‘’Travel can help green the world’’. Does this seem counterintuitive to you? For a long time, it certainly did to me. But travel can be a great tool for changing your mindset and impact, and can even contribute in the fight against climate change. Let me tell you how.
In Dutch there is a saying where you can describe something as a ‘’ver-van-mijn-bed-show’’, which literally translates as a ‘’show far away from my bed’’. The real meaning behind it is that the further something is removed from you, the less you care. This is for example why news about the war in Ukraine gets an incredible amount of news coverage in the Netherlands, whereas the Yemini civil war, which has been happening since 2014, is never mentioned.
Objectively, both wars are terrible and equally deserving of global attention. In reality, we care more about the war in Ukraine, simply because the country is located closer to us (this is of course simplified, there are other aspects to it too). When something is closer to us, whether this is literally or figuratively, the emotional impact is often bigger. Humans are inherently self-serving beings. A quality that is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather a consequence of evolution. Something that has ensured the survival of our species.
For the same reason, it is hard for people to truly care about a climate disaster striking on the other side of the world. Most of us will empathize shortly, and then continue on with our day. And why wouldn’t we, with the sun shining prettily through our insulated Dutch windows, looking out on our green and lush backyards?
Travel and new perspectives
While these days most people believe that climate change is happening, much less people know about the biodiversity crisis the world is facing. Likewise, even less people are familiar with the nitty gritty details of these crises, such as how climate change will truly impact every single living thing on earth sooner or later. This is why when the news outlets show a flood happening in Vietnam, we do not collectively jump into action to try and combat the root of the problem.
It is, as the Dutch say, a ‘’ver-van-mijn-bed-show’’. We simply do not care deeply enough for it to trigger a response in us. And this is problematic, because climate change is very much relevant to ALL people ALL over the world. We all need to contribute and try to decrease our carbon footprint. But how can we achieve this?
Let me hit you with another saying: All roads lead to Rome. This applies to combatting climate change too. There is no one way to instill in people a sense of relevance and urgency. And this is where travel comes in. When you travel, whether it is close to home or far-away, you gain new impressions. It makes countries and places whose presence in your life previously did not extend beyond Google Maps, now come alive in your mind.
After backpacking through South East Asia, floods in Vietnam suddenly seem more “real” and problematic. After a safari in South Africa, temperature rise and drought now arouse a sense of urgency in you. The effects of climate change taking place far away now feel closer to home. Travel has the unique ability to both broaden your horizon and simultaneously make the world seem smaller. Far away places and people become more relatable.
My personal experience
If you had asked me five years ago: ‘’Is climate change an important issue?’’ I would have answered with ‘’Yes, sure’’. But now, having traveled to many places across the world, I no longer see the effects of climate change as happening in far-away places. Instead, I see them as happening in my second home. And that hits hard, because I love my second homes across the world. For me, it’s why protecting the environment went from ‘’sure it is important’’ to ‘’a number one priority’’ in my life. It is why I decided to study a Master’s in environmental science and why I want to work in the field of sustainability and nature conservation.
It’s by my own experience that I truly believe that travel can have a huge impact in how we see the world. Consequently, motivating us to modify our behavior into something more sustainable. Some examples on living sustainably we give here https://www.duurzamestudent.nl/2022/09/11/hoe-word-jij-een-duurzame-student/
But… can you travel sustainably?
It should be noted that travel is not inherently good for the environment. There is a lot of talk on the negative effects of travel on the environment. And no, I am not debunking these. These are very real. There can definitely be found a trade-off between traveling and contributing to CO2 emissions versus becoming more conscious afterwards.
I would invite you to think about the following questions. Is this worth it? How many times does one need to travel to gain this insight, is one time enough? And are all kinds of travel equal to each other? Will traveling to a 5-star resort in Turkey have the same change in perspective as traveling with a backpack through Brazil? Probably not. But there could still be a change. A forest fire in Turkey might still become more relevant to you because you can now picture the faces of the local people whose lives are impacted.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: travel should not be done carelessly. Travel can give someone beautiful and new experiences, and perhaps also a fresh perspective. But it can come at a (steep) cost for the environment. Luckily, sustainable travel is very much possible! If you want to read more in-depth about sustainable and fair travel. For example on eco-tourism, responsible travel, slow travel or carbon-offsetting, I recommend you to take a look at www.livingintrepid.com.