have in our head.  As far as I’m concerned I’m in the black, but I’m open to you readers checking my math.

Perhaps my other eco “sacrifices” are too easy because I like vegan meals, riding the metro, etc…and don’t feel like they are sacrifices at all. I’m happier and healthier because of it, and I get lots of compliments on my funky thrift store finds!  Cutting out international travel, however, would be a major life change for me.  Should it hurt to be an environmentalist?  Something to ponder on the long and windy bus rides through the Andes next week. (And even though I may moan, I am grateful to have a coworker that cares enough about the future to make me think twice.)

P.S. At the urging of my editor I begrudgingly calculated the carbon footprint of my round-trip flight to Ecuador (0.93 metric tons of CO2) and compared it to the carbon footprint if I were to drive to work every day (0.54 metric tons of CO2).  I am feeling the guilt creep in.


By: Jessica Abralind


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