If you care about the environment at all, then travel, powered largely by fossil fuels as it is, may be starting to feel like a guilty pleasure.
To attend the recent COP17 climate change conference, I jetted in and out of Durban and clocked a few hundred kilometres on my hire car shuttling to and from the conference centre, billowing clouds of carbon and fretting about it all the way.
On the other hand, one of the year's most crucial events concerning planetary, and thus also human health, had come to our shores: as a health and environment journalist I wasn't about to stay at home and watch it on TV.
Overhaul transport habits
We all need to re-think and overhaul our transport habits to make them greener, no question, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on our travel needs and dreams. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to shrink our travel footprint, which are also good for our health. For example:
Use active transport (walking and cycling) and rapid transit/public transport at your destination as much as possible, rather than hiring a car. Apart from keeping you fit, greener transport modes allow you to interact more closely with a new city and experience it more intimately.
If you do hire a car, choose a low-emission model (car-hire outlets such as Europcar are increasingly including carbon ratings for each vehicle, and offering better performing models.)
Choose accommodation options with a real claim to being eco-friendly. In Durban, to name one such example, I stayed at the Bluff Eco Park, a former dumpsite beautifully converted into an eco-centre that uses renewable energy and sustainable building materials.
Offset your travel emissions. During COP17, Airports Companies South Africa (ACSA) joined up with Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA) to offer delegates arriving at Durban's King Shaka Airport a way to neutralise their flights' carbon. This is the My Tree In Africa project, available to all travellers: for R90.00, FTFA will plant a tree that offsets four hours of flying time.
Consider making your next vacation a healthy, eco-centric one. Sound, sustainable eco-tourism gives the world's natural areas important economic value and the funds generated help preserve them. Visiting nature reserves keeps them viable; even better, see them from a hiking, mountain bike or horse trail, or go kayaking or diving in a marine reserve. You can also choose eco-travel options that support environmental organisations and initiatives.
Our health and that of our extraordinary planet are precious, fragile and intertwined, so wherever and however we travel; let it be with the greatest care for both.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, Enviro and Travel Health Editor, Health24, December 2011