As January slowly comes to an end, I can’t postpone much longer any goal-setting for the year. More than anything else my impact on the environment as a traveler bothers me. Simply blaming politicians is too easy. Time for a personal carbon budget.
The Hypocrisy Of Outdoor Sports(wo)men
As an avid rock climber I spend a good part of the year with my peers in the mountains. We are often faced with the consequences of human activity. Melting glaciers, more frequent extreme weather, increasing rockfall, trash, disappearing wildlife, urban expansion, mass tourism. You name it.
We outdoorsy people like to take the moral high ground. With great pride we proclaim our love for Mother Earth, and righteously frown upon locals tossing a an empty bag of chips in the forest. It’s true, we got pretty good at taking our trash back to the city. Sometimes we even pick up a few extra empty plastic bottles on the way. Good stuff, but that’s usually where our eco-friendly deeds end.
Back to civilization, and we hop on the next plane, drive yet another few hours to the next trail/crag/mountain, buy even more shiny gear. In fact, we are often far worse than the national average when it comes to our carbon footprint. We contribute significantly to the destruction of the planet we love so much.
I for one am growing very uncomfortable with my own hypocrisy.
A Personal Carbon Budget For Accountability
One of the secondary goals of starting a website was to structure my thoughts, and ultimately pressure myself to be more coherent with my discourse. It’s hard to praise accountability hacks on one hand, and not use them when needed on the other.
Reducing my carbon footprint made it to the top of my agenda for 2020. But the simple desire to do better is not enough. We humans are champions of cognitive dissonance. Cheap, convenient flights and fun road trips are hard to resist for me too.
This is where the idea of a carbon budget comes in handy. Using hard numbers as a target and going public are likely to give much better results. I hereby also pledge to offset my entire footprint. I’m perfectly aware that buying carbon credits comes with its own caveats. But it helps. And putting my money where my mouth is works remarkably well as a motivator for a cheapskate like me.
Coming Up With A Number
The idea of a carbon budget is not new. Scientists have suggested it as a tool to help us meet the target average global temperature rise of under 1.5 and 2°C respectively. Unsurprisingly, estimates vary a lot depending on methodology.
Climate modelling is not an exact science. But you have to start somewhere. I picked 5 tons of CO2 for 2020. Why? It’s roughly the worldwide per capita average. And still far too much. To put things in perspective, I’d need to aim for approximately 4 tons per year to meet the 2°C target. And reduce this gradually to around 1.5 tons by 2050.
A carbon budget of 5 tons of CO2 puts me in a strange situation. It’s already a significant improvement over my estimated 7-10 tons footprint from previous years. Also, it’s a realistic target for my current lifestyle. By Western standards its even quite an achievement. But before becoming a smug asshat I have to remember that this is also the footprint of entire small villages in Africa or Afghanistan. Way to go.
The Road Ahead
I have it relatively easy. I don’t own a home or a car. I get to stay in countries where heating is not necessary. I camp a lot. I usually have year-round access to delicious fresh local fruits and vegetables. I truly enjoy eating a mostly vegetarian diet. I rarely crave imported products. Quantifying emissions for food and accommodation remains difficult, but 1 ton seems a reasonable estimate for the year ahead.
That leaves 4 tons for my black sheep, transportation. Some flights are unavoidable because of visa regulations. And some overland alternatives are very challenging with a heavy backpack full of gear to say the least. Smart itinerary planning will be essential. Slow travel will be more important than ever.
So let’s see how it goes. I’ll check in again at the end of the year with actual numbers. My hope is that similar to my financial budget, I’ll become increasingly efficient over the years. And that I successfully replace pessimism and complacency with action.