The World in a Teacup

It’s not fair! I suppose I should have acted before, when I had the money, even if not the time. It’s my own fault though, and that makes it doubly regrettable, doesn’t it? I mean it’s one thing to blame the younger me, and another to thank him for getting me to a place where I am still healthy enough to endorse his methods. To be able to act.

What I am going on about is Travel. Real travel -not the proxies offered up in those myriad TV programs of exotic islands, and steaming jungles often described by an utterly charming British voice to add an air of engaging authenticity. Yes, in them I can almost hear the snake creeping up on the foolishly unwary lizard, almost taste the sweat in my eyes as I slog across a baking desert, or feel the leeches clinging to my legs after a gruelling day navigating an endless, muddy jungle wetland hoping for a place to camp… Almost.

It’s not that I would actually opt for that kind of thing, even given the opportunity, but I probably wouldn’t turn down an antipodal beach in the depths of a Canadian February as I scrape Jack Frost off the kitchen window to gauge the depth of snow that fell overnight. There are times when a change is as good as a coffee for the soul. And now that I’m retired, winter conjures dreams of rural summer idylls -New Zealand will do. Or Mexico… Anywhere but the here and now in which I am imprisoned.

And it’s not so much the weather, or the location I find myself enduring, as much as the need to get away. To vacate, as in ‘vacation’. To see and experience that which is not here. Une belle absence, as it were. But guilt-free. Earned, not as from a lottery win, but as from a pension -something to which I am entitled; something for which I worked.

And yet now I find that although my savings are paltry, albethey adequate for a few trips, they are indirectly proportional to a newfound guilt. Maybe I should just delete my BBC news app:

‘A new study says global tourism accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, around three times greater than previous estimates. The new assessment is bigger because it includes emissions from travel, plus the full life-cycle of carbon in tourists’ food, hotels and shopping.’

Great! First, the childhood tales by my mother of starving children in Ethiopia, or wherever, who would welcome the opportunity to eat my over-cooked spinach, and now, at life’s other end, the inability to check out her facts in person.

But, wait a minute. If I stay home, I’ll deprive those same Ethiopian kids of a job. ‘Tourism is a huge and booming global industry worth over $7 trillion, and employs one in ten workers around the world. It’s growing at around 4% per annum.’ Still, it’s hard for the average retiree to argue with Dr. Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney, and her data from the study. ‘[…] in what is claimed to be the most comprehensive assessment to date, this new study examines the global carbon flows between 160 countries between 2009 and 2013. It shows that the total is closer to 8% of the global figure. As well as air travel, the authors say they have included an analysis of the energy needed to support the tourism system, including all the food, beverage, infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as the retail services that tourists enjoy.’ But I guess it’s only fair to count all of that stuff. I wonder if you get offsets for guilt.

And, of course, ‘When richer people travel they tend to spend more on higher carbon transportation, food and pursuits says Dr Malik. “If you have visitors from high income countries then they typically spend heavily on air travel, on shopping and hospitality where they go to. But if the travellers are from low income countries then they spend more on public transport and unprocessed food, the spending patterns are different for the different economies they come from.”

I like to think I also take public transportation, but I’m not so sure I want to be so eco-friendly to the native parasites and bacteria, that I don’t want them processed. Otherwise it would be like smuggling when I decided to come back to Canada, right? Drugs, or bugs, it’s still bad.

Coming from a wealthy country, though, carries its own stigma. ‘The report underlines the fact that when people earn more than $40,000 per annum, their carbon footprint from tourism increase 13% for every 10% rise in income. The consumption of tourism does “not appear to satiate as incomes grow,” the report says.’ Uhmm, well, since I retired, my income has gone down, not up, so maybe those shoes I got at the Value Village Warehouse leave pretty small footprints.

The whole thing seems to be two-edged, doesn’t it? Damnation if I do, and a snowy purgatory if I don’t. If I stay home, people will starve, or at least not benefit from my dollar, let alone my advice. The airlines will go broke, and so will the hotels -although the ones I usually stay in are probably on their way out, anyway. I’m not sure if the Indian and Thai restaurants I can afford are raking it in from my presence either -they are often the only ones that allow me to bring my own wine and sit there for hours eating the cheapest thing on the menu while I drink it. And then I usually attempt walking back to my hotel, evidently dismaying the cab drivers who have been sitting in their vehicles the whole time, when they notice me through the window.

Anyway, I’m trying to work my way through the guilt. Expiate, without actually having to go out and plant any trees to soak up my footprints. After all, I’m doing the same stuff as I would at home, only I’m benefitting those less fortunate people who are condemned to live without blizzards, and who will likely never injure themselves slipping on an icy sidewalk on the way to Starbucks.

In fact, I’ve almost convinced myself that I’m part of the solution, you know -that I am actually feeding those kids spinach. If only I could have promised that to my mother…










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