To fly or not to fly?

On the weekend, I found myself at a reptile park. I entered a space where a young teen was drawing his finger along a tank’s glass and, on the inside, a swimming snake appeared to be following his finger. I laughed and went closer saying “Huh! You’re like a snake charmer.”

This interaction sounds fine until you realize (as I became conscious of only milli-seconds after speaking) that the young guy was of Indian origins and he probably perceived me as a racist fool making stupid generalizations about his culture. I was mortified and had no idea how to undo my blunder. The boy said nothing, didn’t smile, and wandered off. Either my perception of the situation was correct or he just wasn’t a very chatty young teen. I guess I will never know.

Since then I have questioned myself internally about whether I WAS conscious of his cultural background and whether my mind DOES make that link. And if it’s so, what does it say about me??

As somebody who spent most of the first 10 years of her life living in a country very different in almost every way to Australia, I can’t stress enough how much I value experiences that broaden the mind. Obviously, from the above story, it doesn’t save you from coming across like a complete red-neck. But at least you are aware of other lives, other people, other cultures, other religions… or just “other”, as some people might express it. I really believe that travel is a fabulous way to counteract racism and ignorance and various anti-social behaviours.

But as our seemingly unstoppable march towards extreme Climate Change continues, there are other arguments to consider when my kids pester me to take them overseas.

Recently a good friend took her family overseas to meet up at a kind of half-way point with a family member who lives on the other side of the world. When she got back, she told me what a great time they’d had and how much her kids had enjoyed it. She wants to travel more.

In 2009 P and I did a huge nine week trip to China, England, Wales, France, Turkey and Singapore. Even at the time I was aware that we were using up a massive amount of energy in taking that trip and I promised myself I wouldn’t travel again for a long time. Since then, I have been to a wedding in Indonesia, and we flew to Melbourne and back once.

Listening to my friend, I knew that if I went on a trip with our kids and enjoyed it, I would want to travel more too. Travel represents so many things. It represents a change from the daily grind, it represents treating oneself, it represents exciting things to see and do and it’s an opportunity to show the kids the “other” which I so wish to expose them to.

But what about the planet?

My friend laughingly (and not believing it was a good argument) said “But, if you don’t go, the plane will still fly.” I (predictably) responded with “But the less people who fly, the less planes will go.”

When I got home, I told P about this conversation. Being who he is, he instantly set himself to find out exactly how bad flying is. His research (gleaned, he says, from about 5 different sources online) told him that a family of four, doing a return flight from London to New York, uses up about the same amount of energy as an “average” US household uses in heating and cooling a house in a full year.

Massive. When I try to weigh up the education of my children against the future of the planet (which is their future), my mind simply refuses to compute. I have no idea what to do.

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