Happy Earth Week, Passion Passport community! In honor of Earth Day 2019, we’re bringing you new sustainable travel content every day this week, with each story aiming to celebrate eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope we inspire you to travel with the environment in mind.
If you pay even the slightest attention to the news these days, you’re aware that our climate is one of the most contentious issues around the world. And depending on just how closely you’re following the conversation, you might find yourself experiencing climate anxiety. No matter where the environment ranks among your personal priorities or those of your elected officials, the subject constitutes a unique point of discussion because of the issue’s long-term implications.
A look at even the most conservative estimates tells us that the planet is fighting for survival, and that changes of a greater scope and magnitude than ever previously enacted need to come sooner rather than later. But unfortunately, as the daily headlines show us, progress at the institutional level remains slow, with those on the resistant side clinging to common excuses that decry the economic viability of new technologies and the uncertainty of jobs in traditional energy, like coal.
Despite the vocal opposition to change, there are ample good stories from around the world that inspire hope for a sustainable future.
One positive result of institutional resistance to change is that individuals are not waiting on the powers that be to lead by example. Modern problems require modern solutions, ones that circumvent the problem of institutional lag. When “political institutions have to provide incentives for politicians to abide by them repeatedly over time,” the responsibility to take action often falls on the individual citizen.
Just last month, we saw an “unprecedented” series of protests spearheaded by schoolchildren in over 2,000 cities worldwide. A cynic might take issue with the fact that the responsibility for speaking up rests squarely on humankind’s smallest shoulders, but there’s no place for cynicism in the fight against climate change. What these students are doing is nothing short of remarkable! When I was their age, you would have had trouble prying me away from a video game, let alone coaxing me into a climate march. An informed and unified young generation is a promising sign that this sense of urgency will work its way up the societal ladder before too long.
Around the same time these students were preparing for action, another new movement was gaining traction on the Internet. Gone are the days when viral content meant videos of people challenging one another to eat raw cinnamon: with the emergence of the #trashtag challenge, the new cool thing to show off is the ability to clean up after ourselves. In an era when the anonymity of social media has led to the spread of inane content and even hate speech, a development like this reminds us of the potential the Internet still has to be used for the betterment of society.
But public demonstrations and beach clean-ups are reactive initiatives in a time when we need proactive change. While the average person might not have the agency to choose the fuel in their homes or cars, we all can think more critically about the fuel our bodies use. I’ve written before about the rising popularity of veganism and the positive knock-on effects for a society that better caters to plant-based diets — such as decreased water usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is we’re on the right path: in the U.K. alone, the estimated number of vegans went from just 150,000 in 2006 to 540,000 in 2016, while 3.5 million people claim adherence to a vegan or vegetarian diet on a semi-regular basis.
The silver thread running through all of these developments is that of youth, because young adults who will have the most say over our environmental future are already more involved than any other age group. While I’ve intentionally covered good news here that owes nothing to institutions, the most effective way forward is, of course, to push for institutional progress, and no group better represents the youthful momentum behind that push than the Sunrise Movement. The support they mobilized for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal allowed it to burst onto the national scene. Regardless of the legislation’s ultimate fate, the idea of people so young being able to shake the governmental foundations of a nation in such a way is cause for future optimism.
Finally, while there is good news to be found at the institutional level, it’s also proof that change will never be without controversy and backlash. While the environmental benefits of a carbon tax, or, say, electric flight are promising, the economic and political minutiae of such solutions will need hammering out, a process that can look a lot different depending on the society. For now, the best news of all is that all of us can do something, and the list of ways is growing without any special permission. We don’t need to suddenly stop traveling, eating, or living our lives, especially not when making green changes can save us money. The climate is changing, yes, but so is the world — and for the better.
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Cover Photo by Luca Bravo