And it all must come to an end!
Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
57Trip End May 2010
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First, we give thanks to our families who openly provided financial support, housed us during our trip, helped transport and store our stuff, cared for our cat, Blaine, helped run miscellaneous errands for us while we were abroad, tolerated long periods of "radio silence" from us, met us along the way (and bought us dinners!), remembered our Birthdays, and even took us on two hunting trips! We love you so much!
Second, thanks to our friends who supported us so dearly; we call out your overwhelming generosity:
Thank you to those who helped us with the house, mail and storage, and generally keeping our Seattle-based lives intact: Matt Peters and Emily Falls, Greg Chappell, Sara Kimmel, Dave Stehlik, Andy Strasburg, Colleen Palkert and Dusty Maly,
Folks who opened their apartments, homes, backyards for us all around the globe:
Carrie Jones & Tim Halder (Seattle), Jim Cronan (Seattle), El Mehdi (Buenos Aires), Alisa Gragert & Nate Conroy (Bariloche), Ricardo Ramos (La Paz), Nico Cusihuaman (Cuzco), Juan Andres Garzon (Quito), Sarah Kimmel (Seattle), Lynn & Scott Roby (Smith Rock), Keith Beckley (Flagstaff), Ben Glenn (San Francisco), Andreas & Veronica Simanowski (Reno), Kasi & Andreas Schmidt (Salt Lake City), Allen & Elly Saunders (Jackson), Jon Jantz (Spokane), Det & Sally Kunz (Courtenay), Fanny Yau (Hong Kong), Sean & Jessica Rogers (Hong Kong), Rob Jenkinson (Kathmandu), Ashok & Rita Bhutani (Delhi), Don & Dorothy Frost (Hamilton, NZ), Kirk Donaldson (Cairns), Elaine Reeves (Glass House Mountains), Dan Aveling (Sydney), Michelle & June (Wagga Wagga), Cynthia a& Geoffrey Howell (Melbourne), and Emily Rummel (Vancouver)
And lastly, a big thanks to all the people at West Monroe Partners who made Lindsey’s leave of absence possible. Without that, and without the positive support from all her coworkers, we wouldn’t have had the financial stability to return to, nor the confidence to take the trip of a lifetime. Thank you for making it possible and proving to be a flexible, fantastic company to work for. You truly put your people first!
Throughout the trip, we reflected on how we saw each other change through our experiences. However, we were also reminded of the types of changes we struggle to make, and thus hinder us in adapting when we should. Without a doubt, the greatest gift this trip gave us was the proverbial workout for our relationship. Certainly spending day and night together for almost sixteen months meant that issues couldn't be ignored and had to be dealt with, and thus we grew stronger, became more tolerant of each other and simply learned the importance of not sweating the small stuff. But perhaps more importantly, we were blessed to acknowledge almost daily how well we work together and how well we support each other.
Perhaps cliché, but nonetheless true, our travels drove home the point of how good we've got it. To us, this point was illustrated most strongly, not by differences in standard of living that one typically thinks of, but rather the environmental differences we observed and often experienced firsthand. Certainly these two are interrelated, but it made us realize how shielded we are in the First World from our environment, or perhaps more accurately, the impacts we have on our environment.
All the countries we visited are poorer than the US (based on per-capita GDP), and with the exception of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all were Third World nations, it was striking to experience how the people in poorer countries lived, for the most part, with their environmental impacts. Perhaps this is the reason that travel in the Third World is so difficult for us "First Worlders." We would argue that it is rarely the language barriers, cultural differences, sense of lack of security, etc. that are the toughest to deal with but rather the almost constant pollution (China and India), ever present trash (Bolivia, China, India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia), scarcity or lack of readily available drinking water (Bolivia, Peru, China, Nepal, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and most scarce of all: Australia) and the most frustrating of all, the crowds and crowds of people (China of course, Nepal, India, Indonesia). But in most instances, the great majority of the population faces these realities every day. By contrast, we live in relative isolation from our impacts on our environment (with a few exceptions such as unmanageable traffic, etc. - but these are inconveniences compared to what most Third World countries endure), yet we have, or at least give the visage, that we are environmentally minded and at least try to act accordingly.
So why then, if we are generally concerned environmentally in our World should they not be more so in their World since they face these circumstances daily? Well, it turns out (from our Third World experiences) that local populations are aware of their growing environmental problems and populations; they often understand key problems such as population growth, deforestation, over fishing, toxic waste and atmospheric pollution. They understand these problems firsthand; for example, in mountainous, rural Nepal, deforestation means that people have extremely limited sources of wood to build or repair houses, heat their homes or even cook their meals, and thus turn to yak dung for a more renewable solution for least their cooking and heating problem. In China, face masks are constantly worn to combat the poor air quality; we know firsthand how much fun it is to wear a facemask in a hot, humid city center--It feels like a plastic bag on your face! But as so many of us have witnessed before in these countries, despite the best intentions of the local citizens and communities, a poor economy often coupled with ineffective government results in these communities focusing on more primary needs (their children’s education, food, shelter, etc.) and less empowered to affect positive environmental change.
