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Eco Travel
By Justen Walker   View more articles by this author
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April 09

I think about my impact on the planet and climate change everyday. I think about it even more when I get on a plane spewing emissions directly into the atmosphere as I’m on my way to get a little peace and quiet. The travel bug bites me on a pretty regular basis, but I also realize that it is activity that has a profound impact on our environment. How can I continue to travel and reduce my impact on the environment?

Carbon offsets are the buzzwords in eco-travel recently. You can purchase carbon offsets directly from some airlines and travel websites. The concept of the carbon offset is that you contribute a certain amount of money depending on how far you’re traveling to offset the impact you cause. The monetary contributions go to a variety of organizations set up to provide renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, protection of natural habitats and so on. Even if we’re traveling from New York to California, we can buy an offset for Timbuktu. We can buy offsets for different locations around the world. We’re all connected. If we pollute here the effects may actually be felt somewhere else. So where the carbon offset is implemented may not actually be of concern, it’s still protecting the earth and making up for the pollution we caused. Purchasing a carbon offset makes us feel better and reduces our guilty consciences; but are we really just paying for the pollution we cause? If you decide to purchase a carbon offset, be sure to do the research, make sure your money is going to the cause you intend and check the integrity of your contribution. Remember that just because you buy a carbon offset, it’s not an excuse to pollute. Carbon offsets are a marketing success, and a way to immediately do something to help the planet. But purchasing carbon offsets alone won’t make up for all of our pollution. It’s important to continue to do our part in protecting the planet every day.

I recently traveled to Costa Rica, and for my flight from Boston to San Jose I apparently emitted 1.7243 tons of CO2 for my trip. Not to mention the emissions from all the busses and the ferry I rode while in the country. I did however stay at Samasati, an eco-friendly nature retreat that is a member of Sustainable Travel International and has a Certificate of Sustainable Tourism from the Costa Rican government. We were asked to bring earth friendly toiletries with us, the food was local and vegetarian with fish provided once a week, and recycling bins were available for paper, plastic, and glass. A Sustainable Tourism Inspector was doing an inspection of Samasati while I was visiting; it made me feel better knowing that there is someone to whom organizations are accountable. I worry about the marketing factor though. The terms “Sustainable, Eco, and Green” are becoming a marketing ploy in Costa Rica just like in the U.S. Again it’s important to do your homework when considering Eco-tourism resorts and travel.

The only real solution would be to travel less. Stay local and travel only where you can go by foot. But I know the travel bug is sure to bite me again; there’s a whole world out there waiting for me to explore. I’m opting out on the carbon offset this time around - maybe next time if my financial situation allows. I’ll justify my decision not to purchase an offset to myself by continuing to do my part each day bit by bit. I’ll “offset” on my own by continuing to reduce my total carbon footprint.

One final thought, since my luggage was lost for two weeks on my return trip home, I wonder what the carbon offset would be for my luggage that was traveling around without me? Should I buy an offset for it too?

Best wishes for safe, happy and earth friendly travels!

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