Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#47 of 100 Simple Suggestions... Avoid air travel

Honestly, this suggestion is a tough one to discuss, because somehow, in the last 30 years or so, North Americans have accepted the idea of air travel as something essential to a happy life. It's gotten to the point where it's almost abnormal to have a vacation without taking a plane somewhere. To suggest that people give up flying is like choosing to hang out with the least popular kids at school. It's just not a fun thing to do.

Of course, I haven't worried a lot about popularity since I left school, so here goes: Next to taking the Space Shuttle, flying is the least efficient method of travel with the greatest ecological impact. Getting those great iron birds into the air requires more carbon emissions than we should be willing to spend on a planet that's experiencing global climate instabilities all over the place. I'm sure you know to what I'm referring, but allow me one example: half of the town of Slave Lake, Alberta, burned to the ground because of dry conditions two months ago, and as I'm writing this, they're experiencing flooding. Bizarre.

It's because of things like this that frivolous air travel to exotic locations just for experience's sake needs to become as unusual and rare as it was a generation or two ago. Did you know that trains can move more people greater distances with the lowest environmental impact except for bicycles? More sustainable forms of transportation need to be developed, but until they are, simpler forms of mass-transit type travel from years past -- those train and bus systems that move more people with fewer fossil fuels expended -- really ought to be revisited and made more viable than air travel.

Of course, I have to admit to frivolous air travel a few times in my life -- before we started hearing about climate catastrophes and global climate instability, and before I learned about Voluntary Simplicity. Since then, I've given up on the idea of vacationing on a tropical island because I can't contribute any further to the decimation of the environment due to melting glaciers and polar icecaps, warming, dying oceans and wars over oil in the Middle East. Tropical vacations are unsustainable if we think like wise Sioux chieftains and remember that our actions affect the next seven generations. Do I really need to lie on a beach mid-winter? Not if it's contributing to the decline of this beautiful world.

I know a lot of people don't think this way, but I can't help it. And I do believe I can be just as happy with a week at a lake in our tent trailer as I would be at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, where locals have to make my bed every day, and go home to families who don't have the kind of medicare mine does. Part of avoiding air travel may also have to do with living in solidarity with the poor who never travel further than 50 km from their birthplace. There are those who argue that the developing world's travel destinations need tourism for their very existence, but is that really the case? If so, why can't we find ways to share wealth equitably so that everyone can live the way we do in North America? Ah... because if everyone lived like we do, global climate instabilities would wipe us off the planet.

I digress. Two summers ago, we took our family trip of a lifetime across our own beautiful country... by train. It was slow, relaxing and absolutely wonderful to travel from Edmonton all the way to Ottawa for Canada Day, and beyond to see friends and relatives in Nova Scotia. Running out of time at the end of our trip, we flew home. Not a happy experience for three out of five of us, who were pretty queasy in turbulence.

Just to be clear: I'm not moodling that people should never fly. Too many of us have family and friends that are overseas. If that's the case, and you're spending lovemiles to see someone special rather than airmiles to get a winter tan, you have my blessing.

And I'm not saying that everyone has to think the way I do about air travel. But give me a choice, I'll avoid air travel as much as possible because I value our beautiful world and want to leave it in the best shape possible for the next seven generations, which include my own girls.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

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