Vacation from Emissions

July 15, 2019

Attention! We have less than four years to significantly reduce global emissions. After that, changes to the atmosphere will be locked in and will lead to greater and greater warming. Given the sense of urgency, all of our habits and traditions need to be re-examined from the perspective of climate impacts. The time to act is now.

I propose we rethink the idea of the “vacation” and transform any time we’ve accrued for leisure to be used instead for climate emergency action and to reconnect to nature. These small actions have the potential to shift others and society toward larger, more significant change. Moving away from the traditional vacation may be the greatest gift we’ll ever give to ourselves.

Potential benefits? Airplanes cause a staggering amount of global greenhouse gases. If we can reduce the number of airplanes flying, great. But this campaign isn’t about putting airlines out of business. If planes could fly on electric batteries or other energy sources that do not contribute to a warming planet, fly away! The issue at hand is tourism and related activities that emit carbon and other greenhouse gases. We need to vacate away from those activities.

(Photo: Flickr/dsleeter_2000)

The idea of the contemporary vacation, the holiday away, is really quite recent and a result of cheap energy afforded to us by fossil fuels, which have freed up time that wasn’t available previously. The industrial revolution’s machines, technology, and cheap fossil fuels have taken over most work tasks that used to be done by people, so we now have excess time for art, education, and vacation. This “surplus” time is made available in large part because the fossil fuel economy provides each one of us with about 100 “energy slaves”. That is, the energy equivalent of first world consumers is equal to what it would take 100 people to work around the clock to support our current lifestyle. Our free time is not free of carbon emissions.

Comic strip

(Image from a comic strip, created by Stuart McMillen, that walks through the etymology of “Energy Slaves”).

At this point, we need to rethink all our assumptions and expectations if humans are to survive. A collective shift away from energy-intense vacations is needed to curb emissions but especially to demonstrate to others one of the myriad countermeasures being taken by intentional human action. Transforming holidays is a step that most of us can take because many of us already have that choice at our disposal. We can take days off to plant trees, convert our grass lawns to natural landscapes, volunteer with The Climate Mobilization or other climate nonprofits, or simply to go on a hike nearby to reconnect to the magic of the natural world, which is an essential part of the transformation in each of us that needs to take place to facilitate the drastic paradigm shift that must occur.

A first response to the idea to climate-bank vacation time will likely be resistance due to a sense of entitlement for what has been earned. This is not a campaign to forgo time off from work but to adjust how time off from work is spent so that it better aligns with the climate crisis and does not contribute to more emissions.

Let’s put this into perspective: If we fail in the climate emergency, our children will not have a viable future at all, much less any vacation time. While we may be concerned with vacation time, our kids and grandchildren are concerned with life itself. That’s why some have taken to the streets (video). If we fail to inspire enough change soon enough, our world shifts into an inhospitable place. Which is more of a priority: life itself or vacations?

If you’re feeling that this act is insignificant, consider this. Every action generates momentum, like a few drops of water that become a waterfall. In a recent Guardian piece, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “Hope is something that you create, with your actions. Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope.” The swell of hope is rising.

So if you’re willing to begin transitioning your vacation hours to the service of climate restoration and to spend time to reconnect with the natural world, you can take the modern-day commitment step and “like” this Facebook page (Vacation from Emissions). It can begin small. Each step away from emissions helps the climate and adds to the social awakening. This Facebook presence can become a space for ideas: how to reduce emissions and to celebrate successes with photos, inspiring stories, lessons learned, organizations to connect with, etc. This can become a place to document the actions individuals are taking on their own time to transform and embolden the world.

For many, the urgency may not yet seem dire enough to require personal action. Fires, droughts, floods need to be more pronounced or they need to affect more people personally before they take action.

Waiting for more devastating events is an option. Waiting for “leaders” to declare a climate emergency is an option. But human time frames are of little concern to the planet. Temperatures can increase many degrees, and the globe will continue to float in space. Only without humans.

It may be that we resist taking a first step because of the fear that arises from acknowledging the predicament that we’re in. Know this: the reality of the climate crisis is not going away, but action can take you through fear and into a place of hope. The time to act is now to show all people that we understand that there is no greater cause at this point. We need our actions to demonstrate the fact of this predicament to those who rely on others’ actions to inform their own reality.

In time, a vacation from emissions will be experienced as a great gift. A deeper dive reveals that the allure of traditional vacations wanes with the greater realization stemming from the connection to life. The urge for far-away vacations comes about because we fail to see the beauty right in front of us.

The word “vacation” comes from the Latin vacare which means “to be unoccupied”. We want to be unoccupied by sipping a margarita in Belize. At this point, however, can we be unoccupied by the truth of the climate crisis, except perhaps by numbing ourselves with a distraction? Will riding a zipline in New Zealand clear our conscience of the heat-induced dying sea?

It’s time to ramp up our personal actions to inspire the larger movement. The transformation begins with stepping away from far-away holidays. And as we develop, it continues into all aspects of life toward decisions that support the natural world and connect us to the planet we depend on.

Vaidila Satvika

Vaidila Satvika is an Urban Planner with the City of Asheville

Tags: aviation emissions, personal action, social change