Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wherein the Dilettante begins to learn the Role of Travel in this modern World, and begins likewise to worry about Her own Role, and begins to travel, therefore, ever so slightly down the Path that will cause her to be less of a Dilettante and more of a Global Citizen, even if that means staying Home.

Yes, folks, it seems that yours truly has recently developed a global conscience, or at least the beginnings of one. This is not a complete about-face for me; Ian and I recycle, we compost, we drive one of two cars using biodiesel, we eat organic, we don’t water our yard (really at all, which means that once in the spring we plant, and once in the fall we pull out everything that didn’t make it). I work from home and Ian bicycles to school . . . but even taking into account these ascetic living conditions, it still seems likely that the planet will run out of reasonably obtainable oil in about 30 years. This number is not set in stone by any means. And it doesn’t necessarily mean a return to pre-industrial life—we have developed alternate energy sources, and dependable energy storage (i.e. batteries), in the last 150 years. However, nothing is likely to easily replace the oil we’ve become addicted to, so it’s probable that any of us who are going to be alive in 30 years (and I certainly intend to be) will lead vastly different lives than we do at the moment.

What does that mean for me today? Well, I recognize that intercontinental travel, any air travel in fact, takes a lot of resources. An incredible amount of energy goes into keeping planes in the sky (and boy am I glad!). So, do I travel as much as possible, as far away as possible, while I still can? As long as planes are flying and I can afford a ticket, should I go? Guzzle down martinis until the gin runs out, and I don’t remember my name or where I came from, but at least I’ve had a great three hours?

So far, I do intend to continue traveling—addictions are hard to quit cold turkey—so how can I make the expenditure of oil worthwhile? The world has shrunk almost alarmingly in the last couple decades, with 7-Eleven and Coke and Starbucks and McDonalds everywhere, creating markets for foot-long rolling hot dogs, corrosive soda, venti mochas and sugar-laced Big Macs (it’s true!) where previously people ate sticky rice or black bean stew and drank green tea and local fruit juices—and vice versa, of course. In our neighborhood alone are at least five sushi restaurants, two Thai places, a Malaysian curry house, an Afghan restaurant, an African restaurant, and of course Mexican and European options galore. As it becomes more expensive to travel, though—and ship things all over the world—the planet will begin to grow again.

As a writer who travels, I am in the somewhat unique position of being able to document these changes in a global sense—society’s last push to homogenize the earth, the inevitable failure as the earth cuts off our means of homogenization, the slowing of the hamster wheel we’re so desperately trying to keep spinning, the reverse of the trend, and the slow re-expansion of our world and a return to localization. It’s a fascinating time to be living, and, I realize, to be one of the Americans who’ve made this whole crisis possible. I’m sure if I were one of the Tuvaluans who are being relocated because even breadfruit can’t grow on their swamped atolls anymore, I would be much, much angrier and much less fascinated.

But for now I’m not going to stop traveling. I am going to take advantage of the denial for at least a couple more years—see Cape Verde and Senegal; Tasmania and the rest of Australia; New Zealand; and revisit friends in Portugal; London; Greece if possible; Kenya again if it’s ever again safe. But while I’m home, I’m going to make more of an effort to educate myself about alternatives for the future, and to reduce my ecological footprint so I can afford (at least a little), in the ecological sense, to see these places and meet these people and experience these myriad cultures that might so soon be out of reach.


Erik said...

It's sometimes hard to know the emperor has no closes. Kudos to thinking about the hard questions in a personal way.

KateMV said...

Very interesting reflections... they do make you stop and think.