Thursday, March 19, 2009

Should We All Stay Where We Are?

Crunchy had an interesting post on her blog about air travel and whether travel for tourism is selfish. My feeling? Yes, of course it's selfish. But so are a lot of things like eating meat for most people or even having children. But, then again, most of us aren't claiming to be selfless beings. I'm certainly not. Air travel is simply something I'm not willing to give up right now. So, as I see it, I could either throw my hands in the air and say "Screw it. I'm a hypocrite, so I might as well do nothing," or I could do my darndest to lower my emissions in every other possible way. I've chosen the latter.

But, this got me thinking even more. One of the reasons I'm not willing to give up air travel is simply because I have friends and family scattered on three continents. My mom lives in the Bay Area. My uncle lives in LA. One of my closest friends lives in Chicago. Another lives in New Jersey. My sister lives in New York City. My aunt lives in the UK. My grandmother lives in India. and so forth.

So for my whole life, we have constantly traveled. My mom took me to India when I was less than a year old, and we went back and forth every other year until I was 16. This had two ramifications. One, it tied me, inextricably, to a country on the other side of the world. Two, it ignited the travel bug in me.

When I went to college, I had a few options. One, was a school about 45 minutes away by car. Another was a school out in the Midwest. Because I thought getting out of my safety zone was an important component of growing up, I moved to the Midwest. As a result, I am now tied to the Midwest where many of my friends still live.

Then, after college, I moved to LA to pursue a career in entertainment. After spending seven years there, LA is the place I still call Home. Tiny pieces of my heart are hidden in pockets all over that city.

And after that I moved to London. Which has been an amazing, eye-opening experience. I have grown in ways I never thought possible. But, once again, now I have a whole slew of friends from all over the world. Once again, I have built ties to a city miles away from where I grew up.

All this means that for the rest of my life I will have to make tough choices. Do I go to the wedding in South America and emit all that carbon? Or do I hurt my friend deeply by not going? Do I go see my grandmother while I still can? Or do I stay where I am?

This makes me think that the only way to really combat all the travel we're doing, is if we all agree to just ... stay where we were born. Because once we start living in other places, we become linked to those places through friends, family, and a web of memories.

Maybe this means that if one lives in India, one shouldn't migrate to the US. Maybe this means that if you live in Los Angeles, and you get into Harvard, that you shouldn't go. Maybe this means that I should never have moved to London.

This seems, perhaps, the sensible course of action, and yet it makes me deeply sad. Because travel is selfish, undoubtedly so. And yet, I can't help feel that if we all stay where we are, something very important and significant will be lost.


EcoBurban said...

I'm not giving up air travel either. I'm willing to give a lot of things... my favorite shampoo, bottled ice tea and even toasty warm thermostat temps, but not travel.

When I hear my 4-year old say, Merci! That's what you say in France! I am happy. When I listen to my older boys reminisce about gelato flavors they liked while sitting by the Trevi fountain, I smile. I want them to appreciate other cultures, history and language. You can't do that sitting at home. The world is smaller than you think, experiencing it is a priviledge you should embrace.

Kelsie said...

I'm going to have to agree with you. Some of the fondest memories of some of the most life-changing events of my life happened during two long trips to Europe I took at the ages of 16 and 18. I fly probably twice a year, at the most--once to go home for Christmas and once to go home for spring break (I'm a teacher). Of course, the other option isn't that great, either--there are no trains running between Western Kentucky and OKC, and a Greyhound would take me two days. Usually, I just make the 10 hour drive. If I felt bad every time I got in the car or onto a plane, it'd be a pretty surefire way to NOT enjoy my trip. Travel is something I simply can't give up. It gives me a fresh perspective and keeps me from getting weary of my small town. :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

In my 30 years, I have lived in 7 states, 9 cities, and 2 countries, and as you said, it has led to me traveling a lot to see family and friends, but it has also given me a better understanding of different cultures and people. And I think that is ultimately more important than carbon emissions. If we all isolated ourselves in the city or country of our births, we would never get to know each other as people, and I think that would lead to so much more hatred and anger across cultures and races. We need to be conscious about the effects of our travel choices and make smart choices when we can, but as you said, we will something important and significant if we stay where we are.

Anonymous said...

I don't travel much (haven't been anywhere in about 3 years) but I wouldn't not want to have that as an option.

My entire family lives 600 miles away in a different country. Not to be able to see them? No thank you. Move back you say? Then what do I do about my husband who isn't Canadian and has kids who live 30 minutes away?

