Many of you know that I have been learning French non-stop for the last three years, and some are aware that I wanted to go back to France to visit or live. Moving there is not possible, due to the difficulties of acquiring a visa without actually owning a home or having relatives in the country. And these same visa requirements, meant that I had to limit any temporary stay to 3 months or less. I had begun to plan a trip that would have allowed me to visit friends in Paris and Rouen, and near Lyon and finally a month in Guillestre in the French alps, visiting one of my favorite French friends. I had looked at certain Airbnb places in those three regions and was on the cusp of making reservations, when I was temporarily halted in my plans by two small retinal hemorrhages. These likely represent nothing serious, but it did force me to put off planning the trip until after my November 19 appointment with the eye doctor. However, in that time things have changed, or my thinking has.
I have been advised that my stance is useless, that someone will be in that seat, aboard that plane, if not me then another person, that my denying myself a trip to France won’t make a dent in climate change, that individuals’ efforts are for naught when it’s the big corporations that need to change. Maybe so. As an individual I already do what i can to diminish my carbon footprint: I eat no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products. That is because I have learned that it is animal farming that is at the base of most deforestation and our billions of cows are a huge global source of methane emissions, bigger than all transportation combined, according to some sources. Since methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, this is something I encourage in others: cut back on your consumption of animals even if you feel it is impossible to go plant based entirely. I use a washing machine yes, but I dry my clothing on a line. I rarely drive when walking is possible (yes I do own a used car). I have flown in a plane maybe a handful of times over all my nearly 69 years. I keep the heat way down in my apartment, despite the fact that my rent includes heat. BUT…
The things I do that add to my own carbon footprint are typically American. I use a small air conditioner in my bedroom in the summer, just for sleeping but I do use it and would suffer without it as my bedroom gets stifling in the summer heat, even in Vermont. And I confess to shopping online, largely because I do not want to drive to a far-off store or the store is simply too far away to get to. But transportation is transportation whether I do it, or I purchase something that forces someone to drive to my apartment to deliver it. I don’t only buy locally to sustain the local economy, no, as the local prices are sky-high for art supplies that are not the quality I need. And so on and so forth. I’m sure there are a dozen other behaviors I could name that add to my typically American carbon footprint.
But “everyone else” is flying, or would if they could, so why do I insist on not going to France? The French need tourist dollars, I’m told, and they would love to meet someone who loves their language and has devoted herself to learning it. Maybe so. Vermont needs tourist dollars too. In fact many of the world’s local economies depend on tourism just as much as France and Vermont do. Something is wrong with this. It used to be that a town sustained itself with local dollars and local crops and local tradespeople. We didn’t need to order most goods from afar, with invisible energy costs. Local consumption didn’t carry a hidden price tag in terms of the poor people in other countries employed to manufacture what we want more cheaply than we know it ought to cost. We have become addicted to bargain prices, to everything being made cheaply elsewhere and to low fuel costs so transportation doesn’t add visibly to the price we pay either.
I see I’m going beyond my level of expertise and also straying from my subject.
Someone recently said to me that if one country does the right thing, in terms of climate change, that could start a snowball effect, with other countries vying to do the same or better. I believe that individuals can spark this sort of thing too. I’m not going to France, because I cannot “justify” the energy usage. I will be just as happy as i am now, France or no. So, yes, I’m setting an example. Were you planning a trip overseas or by airplane? Well, maybe we can start a movement by changing our minds and our plans, and saying No. Because every such No — to eating meat or fish, to flying, to excessive energy use, among other things — is a heartfelt Yes to the world, to the environment and to the planet’s future.