The eco impact of Brazil to Canada overland, and the knock-on effect on me: part 1

Inner debate on The Canadian © Craig Fast

I have always been environmentally and eco-aware. I recycle. I carry reusable shopping bags (most of the time). I hate packaging. I walk, cycle or take public transport; in fact, I don’t even own a car. I care about whales and the rainforest. I tut when I see someone littering; sometimes I put on my most apologetic posh voice and say, “Er, excuse me, um, I think you just dropped something.” I openly mock Chelsea tractors. I turn off the light when I leave the room. I use biodegradable soaps. I don’t turn on the central heating until I can see my breath in the morning. I even only flush after a number two, when I don’t have guests of course.

But I travel. Other lifestyle changes are easy. It’s not difficult to let it mellow if it’s yellow; it’s lazy. Travel, on the other hand, is a tough one to let go of; it’s a huge part of who I am and what I love. But it’s damaging to the planet, there’s no denying it.

Consequently, I find it hard to reconcile my Inner Traveller with my Inner Environmentalist. They’re always niggling away at each other:

Inner Traveller: “Ooooh, £1 flights to Alaska!”
Inner Environmentalist: “Whaaat?! You cannot be serious. That’s 1.3 tonnes of carbon for the return flight, god knows how much pollution from the inevitable ferry trip along the Alaska Marine Highway System, and even more pressure on the facilities provided for tourists in this extremely delicate ecosystem.”
IT: “But I reeaally want to go there. It’s beautiful. There’s snow and glaciers and whales.”
IE: “If everyone goes, there won’t be any snow or glaciers or whales left. What makes you so special?”
IT: *pouts, sulks, protests that I am special, but agrees not so special as to accelerate global meltdown for the sake of a nice holiday*

How I rationalised my trip
My Inner Traveller and Inner Environmentalist had a strenuous debate before I set off on my overland trip from Brazil to Canada. Obviously, IT won, but, to be fair, I had weakened IE’s resolve with three years of underpaid hard work in a grimy office positioned at the end of a long commute:

IT: “I’m doing it overland. That means no flying and a low carbon footprint!”
IE: “You’re flying to Rio and back from Chicago. That alone is 1.41 tonnes of carbon, which, young lady, is 0.41 tonnes of carbon over the sustainable level of annual emissions for each person in the world.”

IT: “I’ll do some volunteering.”
IE: “You know you won’t. Anyway, I bet a local person could do the same job, but better. You might just take employment away from someone who needs it.”

IT: “I’ll be spreading the wealth – some people need tourism to put food on their tables.”
IE: You’ll be splashing your cash around and making locals feel discontent with their way of life. Plus, you’ll probably tip way too much and contribute to upsetting the local economy.”

IT: “I’ll meet people from countries who are desperate for the world beyond their borders to hear their stories, like I met in Burma. I listened and I told people about what I heard.”
IE: “That’s not how Aung San Suu Kyi sees it.”

IT: “I’ll see sights no images can do justice to.”
IE: Do you really think that will make you a better person?”

IT: “If I don’t go and admire those animals/trees/traditional ways of life, other people will go to hunt/fell/destroy them.”
IE: “Maybe…”

IT: “I’ll learn about the world in a way that no books can teach.”
IE: “Hmmm…”

IT: “I’ll feel emotions no documentary can convey.”
IE: “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. Just bloody go, alright. I wash my hands of you.”

Well, I went. I saw. I didn’t volunteer. I flew home. And I think my Inner Environmentalist was right.

In my next entry I’ll explain why…

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