It’s really going to require a massive leap of imagination and — most importantly — steely will to address the fundamentals of what make this climate crisis such an appalling predicament.
Just booked a ticket to fly roundtrip from Munich to the Canary Islands to lead a five-day retreat some weeks ago. The airline offered a carbon-offset scheme, which is what I’m trying to build in to the price of the tickets when I am invited anywhere to teach (and when I travel for so-called “pleasure,” which is discretionary flying which doesn’t really happen since all travel is for leading retreats). I thought that having this carbon offset become the new normal for all ticketing would help with the extreme guilt, shame, even self-hatred I’ve been experiencing as a result of falling back into so much air travel. (Remember, in 2016, I publicly forswore air travel for one year to cut down on all the carbon-shitting I was doing, especially the bi-annual trips to Asia for retreats and unnecessary meetings. But even though I announced it strongly to people who had been inviting me for teachings that I wanted to not fly for at least one year, if not longer, and hopefully build some new teaching regime around train-only work — a fantasy if ever there was one! — it lasted only 10 months. Not even one year. Within 6 months, I was receiving heartfelt complaints from folks whose meditation centers in several cities had come to depend on the interest generated from holding retreats together. Some had come to depend on these events for financial reasons, too, to pay their rents for a given period, or to pay staff salaries. I totally caved in, and have been flying ever since.)
Anyway, the offset program which I paid into for the Canary Islands flights gives a report on the offset you purchase. It offers you a sliding-scale choice for what kind of offset method you would prefer: either supposedly greener “sustainable aviation” jet fuel (pay more money), or more tree-planting (less money). The passenger chooses the cocktail mix.
And this is the report I got. Rather than feeling better, I actually feel much much worse. Look closely:
It would seem that planting more trees would have the added benefit of not only absorbing more carbon, but also give a chance for insect-life and birds to have some bases for annual proliferation, and preventing soil erosion, since these plantings are not done on very arable land, I have read. The falling leaves could fertilize, and provide nutrients for all sorts of insects. And forestation retains moisture and slows evaporation of precipitation for a generalized area, which is especially important in these times of water scarcity (and the associated social and political problems that ensue, including — but not limited to — the hot-button issue of mass migration from parched climes to the moderate north.)
There is one more reason why I opted for tree-planting: the immediate, apparent calculated benefits of so-called “sustainable aviation fuel” often does not factor in for you the messy refining processes and infrastructure management, fuel transport, etc., that go into bringing that supposedly “greener” fuel to your plane’s tank. Though, chemically, you might be creating some carbon “savings,” on some back-of-the-envelope calculation, by relying on anything from carbon sources, you are voting for and tangibly supporting all of the dirty infrastructure that go into things, from extraction to fueling, and all of the stock market valuations associated with this hellish substance dressed in angel’s wings.
So, rightly or wrongly, I opted for a higher tree-to-fuel mix. Immediately, I felt a little better. Until the full calculation appeared onscreen:
For me to fly roundtrip from Munich to the Canary Islands to lead five days of silent meditation in February/March 2020 will produce 472 kg of carbon. That’s 20 kg more than the weight of a Steinway & Sons Model D Concert Grand Piano! It’s about the weight of a large male polar bear! And then we multiply that by the number of others flying on the same plane, and — well, now I have a massive headache.
And if that was not enough, then the fine print came like a gut-punch: Rather than some effective assuaging of this aching heart, “Your planted trees will capture the stated CO2 amount in 20 years’ time.”
In 2040. When I am 75 years old.
Anyway, at least I didn’t have any children. That would have been hugely dumb for lots of reasons, but definitely from an ecological standpoint. And it would have been horrible for the kid(s): one, they would get stuck with such a strange dad and develop all sorts of psychological “issues” requiring years of psychotherapeutic work; and second, they’d have to inhabit a crispy hell-life on a burning planet which I had blithely helped two combust for decades!
I suppose we could all feel a little bit better about that.
I really don’t know how we are going to get out of this mess. Will have further reflections in a further post.
Still, I think we should do at least this kind of reforestation, do something. I am seriously trying to find a way of locating somewhere where I could limit the air travel to just a significant event or two every year. But frankly, with everything and everyone so impossibly intertwined and co-dependent, I have scant hope that we can actually pull this off.