The issue of travel and climate change has been on my mind since I became The New York Times’s travel editor last year. I started on Travel just as we were putting together the annual “52 Places to Go” list and as we were choosing the new 52 Places Traveler, who gets on a plane (numerous planes, actually) and visits each of those places in the course of the year.
This year, Sebastian Modak has been filing his dispatches from far-flung places, including some, like Puerto Rico and the ice caves of Ontario, chosen in part to highlight the effects of climate change on our world.
Several weeks ago, the Travel desk published an article asking this question: If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home? In it, Andy Newman, a Times reporter, grappled with how much one person’s travel decisions contribute to global warming, and the news was not good. According to scientists’ calculations, a person’s share of the emissions on a one-way, cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles shrinks the Arctic’s summer sea ice cover by three square meters, or 32 square feet.
In his article, Andy wrote that while he wasn’t going to stop traveling, he was going to start buying carbon offsets when he flew. The idea is that by purchasing offsets you help fund projects that reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by an amount equivalent to the carbon burned by your activity.
The article generated intense interest among readers, with more than 860 comments on our site and additional discussion on social media.
Some thanked Andy for his article and for tackling the issue. Others criticized his decision to buy carbon offsets, saying that they were too little, too late, or said that focusing on the individual traveler lets carbon-polluting industries and the governments that have not done enough to curb carbon emissions off the hook. Some also took broader aim at the idea of simply writing about travel at all, saying that we were encouraging readers to take part in the destruction of the planet.
Their comments amplified issues we have been talking about here.
But travel also has benefits. It provides economic resources and jobs for people, often in places where there are few other prospects. For travelers themselves, there is the delight and magic of discovery, something we on the Travel desk strive to share with our readers every day. And while there are alternatives to flying, not every place can be reached by climate-friendlier means.
We will continue to cover travel, but from here on, the Travel desk is going to offset airplane travel by staff members on assignment, chiefly our 52 Places Traveler and the reporter Tariro Mzezewa. We will be using the platform Cool Effect, which helps travelers fund carbon-mitigation projects across the globe, like planting trees in Africa and India, putting up wind turbines in Costa Rica and creating cleaner cookstoves for use in China.
Reporters on all of The Times’s desks travel for work, but the Travel desk is slightly different. We don’t have to fly to the scene of an earthquake or a fire or to where the fighting is taking place in a remote theater of war. We are choosing to travel to bring back stories that can encourage others to take similar journeys. We are acknowledging that by committing to buying offsets for our staff.
It is, I know, a small gesture. But it’s a start.
I’m eager to keep this conversation going with our readers. Please share your thoughts in the comments; I’ll be reading.