How to travel more sustainably
In the US, the transportation of goods and people is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. It's essential that we continue striving to make better choices while recognizing that the climate crisis requires systemic solutions beyond individual change. With that in mind, a good way to reduce individual greenhouse gas emissions is to consider ways to travel more sustainably.
As an environmental non-profit dedicated to science and conservation, Earthwatch understands the importance of combating the climate crisis. Earthwatch mobilizes thousands of volunteers each year to participate in local and international research and conservation projects.
We recognize that our programming, which often involves travel, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, we have reexamined our operations and set new goals to expand virtual and community-based programs. This has reduced our reliance on air travel and allowed us to engage more people in environmental science. You can learn more about Earthwatch's commitment to sustainability here.
Nonetheless, many of our expeditions require travel. As a result, we encourage Earthwatch staff and participants to adopt more sustainable travel practices. Here are a few practices you can implement.
Is carbon offsetting the most effective strategy to pursue more sustainable travel?
Let's start by demystifying carbon offsetting and its role in sustainable travel practices. Carbon offsetting involves compensating for unavoidable emissions by supporting projects that reduce or remove an equivalent amount of emissions elsewhere. Offset projects include a variety of initiatives that conserve carbon-storing forests, wetlands, and grasslands or reduce emissions from sources like landfills, farms, and coal mines. When considering carbon offsets, it is critical to support those that are carefully designed and implemented.
However, it's important to note that carbon offsetting is just one tool for reducing our personal contributions to climate change. Earthwatch scientists agree, citing biodiversity loss as a concern that deserves just as much, if not more, attention as carbon offsets. For a more significant impact, we should practice direct emissions reduction and conservation alongside offsetting efforts. Here’s what scientists leading our “Wildlife and Reforestation in Brazil” expedition had to say.
Carbon offset is only a fraction of the larger picture. Prioritizing carbon markets without increasing or maintaining high levels of biodiversity is akin to greenwashing. Biodiversity is the true essence of forest health. Real restoration comes with high biodiversity. The environmental challenges we face are a collective issue, not isolated to one party or another, making collective efforts toward planting and reforestation crucial.
— Dr. Manoel Muanis, Principal Investigator
How to travel more sustainably
Fly greener: Many airlines offer carbon offset programs to passengers when they book their flights. These programs typically support renewable energy, reforestation, and other initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also, consider a direct flight, which is more fuel-efficient than flights with multiple stops.
Use eco-friendly credit cards: Some credit card companies provide cards that contribute to carbon offset projects with each use. Look for green credit cards and consider using one for your travel expenses.
Respect local ecosystems: Adhere to guidelines for interacting with wildlife and their habitats, be responsible for waste disposal, and respect established trails.
Consider your transportation and accommodation: Use public transportation or carpool whenever possible. Consider traveling by train rather than plane when possible. Look for lodgings that are committed to sustainable water and energy use, as well as responsible waste management.
Support local conservation: Consider how to support local environmental efforts at your destination. As part of an Earthwatch expedition, you can join local research projects contributing to critical environmental research and conservation efforts. You may also make contributions virtually from your travel location by joining community science projects through platforms such as iNaturalist.
While carbon offsetting has merits, its impact is limited without addressing underlying design challenges. The true heritage and value aren't solely in carbon sequestration but significantly in preserving biodiversity. Without a diverse ecosystem, including microbes and insects, even the best restoration efforts may not have long-lasting impacts.
— Dr. Julian Willmer
Is carbon neutral travel achievable?
While our social and economic landscape makes carbon neutrality during travel virtually impossible, it is a worthwhile pursuit. Perfection is not the goal. While we can't realistically expect individuals to achieve zero emissions, everyone should make a conscious effort to counteract emissions. We all travel for various reasons and integrating sustainable practices in travel and our daily lives plays a pivotal role in diminishing environmental footprints.