Pretty Lawns and Gardens: Taking responsibility for traveling

Many Tufts students travel home by air for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, polluting the atmosphere in the process. Air travel can make up a significant portion of an individual’s carbon footprint — a round-trip flight to a city in Western Europe will cost about two tons of carbon dioxide — so what can we do about it?

First of all, there is the obvious: don’t fly unless you must. Take a train or a bus — even a car will produce fewer emissions in most situations. In the case of returning home from Tufts, however, many non-local students don’t have a practical alternative to air travel. Currently no trans-Atlantic railways exist, and the Queen Mary 2 takes a week.

If flying is unavoidable, take responsibility for your carbon footprint. Many carbon offset programs exist, along with a handy calculator for how much carbon dioxide an individual must offset to reach neutrality.

Carbon offset programs recognize the enormous damage airplanes cause our planet and seek to mitigate and counterbalance such effects by planting trees and funding renewable energy projects. Of course, carbon offset isn’t the ideal solution — that would be a carbon negative or carbon neutral economy — but in our current society, it’s a place to start. Earth is hurtling towards a tipping point, 1.5 degrees Celsius, so anything we can do as a society or as individuals to reduce or reverse this trend is worth doing.

Of course, I shouldn’t have to argue for this sort of program. It shouldn’t be optional to take responsibility for your actions. In a rational world, responsibility would be built into the system.

Carbon taxes have been proposed before, most often on energy production companies, but I’d like to suggest a consumer-side carbon tax, for one simple reason: education. A producer-side carbon tax is a beautiful thing, and in theory it would correct the energy market to some degree in terms of pollution. But even when the cost of the tax is passed on to the consumer, comprehension is still lacking. Tax the consumer directly, and the message will be clearer — in the case of carbon offset, for example, add a dollar-value per ton tax to each ticket sold on top of the offering price. Passing on the tax burden from the producer side will not result in consumer understanding to the same degree.

With this in mind, fly home for the holidays, but take responsibility for your travel costs. The privilege of modern convenience comes with the duty to pay for it, and while I wish for a perfect world in which we use green products, ride carbon-neutral transportation and live in a way that balances modern comforts and technologies with our duty to the environment, I will pursue more proximate goals. You should too. You can calculate your carbon footprint on and make a donation to a carbon offset program of your choice from the same website. Beyond that, I encourage you to make environmentally-conscious decisions every day, and advocate for societal change as well.