What to think about before going on your next trip

November 1, 2013

As a gift to the kids, a family member generously offered all of us to go on a Disney cruise. This led to a debate in our household. On one hand, a Disney cruise would be a great, fun experience, especially for the kids.  On the other, what are the social and environmental impacts of the trip? What is the impact of our family flying 2,400 miles and cruising many more on a ship? How much carbon emissions is generated? How much does our household generate annually on average? We researched all of these topics.

Using a free carbon footprint calculator, we estimated our household generates about 60 tons of carbon dioxide and other GHG. Flight was 5 tons and cruise was another 5 tons worth of emissions for a total of 10 tons. This trip increases our yearly carbon footprint by about 17%. Another way to look at it is what is the true cost of carbon emissions? According to EPA, the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is defined as “a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages and includes, but is not limited to, changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, and property damages from increased flood risk. However, given current modeling and data limitations, it does not include all important damages.” The SSC for 2015 range from $12 to $117 per metric ton of CO2 and for 2050 from $28 to $236. Ten tons for the trip times $100 equals $1,000 in food insecurity, happiness reduction, and homes damaged.

Is a short-term experience like going on a vacation cruise worth the long-term effect on the climate?  What does our society value?  What does our family value?  Thirty years ago, lead paint was banned because it was found to be poisonous to children.  I hope thirty years from today, carbon emissions will be banned because it was found to be destructive to human civilization. After the family debate, we decide to go forward with the trip.  An example of the tragedy of the commons at play in our everyday decisions.  At least, it spurred some conversation, and we committed to talking about an EDAP and carbon-neutral plan for the family soon.  In the end, is this a real gift to the kids or will it become a curse?

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