These problems were even present (if not in your face) in the First World countries we travelled in as well. Sure, there wasn’t the same kind of visible pollution, waste management issues, or overcrowding; however, these countries were by no means “sustainable.” For example, if you take the time to talk to Australians about environmental issues, most are acutely aware of their environmental problems. Like New Zealand, they face a tremendous problem with introduced species. In Australia, rabbits, sheep and cattle have eroded vast areas of soil beyond repair. Where in the early 1900’s, the government introduced penalties to leased farmers who didn’t meet a certain minimum quota of sheep or cattle per acre to increase profits, now, because of their increased awareness on erosion and sustainability, the government penalizes leased farmers if they graze beyond a maximum number of sheep or cattle per acre. But it could be too late in many parts of Australia for such measures. With incentives for consumers like subsidized beef, farmers deforested so much land to clear for grazing cattle that not only are keynote animals that are unique to Australia becoming endangered from losing their homes in native gum trees, such as the koala, Australia faces a potentially larger problem of soil erosion and salinization (worsened as well by antiquated farming techniques to maximize production), leading to an eerie water shortage. Australia has one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, meaning the more people that inhabit the continent, the faster the land disintegrates with current land and resource management. Recent statistics show that fragile Australia can only sustain a mere 11MM people, beyond which, it is no longer sustainable. However, there are currently 20MM people living there, and population is growing. The current government in power has been focusing on immigration growth despite all the environmental evidence for one main reason: with its nearest neighbors so densely populated and with their fast growing economies, Australia fears it will risk being overtaken and flooded with the people inhabited by these countries if it doesn’t “fill up” sooner than later. Seems like a crazy concept now, but in reality it’s hardly different from the US’s and Canada’s push to populate its “vacant” lands in the 1800s (check this).
But all this “negative talk” was often balanced with signs of positive change. China, though currently ranked as the "world's worst" went it comes to its environment, is showing signs of moving the fastest towards a green future. Huge solar and wind projects that are promised or in the works make US solar and winds farms look like child's play (assuming these projects come to fruition); for example, the Solar Generator project (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region) "looks set to take the [solar generation] limelight with a multi-stage concentrated solar power plant that will be generating 1000 MW by the year 2020". China is leading with "Green Cities" (e.g. Huangbaiyu and Dongtan) which use recycled water, cogeneration and biomass for energy, and strive to be as carbon-neutral as possible.
Awareness and action for wildlife conservation in Nepal, Indonesia, and beyond continues to dominate the tourist circuits, and many national parks and wildlife reserves have been opened or expanded over the past 10-15 years, showing that the work of WWF, increased tourism and therefore wildlife viewing demand and international pressure is making a difference.
But all this reflection and pontification aside, if you simply look at all the crap pumped out from all our flights in this relatively short period of time, we've done a pretty fine job of doing some serious environmental harm ourselves. What can we do to reconcile this? The best and currently only way is to offset. Yes, abstaining from flying entirely is best, and changing one's lifestyle (let alone changing society's addiction to air travel) is hard; carbon offsetting may seem like the slack way out, but paying credible organizations to invest in renewable energy projects with the goal of balancing our carbon emissions is currently a realistic way forward. Not only does it lead to more sustainable, renewable energy that will over time reduce these carbon emissions, it makes a critical statement to our world society:
- We believe that climate change is too big a risk to not do something about it. We must instigate societal change.
- We are voluntarily putting our money where our mouth is: if money talks, then let it echo "carbon offsetting."
- We care enough to spend money, write blog entries, read science and literature on climate change, and research various carbon offsetting schemes.
Each of these actions has an effect that contributes to a new, sustainable way of thinking that will lead to a new way of living, for us and hopefully for you as well.
Carbon offsetting works and this is only part of the big picture. We are changing other aspects of our day-to-day living as well; bit by bit, these will lead to shrinking our own personal footprint...
Air: Total miles flown * two people: 81393 miles * 0.20 kg of carbon dioxide (per passenger) per mile -> 16.279 tonnes of CO2
Land: Total miles driven = 9938 miles -> 5.22 tonnes CO2
Carbon offset to Climate Care: $301.89
In reality, $302 seems like a small price to pay to reverse some of the damage we’ve done. It’s hard to believe that this money will be able to equate to offsetting a comparable amount of real carbon, but at Climate Care, they invest in projects that make that correlation real. Last year, the money donated by people like us offset carbon emissions in the form of biomass and solar projects in India, micro hydro and wind power projects in China, and an ongoing efficient stove project in Cambodia.
And we’ve decided to commit to some small, but incremental changes to our lives to help reduce our footprint going forward and make our lives more sustainable and frankly healthier and more economical too!:
- Driving less. We started this before we went on our trip and we'll continue it and continue to get better at it: biking more, carpooling more, taking public transit more. Think before you turn the key: every time. You've heard it, but it needs to be heard again. One of the ways we’ll meet this goal: Before we left on our big adventure, we drove to the grocery store almost every time we needed groceries. We’re lucky to live within 2 miles of about 5 supermarkets, which is well within biking distance. Aside from the occasional big shopping spree, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to fit all the food we need on our backs for a week in a pack and be able to carry it home on a bicycle. As an additional benefit, this method will force us to be more thoughtful about our purchases, which will in turn lead to healthier eating and fewer splurge expenses.
- Getting off the grid. Ben investigated the solar panel installation for both water heating and electrical generation. Even with government subsidies, it's not cheap, so we decided to hold off. Our new tactic is to work with our neighbourhood to excite other to invest in a neighbourhood solar panel installation project to reduce the per household price (volume purchasing) and at the same time provide a larger impact. Wish us luck!
- Buying local. We've been addicted to bananas for years now. It was great in Asia and South America where the bananas were local, but now that we're back in the Northwest, it's time to rid that addiction and switch to locally grown apples, etc.. You get the picture!
- Gardening. Can't get much more local than your backyard. We're saving money, saving the environment and helping Ben diversify his obsessions!