Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

After Copenhagen: Can Travel Spur a New Green Philosophy?

by Christine DeSadeleer Dec 21, 2009
If we want to have the choice to continue traveling, we must forge a new path.

Following the whole Copenhagen meeting was quite depressing (though not at all surprising).

Touted as the consensus-building answer to our Earth’s woes (uh, us), it merely exemplified that almost every country will put their ability to make money above the future of the planet. Now here we are, left with a watered down version of the Kyoto Protocol.

But I’m not here to lament the fact that, as a human race, we can’t seem to get our you-know-what together. Ok, maybe just a little bit. Mostly, though, I’m here to contemplate what the Earth does for us travelers, and what, in turn, we must do for it.

Weird thought? Yes. Still, it is quite obvious that beyond simple survival questions, without lands both near and far, we would have nowhere to travel. We would lack inspiration to write, to discuss and break through borders in our minds and hearts, and find it harder to believe in the connections possible even when different languages are spoken.

Though not about a traveler’s dilemma around climate change, John Wihbey at the Huffington Post wrote a moving piece, After Copenhagen Chaos, A Bit of Emerson for the Soul, about the breakdown at “Hopenhagen” (or Nopenhagen?), and what we do now. He notes:

Environmental thinking…has always had a practical and a philosophical side. At this difficult moment – one that feels almost funereal for many, the very winter of climate discontent – there is still some consolation in recalling the philosophy that got the discussion going.

I agree. If we can’t understand what got the discussion going in the first place, then how can we reassess and move forward?

The Next Great Hope

A traveler makes their way to new and different places not only to experience other cultures, but to literally see new lands. I think about my most recent drive across the US along I-40, which takes you from the flat farmland of Southern California to the mountainous region filled with leaf-covered trees of Western North Carolina (and eventually, the warm beaches along the Atlantic ocean).

Dry desert with seemingly hand-crafted rocks jutting out from the Earth greet you in Arizona and New Mexico; the “Old West” brush and prairies appear in Northern Texas and Oklahoma; the sunset flirts in the rear view mirror, casting golden highlights in Alabama and Tennessee. This beauty, among reflections of it all over the world, is at the heart of the environmental movement and is the purpose for the discussion.

Wihbey also states:

When you look out on wind-blasted peaks that sweep down into valleys of frosted trees – when you are “out there” among the eloquence of the elements – thought of this “romantic” type comes in purer form. So does deeper reflection. What is nature? Why is it valuable? What is our relation to it? Where are we going together?

My questions are: What are we doing? Why can’t we seem to change? It’s as if we are stuck in some way, even though change is such a normal human process. Maybe it’s because we think we will go “backwards” in order to save these precious views for our children and grandchildren, that to have enough clean water available to drink and to keep coastal cities above ocean level means the end of commerce, and comfort, as we know it. And this scares us.

What to do, then? Similar to a recent post at BNT about how science needs to bring sexy back, Wihbey includes a perspective from environmentalist Stewart Brand. Brand laments that we need a whole new paradigm beyond romantics and scientists to take on the environmental battle – we need environmental “engineers”: essentially, problem-solvers that will push us over the tipping point.

Perhaps this is a possible answer to the argument between George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth about the seemingly inevitable-coming apocalypse. From what I can see, some sort of new thinking is crucial. Otherwise, the beauty – and our travels – will simply be distant memories.

What do you think must happen now that Copenhagen didn’t fulfill its promises? Share your thoughts below.

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