I wouldn't have met my current husband if we hadn't of immigrated to the United States. I wouldn't be able to communicate with him if I hadn't spent 6 weeks in Central America. Travel is for so much more than JUST selfish tourism. You need to get away from your own little culture to have the ability to perceive another culture's attitude and to understand other people. My mind is so much more open because I travelled.

Anonymous said...

But travel at the current rate will likely not continue due to dwindling resources, and climate change will catch up with all of us. Then travel will be out of the question anyway and we will stay put more.

So its just a question of stopping now (get it while you can) or stopping later (when you are forced to).

Laura said...

Thank you for posting this, it's also very close to my heart, as an American living in the UK.

Why does it have to be an all-or-nothing scenario? It seems like everyone is so polarized, that either you give it all up and don't travel, or you just ignore it and go blithely about your business. Why can't more of us take the attitude you've chosen, to be aware of the problems, aware of the results of air travel, think carefully about the ways it's possible to try to ameliorate the effects?

As an aside, yes, air travel is a bad thing for carbon emissions etc., but a lot of things are. I think this one gets picked on a bit because it's an easy target-- you know, the oblivious rich, jetting through the air. That's true to some extent, but for people like me, not rich, just living far from home and family, I don't take it lightly, but I do take offense at people shaking their finger at how naughty I am for the environment.

I think I got a little bit stuck up on my incoherent soapbox there, apologies!

Stephanie said...

I've thought about this a little bit too, and I agree with you and your commenters -- something is lost when you don't get the chance to learn about new cultures first-hand. As Erin said, travel "has also given me a better understanding of different cultures and people. And I think that is ultimately more important than carbon emissions." Why else do study abroad programs exist in college? How are you supposed to broaden your thinking when you're never exposed to something completely different?

That said, Ruchi, I'm flying to London for my spring break. Got any tips of things to see and do? Why is my verification word exactly "north"? That's weird and... random.

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belinda said...

Sure something is lost if we don't travel and experience the wider world. The thing I am not sure about is taken as a whole is what is lost worth the cost future generations will pay.

The reality is where I live I had the privilege of growing up in an area with extremely high Greek and Turkish populations. For at least half the kids going into prep in my primary school English was most definitely their second language. We celebrated National days and learned bits of their languages from native speakers.

Within my state I can easily within half an hour drive to visit areas that are predominantly Chinese or Italian to the extent of requiring multilingual street signs.

Growing up many of the homes I visited were first generation Greek, Indian, Sri Lankan and Egyptian and the way all of them ran their homes and their familial relationships were very different. In some cases even what was considered family was very different.

The shop owners of my after school job in high school were Greek Fish Mongers where because of my colouring I was addressed in Greek half the time.. because of my clumsy responses it probably just assumed that my parents hadn't put me through the standard Saturday morning Greek School offered in the area.

Sure it isn't the same as visiting all those places.. but the reality is the experience of having it part of my every day life was enriching. I may have only skimmed the edges of these cultures but I was well aware that what happened in my home wasn't the only way to live. For me being involved in a diverse and multicultural society at home is something that I would miss more than air travel if it wasn't there.

Kind Regards

ruchi said...

Belinda, I see what you're saying, but as the child of immigrants, my point is more that, for those immigrants then, traveling to see their family back home often becomes very important.

So yes, it's great to live in a multicultural society, but what I'm suggesting is that once you immigrate somewhere, you somewhat resign yourself to a peripatetic lifestyle. Not every immigrant goes back and forth between the mother country and the new country, of course, but if they don't go back, it's usually because they can't afford to. Because it is emotionally very difficult not to go back.

So the logical conclusion of that is that we should all migrate less. Which would mean there would be less multiculturalism in your own town. Which would be a significant loss for everyone.

On the other hand ... maybe that's what needs to be done. I don't know.

ruchi said...

Stephanie, email me at arduousblog (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll give you some suggestions.

Allison said...

I think some carefully planned travel is critical to becoming more enriched, aware, conscientious human beings. Not all the information we receive on other cultures and countries should be filtered through the media. I used to travel 75% of the time for work and I resented it. Now one trip per year, even domestically, is a treat and I take in and appreciate so much more.

amy.leblanc said...

i was recently "accused" of being a hypocrite for this very reason (air travel) on my blog as well, and struggled with it. for a minute.

btw, you can always buy carbon offsets for your plane tickets. i don't necessarily think that this "solves" the problem, but it helps. and, btw, traveling by plane is MUCH less polluting than by car or certainly by ship/OGV. and some airfare sites now automatically ask if you want to do it when you purchase your ticket, which is awesome.