Winter break is a wonderful time away from classes and filled to the brim with fun, family and freedom. Many students leave Missoula for the entire break. For some, this trek home is farther than it is for others.
Everyone deserves to be where they feel most at home for the holidays. But, traveling to get there is far from environmentally friendly.
Whether you leave campus to head home for the holidays or go on vacation, traveling creates some of the most emissions from a single person. Plenty of carbon dioxide is emitted no matter how you plan on traveling. Knowing that vacations are not very planet friendly, should you rethink your travel plans?
To understand why it might be unethical to travel during break, we need to look into just how detrimental travel is to the environment. The director of UM’s Climate Change Studies Program and professor Peter McDonough reminds us that carbon dioxide isn’t a bad thing. Carbon dioxide is naturally occurring and up to a certain point, is needed for things like the carbon cycle.
“And so carbon dioxide, the way we tend to refer to it now is just because there's an excess of it in the atmosphere. And it's really good at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and so we keep producing more of it by burning fossil fuels releasing more carbon into the system than had been there before. And of course, the warmer the atmosphere gets.”
What McDonough just described is climate change in its most broken-down form. Climate change is defined by the United Nations as long term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. These changes lead to things such as droughts, rising sea levels, flooding, melting ice caps, declining biodiversity and increased storms.
McDonough puts it into perspective one way: We all are on a carbon budget. A carbon budget is how much carbon dioxide can be emitted before it is too much and it begins to alter the earth’s temperature. The earth collectively has a carbon budget and we as individuals have our own carbon budget. The earth’s carbon budget is dominated by things like factories that emit lots of carbon on a daily basis, more carbon than a single person could possibly create on the same timeline.
Environmental ethics professor Christian Preston says that one of the issues that comes into play when talking about climate change and what to do about it is moral obligation. He says that we as people can do things, but businesses, lawmakers and celebrities can often do more to curb emissions.
“I think [it’s] better to find ways of reducing emissions systemically. You're doing it at a national level through different policies, different options for transportation, different options for clean transportation. So, you know, the first thing to say is I would put that up as the primary thing to do if people are going to reduce emissions. But then, you know, the follow up question is okay, in the absence of that happening, should the individual change their behavior?”
Preston says that the answer varies by the person. How important is it for you to go home and see family on every long weekend? If it's super important, then maybe it is worth it for you to use some of your carbon budget to go home.
But, some people don’t think it’s necessary to go home for just a short time. Maybe they feel more comfortable waiting out that long weekend in Missoula and more in favor of flying home on special occasions like spring break. Preston says to keep the planet in mind no matter what you think about traveling over breaks.
“So for example, if somebody is going home to spring break to see family who they don't see enough, and that it is extremely meaningful to see those family members and if this might be the only opportunity they have for the next six months or 12 months or something like that, then I think that's a different moral equation than if somebody is taking some frivolous trip. So just go have a good time for 48 hours in some exotic place. So in every case, I think there's a value judgment to make. What are the values that I'm gaining, given the costs that I know this journey is going to involve? And I think we all have to ask ourselves that.”
The ethics of traveling, especially over college breaks, isn't black and white. Everyone has different circumstances and values that they deal with and believe in.
McDonough understands that the ethics of traveling are perplexing and can often leave you with a lot of feelings. But, he says that you shouldn’t feel bad for traveling if that’s what you feel is best for you.
“It's really important to not guilt people, or to not guilt yourself and say, ‘Oh, I should feel horrible, because I flew home for a holiday to see my family for four days. And now I'm the worst person in the world because I've destroyed the Maldives.’ By doing this, that doesn't really get us anywhere. Because either you feel guilty, and you do it anyway, because it's important to you and you just feel guilty about it the whole time. Or you feel guilty, and so you get defensive. And so you're even less likely to listen to climate advice on future things. So guilt in either direction doesn't really help us.“
To help you feel even less guilty when it comes to traveling, there are carbon credits, also known offsets. Carbon offsets are when you pay to offset the amount of carbon that you emitted into the atmosphere.
These credits can come from everywhere, which often makes them difficult to verify. Nonprofits and private businesses alike offer them in some form. Large businesses like airlines utilize and offer credits. United Airlines currently offers credits. The company announced that it aims to be “100% green by 2050 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% without relying on traditional carbon offsets.” Businesses like TerraPass and Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty are also verified carbon credit marketplaces.
Carbon credit puts money towards various efforts like energy efficient appliances for the less fortunate, or money towards efforts to capture methane that is released from landfills and dumps. As long as you find a verified and real credit, it can help.
Both Preston and McDonough say that the right carbon credits can do a lot of good for offsetting your emissions, but they have to be a valid offset. Look for independently verified carbon credits from reputable sources.
“The purchase of a carbon offset or carbon credit, allows you to put your money where your mouth is, and create a future that is going to be a better future. And I think that's something that even if one is sort of skeptical about your own personal obligation to cover every pound of carbon you put into the atmosphere, I think that's something we can all get behind is a worthwhile thing to do with our money, which you know, compensates for our own emissions and also helps create a better world.”
Traveling is not usually environmentally friendly, but travel isn't always evil either. Both Preston and McDonough agree that traveling can be very beneficial for your mental health, experiencing new cultures and for building and maintaining your social networks.
When deciding if you are going to travel home over a break, take a moment to think about what is important to you.
In other news….
In arts, Monte’s munchies for a bear-sized appetite.
In sports, the Lady Griz have a team dog?
For this week’s Kaimin Cast, I’m Alyssa Tompkins. Next time, join Clay Murphy for a look at why students switch their majors. See y’all next time!