Here’s some food for thought. We’re now in an era in which human activity is the dominant influence on our climate and the environment. Scary, I know.
Our actions have increased the pace of environmental change to a rate that has never been seen before in history. As I write this, New South Wales has declared a state of emergency, with enormous fires burning in Victoria and South Australia, as well as across the country. Although we battle bushfires every year, we are now in one of the most catastrophic and dangerous bushfire seasons that Australia has ever seen. At least 20 people have died country-wide, 1,500 homes have been destroyed, and it’s estimated that half a billion animals have perished, with the number only expected to rise. And summer has only just begun.
Witnesses have compared the damage and evacuation measures to warzones, as fires burn through areas larger than some small European countries. For years, scientists have warned us about the effects that climate change would have on the severity and frequency of extreme bushfires in Australia, and it’s expected to continue unless rapid action is taken. We’re talking longer and hotter heat waves across Australia, longer periods of drought, and lower rainfall as the years go on.
After spending two and a half years travelling internationally and living abroad, it breaks my heart to return and see my home in this condition. But as a regular international traveller, it’s something I do think about a lot. I adore travelling and seeing the world in all its glory. But what’s my individual carbon footprint, and how am I personally contributing to any adverse effects on the environment? And what can I do to help preserve the planet for future generations?
I’m not talking about just Australia, either. So many of the planet’s most beautiful, culturally- and ecologically-important places may not even be in existence in years to come if we don’t consider what we as humans are doing to the environment. Glaciers in national parks may disappear completely, half the coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef may be gone, and the incredibly diverse ecosystems we enjoy today may be altered forever. It’s sad that on so many of the 2020 travel lists I’ve seen published lately, many destinations have made the cut solely on the basis that we may be in danger of losing it due to climate change.
I read a New York Times article recently, which raises the question: if seeing the world helps destroy it, shouldn’t we just all stay home? In an age of climate change and environmental adversity, it can be a controversial decision to be a globetrotter — after all, planes, boats, and cars are all considered as contributors when it comes to human-generated carbon emissions. But although personal decisions alone won’t completely stop climate change (this is an issue that largely involves government policies on a worldwide scale), there are definitely small individual changes that can be made to the way you travel that can have an impact on preserving the environment.
I always make an effort to think about the environment and our planet, and travelling in a responsible way that will allow future generations to appreciate everything our world has to offer. After all, sustainable travel has never been so important, especially with the tourism industry growing exponentially each and every year and the far corners of the world becoming increasingly accessible. We have to start making small changes, whether it’s purchasing locally and supporting local communities when travelling, staying in eco-friendly accommodation, making an effort to recycle and reuse whenever possible, or even just switching over to eco-friendly products.
Minimizing the environmental impact of your travel
I’ve found out that the best way to make sure you are doing the right thing when travelling is to educate yourself, and do as much research as possible into the destination you are going to. Take the time to research the condition of your destination, and consider how tourism is having an impact on the local environment.
One important thing I’ve learned (and that I’ve also realised that not many of my peers take notice of) is that we need to be mindful of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with getting to your destination. Most significantly: flying. It’s something people rarely think about when booking flights — and I get it, most of the time every other thought is trumped by the excitement of even booking the flight, and the anticipation of the trip itself. But maybe it’s time to start choosing trips that don’t require a flight, or trying to limit emissions by taking a direct flight, or even looking into purchasing carbon offsets (these are sometimes offered in airline booking processes, with the intention of reducing carbon emissions in another avenue such as planting trees or installing solar panels and wind turbines).
If you’re visiting a new destination that allows it, walk or cycle to explore — or take public transport if you can! Not only will you be minimising your carbon footprint by not getting a rental car, but honestly, you’ll get to see far more when you’re not frantically looking at Google Maps for driving instructions.
Spread the word, but in the right way
In an age of social media and the internet, I can see the importance of not only being well-versed yourself, but being able to spread your knowledge to others. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a beautiful photo posted on Instagram by a popular influencer — only to scroll through the comments to see other users excitedly tagging their friends that they “must visit there someday!”
But copycat travel fueled by social media can have devastating effects, especially when we’re talking about environments that are already fragile. During my travels, I’ve seen popular national parks be overrun by excited tourists who leave behind their trash (rule of thumb: never leave anything behind, besides footprints), and it’s a pretty saddening sight. Why is this happening? If we all make an effort to take small steps to fix our mistakes, it can make a difference.
I’ve always respected influencers who make an effort to speak about their travelling experiences by adding a focus on our impact on the environment, and the possible repercussions if we don’t take action as individuals to prevent irreversible environmental loss. So why not be one of them? If you’re going to be telling people about your travels, why not use it as an opportunity to educate others?
It’s hard to think about climate change or our environmental impact in relation to our own individual behaviour. After all, the thought crosses everyone’s mind at least once (mine included): “I’m just one person, how could my actions really be harming anything?”
But the truth is, we are all in charge of preserving our planet for future generations — however small we think our impact may be as individuals. And it’s time to start taking responsibility for that.