Some public figures are now refusing to travel by air, or flying a lot less, to highlight the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Amongst them Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and David Holmgren, Permaculture originator. This is great news.
Hopefully we can all follow suit or at least opt for air travel more sparingly. After all it is our choices which determine the quality of our environment and our future. And according to the British Committee on Climate Change emissions from global aviation could account for 15% to 20% of all CO2 produced in 2050.
One way of cutting back on our carbon footprint is to leave air travel out of our holiday plans. And if we do choose to travel overseas keep our ecological foot print light by choosing a lower impact style of accommodation, and make sure our overseas travel does not become a habit. Air travel is associated with work and business yet the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded that in the year to June 2010, holidays accounted for 82% of short term overseas trips, while business accounted for just 17% . By considering what is involved in a typical all inclusive holiday package abroad we might choose a different style of holiday and be a lot happier.
I took a vacation of this kind while I was living in Spain. It was a gift I accepted, but can’t say I loved. It disturbed me that I had crossed the Atlantic by air to go to the Dominican Republic and learned hardly anything from the country I had visited.
Upon our arrival in the Island we were given a plastic wrist band we had to wear during our one week stay to distinguish us as guests. I felt like a sheep being branded and then found my self virtually imprisoned in our secluded all included stay. Far away from any town and with nothing else to do in the resort but eat from the buffet and sunbake on the beach, I was soon bored and uncomfortable.
These high impact vacations overseas have become normal. We are well aware of our ecological footprint, the demand we create and the impact we are responsible for by taking this kind of vacation. Adding to my personal carbon footprint on my return flight from Madrid to the Dominican Republic was my taking part as a consumer in the service industries that support tourism. Transportation, accommodation, and entertainment all have a high impact on the environment. The service industries that support tourism draw on resources, produce waste, pollution, and emissions. The argument that supports this kind of tourism is that at the holiday destination (often poverty stricken), we are creating employment and bringing income.
But is the employment we are creating truly beneficial to people and their communities? The resort stay was affordable to most middle income earners in Europe, as is the equivalent all included Fijian resort stay for Australians. I was well aware that such a high degree of service and accommodation would hardly be a possibility for middle-income earners in their own countries. So by hopping on a plane and going to a resort in a poorer country we can take advantage of the disadvantage of others and play rich, (or richer). I remember being served at the resort feeling it was a game, with the roles there played being: they were the poor waiters, and we, the rich guests. So there, out of my own country, I played rich, and it certainly did not make me feel great.
An escape from the resort gave me a good sense of the poverty in the country: dilapidated buildings, children begging in the street, dangerous pot-holed roads, and so on. For the rest of our stay at the luxurious resort I felt ridiculous. There we were, lazing around the amenities with nothing else to do but wait for the next meal while the staff endured the heat standing in their less than suitable colonial style uniforms. To be served and waited on three times a day by the economically disadvantaged citizens of our world was an exercise in arrogance and preposterousness. What was I doing there? What was the need?
I learned two important lessons from my Dominican Republic holiday. As I suspected: even if the whole thing had no impact on the environment and all staff there were enjoying fair working wages and conditions, that kind of holiday did nothing for me personally. I remember feeling happy to go on the all inclusive holiday but once at our holiday destination, happiness soon eluded us and all we were left with was a sense of relief in our rest, which then turned to boredom. And that is why resorts have to include entertainment (unfortunately entertainment in this case is often just food, TV, and souvenir shops).
What I also learned was that the need this kind of getaway was a symptom of what is missing at home in our lives: relaxation, natural environment, and exercise. We no longer have homes close to nature where the pace is slow, where we move our bodies to provide nourishment by growing food, and provide comfort inside the dwelling by harvesting fuel wood. Despite all the devices and technology, our houses lack the basic self-reliant capacity that makes a house a home, – or in fact a place where we would want to spend our holidays.
David Holmgren’s estimate is that the maximum hours a person is away from the home in the late 2000s is 90 comparing to 60 in the 1950s. The growing trend is that we eat and sleep in our houses, have little engagement with our neighbours and we find that we need to get away to cover other needs.
And so a resort style vacation is no longer considered a luxury these days, it is a need. How can this be? This need is part of a high impact fossil fuel depleting lifestyle humans embarked on two hundred years ago. It is now also part of a spiral of consumption; work, stress, spend, and get away. Or it could simply be; work, spend and get away, anyway, a habit whether we feel we need it to keep sane or not.
The stress relieving all vacation has become part of our culture, whether it really makes us happy or not and whether the work related symptoms of stress are relieved or not, this is what we do. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recorded over 260.000 Australians visited Fiji for a short stay holiday in the year to June 2010. And in that same year 5.5 million Australians traveled overseas for a short term holiday to a variety of destinations around the globe.
Reflecting on the choices we make as consumers can be a valuable source of information about us as people. Our consumer choices are an indicator of what is missing and going on in our lives. They give some indication of how aware we are of the impact we have, and of the level of responsibility and self-regulation we are willing to apply to our actions. As people of a world of finite resources and too much waste, we might consider taking a closer look at what’s on offer as an opportunity to stop and reflect before we buy into it. There are always other ways to fulfil our needs. How we decide to meet our needs as inhabitants of this world that sustains us will impact on the conditions for generations to come.
Paula Ajuria 2013
ABS. See Holidays Abroad 4102.0 Australian Social trends
Retrofitting the Suburbs for the Energy Descent Future, 2012. David Holmgren page 5
British public refuse to fly less to reduce their carbon footprint. The Guardian 2009.