My high-flying footprint

There’s a raw feeling I get when willfully ignoring something I know is important but that I just don’t want to think about let alone deal with. I’ve had this feeling for a long time now and I’ve finally decided to fess up and do something about it.

Living in Zambia makes me feel semi-ok about the size of my environmental footprint. We don’t own a car and we tend to walk a lot. We don’t need central heating and we also don’t have air-conditioning (or even fans for that matter). Most of our food is produced locally, and I’m trying to get us to eat less meat. In general, I think we do more with less, which complies with my favorite R: “Reduce”. We may not make the best effort but we don’t do that bad.

The reason I’m only “semi” ok is because of the lack of proper waste disposal and recycling facilities in Zambia. I wish my garbage wasn’t burned and that I had a way to recycle all the paper and plastic that goes through our home. The lack of easy ways to go green here has made me a bit lazy when it comes to matters of the environment.

But all this pales in comparison to the impact of my guiltiest pleasure: travel.

I travel a lot: exotic locales for holiday or work, or going home to Canada at least once a year to see family and friends. By the end of the year (I’m simultaneously ashamed and proud to admit), I will have gone to Harare, Nairobi, Kigali, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Edmonton, and Barcelona (twice), all by way of Johannesburg, Istanbul, and/or London.

Fact: My carbon footprint is enormous.

I’m pretty sure that the best way to deal with this is to simply stop flying. I know people who have done this, and I envy their resolve. Yet I’ve chosen a life that makes flying a bit more necessary (this point can be argued, but I’ll leave this alone for this post). So the next best option, other than flying less, which is something I do try to do, is to offset the carbon emitted by my flying.

Enter the consumer’s conundrum. I could simply click a button, pay a few dollars, and assuage my guilt, but I feel that this is the easy way out. In my mind, the right approach involves researching the world of carbon credits, becoming well versed in the field of offsetting, and deliberately choosing an offset method that fits my own ideals.

For me, it’s the same as buying “fair trade” or “organic”. After working with small-scale farmers in Zambia for three years, I don’t think this is as easy as just picking a well-labeled product. Every approach has its own set of positive and questionable impacts. In the end, it’s up to the consumer to decide which ones they believe are “good” and which ones they believe are “not-so-good”.

It takes a lot of work to make informed decisions about stuff like this and I don’t feel up to the task. Universally accepted standards make things a lot easier, as do websites like Ethical Ocean, that bring lots of information together in a way that is easy to digest and act on.

I have yet to find an easy way to make a decision about offsetting my flights. I started writing this post about 2 hours into my first attempt at learning about it. I will admit this now: I have neither the time nor the will to comprehensively review what’s out there. I will, however, try my best and promise to take action before I step on my next flight (in 5 days).

In the end, I, like many consumers before me, will likely submit to suggestions that come from trusted sources, so, if you would like to share how you’ve approached this particular problem I’d be very happy to hear it!

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2 Responses to My high-flying footprint

  1. Sudha says:

    I have a very simple solution: Live, work, go to school and party close to where most of your family & friends are. It is like the 100 mile diet except it is the family & friends circle that you need to live within.


  2. Pingback: What I learned in offsetting my flights | Elephant and Crocodile

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