Want to pollute less when you travel?
I don’t recommend following the New York Times’s advice in Greening Your Summer Vacation, such as:
the nearly 10,000-mile round trip between Newark and Honolulu could recently be offset with a $14.78 donation to a wind farm, or $17.74 to help protect a forest in Peru.
That trip would put 3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is just part of its pollution (source):
We don’t know how to get that CO2 out of the atmosphere beyond planting trees, but planting trees only offsets the trees we cut down. Jet fuel comes from oil. $14.78 does nothing meaningful except help people sleep at night by keeping them ignorant of their externalities.
Reading that article makes me feel like I bet Martin Luther King felt when he wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, “follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern.”, and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.
So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.
I’m not trying to draw a direct analogy, but people who think donating $14.78 to a wind farm is in the same universe of size of effect to the environment as flying 10,000 miles are lowering the chance of effective change more than if they didn’t do anything. (I wouldn’t bring morality into it).
I would consider the role of journalism to discredit the organizations it links to as fatuous and ignorant to the point of achieving the opposite of their stated goals. I read their claims like Haagen Dazs’ campaign of having five ingredients, implicitly referring to Michael Pollan’s advice for healthy eating, when they are the opposite. If it isn’t self-serving deception, it’s irresponsibly ignorant.
I’m not saying ice cream is bad, but not the pure thing they say. Nor am I saying that travel is bad, but to imply reusing a bag is comparable to flying around the world regarding pollution is yet more fatuous, ignorant, and counterproductive. It leads people who want to change to stagnate.
Those organizations are making people feel good for doing what they would do anyway. The greenhouse effect doesn’t react to how much you feel you emit. It reacts to how much you emit.
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