This year has been defined by travel for me. Working as the social media coordinator for Semester at Sea’s spring voyage took me to 10 different countries across 22,000 nautical miles. Following that, Sam and I spent one month traveling central Europe in preparation for our relocation to Germany in August, which of course meant a round trip flight across the Atlantic. And to end our year of travel, we will spend 3 weeks on an Antarctic cruise followed by another 2 weeks of travel within South America.
That is roughly 23,000 miles flown and 25,000 nautical miles cruised.
While all of this travel has been deeply fulfilling and rewarding, I cannot deny the massive carbon footprint that looms behind me. By circumstance and by choice, I have consumed far more than my fair share of carbon this year. Based on measurements made by a few different carbon footprint calculators, my travels in 2019 have emitted 103 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere -- 92 tons for the cruising & 11 tons for the cross-ocean flights. Scientists have found that for every ton of C02 emitted, 3 square meters of ice melts, which means that I have single handedly melted 3326 square feet of ice this year.
That means that I have single handedly melted 3,326 square feet of ice this year. I melted a large single-family-home-sized chunk of ice from Antarctica, the beautiful white continent I just fell in love with. I am not ok with that.
I am passionate about sustainability and environmental preservation, which stands in the direct opposition to many of my choices. Long-haul international travel is one of the most environmentally taxing activities an individual can do, especially if done using an airplane or cruise ship. Travel is always a choice, always a luxury, which inherently makes it more grandiose than other sources of C02 emissions, like driving to work or eating red meat. I have tried to balance the cognitive dissonance of these two passions for a long time, but the roar of that duality is drowning out most of my other thoughts, to the point that I can no longer ignore my personal responsibility in the climate crisis.
I know that my individual contributions to climate change are a drop in the ocean of responsibility that falls at the feet of industry, governments and corporations; but I cannot deny that I have guilt about my impact. I feel ashamed that so many people are doing so much more to reduce their carbon footprint than I am, especially when considering that my carbon footprint is already so much larger than theirs. I am a person of action, not inaction, which compels me to do something to compensate for my choices, even if motivated by negative emotions like guilt or shame.
All of this is to say that both I am choosing to carbon offset my 2019 travels.
I will be offsetting my travels with a youth-led and local-people-led tree-planting project in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, as trees are one of the most effective carbon sinks in the world. This project has found that each tree planted will absorb 500kg of C02 over its life, which means that I am responsible for 206 trees as an offset for my 2019 travels. Sam was inspired to do the same bringing our combined total to 412 trees; but something about this didn’t feel like enough to me. The continent of Australia is literally on fire because of climate change, and all I can do is buy 412 trees? We decided to double our tree purchase to account for our 2018 travels, which in total means that Sam and I will be purchasing 824 trees.
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