'Take only photographs, leave only footprints' but how about our carbon footprint? Elisabeth Easther writes.

It's not easy being green and anyone with half a brain can see that our planet is facing serious problems because of the ways human beings use and consume. And although it's relatively uncomplicated to reduce, reuse and recycle at home, it can be much harder to be ecologically sound while travelling.

It is fair to assume that people who love to travel also love the planet. And when I say travel, I don't mean a week on the Gold Coast - although that's not to be sniffed at - but rather spending weeks walking in Spain, or climbing in Nepal, or just exploring for months around Asia or Central America. Learning about other cultures, finding out how different we all are and how similar too - it's the best education.

To roam like that, to get our fill of all that is awesome at every point of the compass, but we're simultaneously putting immense pressure on the planet. When we go to a Pacific Island where we're advised to not drink the tap water, we naturally gravitate towards single-use plastic bottles. Then, when we see piles of plastic on beaches or on roadsides, we're affronted, our knickers bunched in an outraged knot as if we played no part in creation of those mountains of trash. Yet expecting to stay hydrated in a country where there's little or no recycling infrastructure, who should be cross at whom? Because we return to our happy little clean green country (yes, I know that's debatable too), with different bins for various waste and we leave another country with a mess they can't cope with. At dinner parties we'll regale friends with tales from our trails, with the footnote of, "Oh, but what a state the place was in!"

Advertisement

Of course you don't want to get sick, so is it feasible to travel with a water purifier? Or only drink boiled water? Or get a Life Straw, a portable device that can filter up to 1000 litres of water, removing 98.9 per cent of waterborne protozoan including giardia.

Although it's not efficient at filtering viruses, so could you trust it? My son says you can use them to drink from public lavatories, but I'm never going to test the Life Straw's efficacy down the dunny.

And every time we buy a souvenir or snack abroad, a plastic bag is inevitably offered but, just as you do at home, how easy to always carry reusable shopping bags. If you've ever visited a turtle sanctuary to learn how the bulk of the inmates are there because of ingesting plastic bags, thinking they're about to snack on a jellyfish, surely that alone should put you off ever accepting one again, wherever you are.

How about emissions from aeroplanes? More than 1.5 billion barrels of jet fuel are used every year and, although many airlines are looking at alternatives to avgas, a workable solution is still a long way off, so every time we fly, our carbon footprint further stomps its mark across the face of the world.

It's said that emissions from international flights account for 2 per cent of greenhouse gases, a figure that's set to triple by 2050, yet electric planes are unlikely to become a reality in my lifetime because the energy density of fuel is higher than the efficacy any battery could hope to offer. Plus, as the fuel burns, the plane becomes lighter thus becoming more efficient, whereas those weighty batteries will stay heavy for the entire journey.

So perhaps we could return to going everywhere on foot? Or by bike or horse? Under sail or by paddle? Because imagine if every time you hugged a loved one, a little bit of them fell off, and that by enjoying them you were destroying them. Wouldn't you look for an alternative to that embrace?

Got a hot tip for reducing your carbon footprint? Let us know travel@nzherald.co.nz