How to optimise your Christmas holidays for sustainability

Jonathan WrightNews

The Christmas holidays are just around the corner, and some of us are heading interstate or overseas to reconnect with family or explore new places.  With our ecological footprint going through the roof, what can we do to minimise our resource use and maximise our positive outcomes for the environment?

This was the subject of two of my recent talks in Geelong and Melbourne on sustainable travel, where ecotourism, slow travel and efficiency were the hot topics.  From the Q&As, the general consensus of each talk was to avoid travel altogether if it involves flights, cruises and/or luxury hotels. However, what if you’ve already booked your flights for the upcoming holidays?  Or, more generally, how can travel be sustainable if the carbon emissions of one international flight are equivalent to driving a car every day for one whole year?

I think that to answer questions like this, we first need to appreciate that every human-made product or service that we consume has some kind of negative impact on the environment.  I’m talking about everything from the device that you are using to read this article, to the clothes we are wearing, the food you are eating and the bicycle you are riding. There are literally no material goods that have zero carbon emissions.

Take the phone, tablet or computer that you are using right now.  Carbon was emitted all the way from the mining of resources to the manufacturing, packaging, transportation, marketing and the eventual sale of the product.  There’s even carbon being emitted when you connect it to a charger to keep the battery topped up! Feeling guilty yet?

Well you should, and you shouldn’t... The real question is, what are we going to do about it?  You probably should feel guilty if you are not going to do anything positive at all.  However, if you start to think about the intention of why you are using it, and start acting towards bringing good to the world as a result, then perhaps it is worth the trade-off.  

Bringing this back to travel, yes your flights and cruises are huge contributors to global carbon emissions.  But if you are travelling to participate in efforts towards environmental conservation, cultural exchange, local sustainable development, historical preservation, advanced learning and other positive outcomes, then you can see that the good can sometimes outweigh the bad.

Of course, this doesn’t legitimise taking flights and cruises whenever and wherever we want just because it’s the fastest, most comfortable and cheapest way to get from A to B.  Where possible, we should be seeking alternative modes of transport such as cycling, sailing or taking trains. In addition, we should be mindful of our environmental impact and act towards maximising our positive contribution to the people and places we visit.

“When tourists take an interest in wildlife and nature it can provide a greater incentive for local people to protect and support conservation efforts rather than hunting and poaching.  In many countries, hunters have changed the way they view animals and have trained to become guides and protectors.” The Travel Foundation (visit https://www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk/)

The message here is to make a conscious effort to support good environmental initiatives when you are on your travels, such as visiting protected parks and wildlife areas, staying at eco-resorts and green hotels, and booking guided tours that contribute to environmental conservation.  One step beyond this is to volunteer at local organic farms and community projects using programs like https://wwoof.net/ or https://www.workaway.info/ to find out how your skills and interests might be needed in other communities.  

The photos below are from my own travels, volunteering and seeking alternative modes of transport that I personally find more fun and adventurous to use.  For me, the fast, easy and cheap way to travel is just plain boring! And travelling without meaning is just a huge waste of resources.

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USA: Staying in a hand-made tiny house instead of a mainstream hotel
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USA: Building earthen homes in an off-grid ecovillage

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Adelaide: Riding where most tourists would drive.

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Kenya: Shopping for locally made gifts that contribute to the wellbeing of local families

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Indonesia: Learning how to cook like a local with fresh regional ingredients

About the author - John Paul Lopez Taberdo is a local travel agent and environmental consultant in Geelong.  John Paul runs a local branch of Travel Counsellors Australia, and is Business Member of Geelong Sustainability.  To get touch or learn more about his work, visit https://www.travelcounsellors.com.au/johnpaul

16 December 2019