Reconciling With My Environmental Guilt

Claire Weeks
January 11, 2020

I’ve been preparing to go abroad to Berlin for almost a year now in so many ways. From applying picking a program, internally to my college, to applying externally to my program it’s been and endless stream of choices and steps. More recently, decisions that I will be making when I am actually abroad have been much more present in my thoughts, primarily thoughts about my impact on the environment while traveling. Generally, I consider myself to be a pretty environmentally conscious person: I haven’t eaten meat for around ten years, I carry reusable bags and silverware with me, I’m part of sustainability initiatives on my home campus, I take public transit when available. The discomfort that I had with traveling and the way that it contrasted pretty starkly with my personal values was when I was booking plane tickets.

Initially, I envisioned Berlin as my home base for exploring the rest of Europe, as well as the general surrounding areas. This means that, like many students studying abroad, I was planning on purchasing a good number of well priced Ryanair flights. It has been estimated that aviation is responsible for around 3.5% of climate change, a number that is only expected to rise as travel by plane becomes cheaper and more widely used (Penner) and 29% of CO2 emissions can be attributed to travel generally (IPCC). Knowing this information makes me feel incredibly guilty, not only for potentially taking additional flights and trains while abroad, but also for taking my initial international flights as well. My responsibility for my additional emissions is something that I feel deeply uncomfortable for, but at the same time not so much that I’m going to cancel the flights completely. 

It has been very difficult for me to reconcile having experiences that I will, most likely, never be able to have again in my life with my increase in carbon footprint and resulting guilt. I am becoming more conscious that my abroad experience will definitely have an element of enjoying the things that I would like to while attempting to balance the impact of those activities and amenities with my own personal morals and values. I am sure that this alignment will be less than perfect and that sacrifices one way or another will be made, but I’m excited and very interested to learn more about the ways my individual travel impacts the environment and what I can do to lessen said impact.

Works Cited

Penner, Joyce.  IPCC, Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1999), Cambridge University Press.
IPCC (2007). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

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