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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Carrying On The Discussion Which Began In The Comments Section Of The Previous Post

Because Dave, Chris, and Jeff have all brought up things that I'd like to discuss.

First, the environmental cost of travel:

I totally get where you (Snowleopard) are coming from about the plane stuff. Actually, the guy who's running this place is working on starting a second/daughter project in Morocco so that Europeans can do the same sort of stuff only by using buses and ferries, and it's a frequent topic of discussion amongst the staff and volunteers. Are we doing any net good by coming here? Do we do more good living almost zero-impact lives for a while but flying to do it, or would it be more effective for us to just stay home and try to live as low-impact as is possible in our high-impact societies. If you know a website that can help with these sort of calculations, I'd love to see a link. I just checked one site that put my flight impact at 1.38 tons of CO2. Another says that the average American is responsible for 20 tons of C02 a year, and I doubt Koreans are far behind. So if those numbers are to be trusted, the flight is equivalent to living in the USA for a month, and my emissions here are far lower than the average Indian's, who already consumes only about 1/16 of what an American does. Those numbers are a little more encouraging than the ones Chris came across, but who knows which to trust?

(For what it's worth, which isn't much, lots of us use only bicycles to get around while we're here. I'm seriously toying with the idea of trying to bike all or part of the way back home, but I have no idea how long it would take or how safe it would be.)

Actually, there's a similar logic behind why the community here eats vegan. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to plant a forest and then eat meals that depend on razing other forests to make space to raise crops to feed animals, just like it doesn't makes sense to do water conservation work from 6:30-8:30 in the morning and then take long showers out of taps. We're doing our best to be conscientious, both in terms of the work we do and the lifestyles we choose.

Also, I like to think of my time here as a sort of investment. It may have an immediate carbon cost, but it's conceivable that it will be paid off in the long run. There's no such chance or even intention as far as meat is concerned. It reminds me a bit of our solar panels in the sense that there's an immediate environmental cost in producing them but that after a few years said cost will have been recouped. Sitting at home, or rather wherever you are, even if it's not home, might be the best way to keep low emissions, but it's also not proactive in any way and doesn't lead to sustainable solutions.

Another thing to keep in mind is that lots of the people who are in Sadhana didn't get a flight to India with us in mind. They found out about us after arriving, and are deciding to stay with us in lieu of traveling elsewhere in India, and not in lieu of staying at home. In their cases, the plane argument isn't relevant. In my case, though, since I came largely with farming and low-impact life in mind, it definitely is.

I didn't understand the Soccer Mom metaphor because I don't picture them as having much cognitive dissonance due to the environmental externalities of their lifestyle. That's why I only picked up on the fatalistic sentiment in what you wrote. I do see what you mean, though, about how I may in this case be choosing to pursue my travelicious lifestyle despite what I know about how it affects the environment and others. I think I've addressed this, somewhat, above. Also, it's worth mentioning that traveling and not eating meat is better, environmentally, than traveling and eating meat.

One more thing, just for the sake of arguing. I don't think that refusing to fly is the single best thing we can do. The single best thing, I'm guessing, is probably not to have children. This, of course, may or not not be a palatable option and may be another of those SUV-driving-soccer-mom issues where our thoughts about what things in life are desirable override our concern for larger, less immediate and tangible matters. But just imagine how little of an impact we'd have if we didn't exist at all.

I'll make another post about the reasons for my vegetarianism/veganism shortly.