Toussaint column: Kicking my bucket list to the curb
I’d walk out to support the worldwide climate strike, but I work from home. I doubt that standing on my front lawn in small, rural Carbondale would have much impact.
I do, however, intend to continue a “strike” of sorts, one I started two years ago when my former minister, the Rev. Florence Caplow, mentioned that for climate reasons, she had stopped flying.
Florence’s remark led me to discover that one round-trip flight to San Francisco, where I have business interests, produces 0.782 of a ton of climate-killing CO2. If I fly, I not only exceed the annual personal “CO2 budget” recommended by the Swiss nonprofit MyClimate.org, I also more than wipe out all the good I do all year by driving a plug-in electric hybrid, producing electricity from rooftop solar panels and eating a largely meat-free diet.
Nowadays, like Florence, I take the train instead.
While researching ways to support the Sept. 20 youth-led climate strike, I learned that during 2017, roughly 1,270,406 people were flying at any given moment; that’s around 10,000 planes continuously aloft. And every round-trip transatlantic flight emits enough CO2 to melt 30 square feet of Arctic sea ice.
Those facts have largely convinced me to kick my bucket list — at least the travel portion — to the curb.
The notion of a “bucket list,” popularized by a 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie, has become an internet meme. So much so that you can Google the “top 10 bucket list” items. Among them: getting a tattoo, swimming with dolphins, seeing the Northern Lights and visiting certain exotic places.
While I’m too needle-shy to aspire to a tattoo and don’t have courage enough to skydive (as George H.W. Bush did on his 90th birthday), I actually have engaged in many of the top-10 bucket list activities: taking a cruise, running a marathon, getting married, whitewater rafting and visiting the Grand Canyon. Indeed, having worked in the travel industry, my old passport carried stamps from Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala and Morocco (a bucket list locale), among other exotic places.
I credit travel for opening my eyes to how beautiful, complex and interdependent the world is. Sailing through a fjord, touching a coral reef and skiing on a volcanic glacier awakened my sense of wonder. I began to understand how lucky I was to be born in the U.S. when I saw families in a Caracas favela living in cardboard refrigerator boxes. It’s one thing to read that ebola jumped from Liberia to Dallas in a matter of hours, quite another to experience how short a flight from Africa to the U.S. really is.
Last week, Carbondale musician Jimmy Byrne, who had recently hosted a block party on global warming, mentioned a painful irony to me: Those who most keenly grieve about destruction of the natural environment are those who have traveled. This isn’t just an inconvenient truth, it’s an agonizing oxymoron. The people who are most in pain about the bleaching of the Great Barrier reef are those who have seen it and touched it.
People like me are quite literally loving the world to death.
Although air travel is relatively cheap (because dollars don’t tally the cost to our children and grandchildren) it’s a privilege enjoyed only by first-world people. The Guatemalans trying to enter the U.S. via the Rio Grande aren’t traveling to broaden their worldview; they’re fleeing because their homeland no longer gets enough rain to grow crops. Their kids are hungry. The villagers of Shishmaref, Alaska, who voted in 2016 to relocate their town, weren’t out to improve their real estate. They had to move because the coastline was melting and their homes were falling into the sea.
Since I first heard bouzouki music in “Never on Sunday” more than 50 years ago, I have wanted to visit Greece. But now I’m thinking I won’t be visiting Athens — never on a Sunday, never at all. Acid rain and air pollution are eroding the Parthenon, and the ancient city of Corfu is one of four Greek UNESCO sites threatened by sea-level rise. Do I want to add to that?
Perhaps I should heed the advice of Medium author Jacqueline Moore, who opined that most bucket lists are “self-centered — selfish, even — and an utter waste of your commitment and determination.” Why? Because most bucket list items are expensive, “gone in 60 seconds” and make “absolutely no lasting contribution to the world.”
Moore recommends instead creating a “legacy list” of actions “that will live on and continue to make a difference.” Items like teaching someone to read, helping out in a local school or animal shelter, coaching sports, lending a hand in a hospital or volunteering for a conservation problem.
I’d like to volunteer to help conserve Mediterranean sea turtles, but maybe I should join the Front Range Pika Project instead.
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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