According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounts for 29 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. So even though I followed Leave No Trace practices while backpacking in the Grand Canyon, my recent trip was anything but carbon neutral.
I drove to Bradley International Airport, in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. It’s ninety miles from home. Driving is not as good as taking public transportation, but it beats idling in traffic; on this route, there’s neither public transport nor traffic.
The problem with flying from a regional airport is that almost all flights stop at a hub, requiring a change of planes and a second takeoff. Jets use most fuel on take off. I had to take two flights to fly to Phoenix, Arizona.
The alternative would be to fly from Boston, but driving to and from Logan is a good way to ruin a vacation.
At least we were able to car-pool the rest of the time we were on vacation, filling every seat in the shuttle from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and stuffing our guide, our group and our gear into a van to drive from Flagstaff to the trailhead.
In Flagstaff, we hailed a ride share to get to the Arboretum, and we hitched a ride with a volunteer heading into town on the way back. Our last day, we chipped in to rent a car for the day to take four of us out to the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon and the lava fields at Sunset Crater.
Otherwise, we walked. We deliberately picked a hotel close to downtown and quickly learned our way around by foot. We even strolled through a residential neighborhood to get a feel for the local architecture and gardens. Once we parked at the trailhead on the North Rim, we hiked down to the Colorado and back, sending seven days traveling by foot.
We chose the hotel based on its location. We didn’t know the staff would be so friendly and helpful, nor that the place wasn’t just spanking brand new, but also LEED certified, meaning it was built to meet certain environmental standards. This was a bonus, and probably explains why the windows in our sixth-floor room opened, so we could turn off the A/C and let the chilly night air keep us cool enough to sleep.
In town, we ate at local restaurants, most of which touted farm-to-table connections. We ate well. In the Canyon, our guide cooked with real food – including a few fresh items, like shallots, arugula, dill and avocadoes. We didn’t eat anything instant or freeze-dried, though almost everything else was packaged: tuna and chicken in foil pouches, condiments in foil and plastic packets, and lots of plastic bags. We packed out all our trash, including our used toilet paper.
Between the altitude (Flagstaff is at 7,000 feet) and the exertion of hiking in the Canyon, we drank three- to four- liters of water daily, all out of reusable water bottles.
Leave a positive handprint, too.
Travel has a social impact, known as a handprint. Meeting local artists, talking with local inhabitants, using local services and creating relationships and making a positive impression are all about leaving a clean handprint.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Since returning from my trip, I’ve learned of more ways to reduce the carbon footprint of my travels.
- Calculate the carbon cost of flying and contribute the amount to an environmental effort.
- Once at your destination, walk, use public transportation and ride-sharing whenever possible.
- Seek out environmentally conscious lodging.
- Carry and use a refillable water bottle.
- Carry a refillable cup for hot and cold beverages.
- Eat the local cuisine prepared by local chefs using locally grown ingredients.
- Support the local economy by patronizing local businesses, including hotels, eateries and gift shops specializing in local handcrafts and art.
- Bring a packable, reusable shopping back with you, just like at home.
The Cascade Effect
After consciously lowering my carbon footprint by driving less and eating closer to the ground, I’m more aware of more ways I can tread even more lightly on the planet, including how I travel around it as well as choices I make at home.