Keeping It Green

Today would have been a great day for a bike ride through Liberty State Park, but the raining and falling temperatures prevented that. I took that bike ride last year without realizing it was Earth Day until I noticed all the festivities by the old train station.

It’s always a good time of year to reflect on our carbon footprint–frequent travelers tend to think about this often because they’re constantly on planes. Of course, I don’t get to travel as often as I’d like, so I don’t have to worry as much about the impact of my flights. I do still look at my everyday impact on the earth though.

dahon eco 6 bike
My folding commuter bike

Simplifying my commute

Fortunately, I have the luxury of working close to home. I can take the 20-minute walk, but this year I’ve taken to biking so I wouldn’t have to walk home late at night after teaching. If the weather is exceptionally bad, I could also take the PATH train one stop, but that doesn’t save me time over walking. My car sits in a parking lot and I take it out once a week for a trip to the grocery store to ensure it still works. If I really wanted to, I could walk to the grocery store as well. I also use my car for the occasional drive to see my parents. I usually buy gas once every few months. And I still drive the same car I bought when I was 17 (I don’t like getting rid of things).

Expat habits to learn from

There are some habits I learned from my time in China that have helped decrease my carbon footprint as well as save energy and money. Because I never had a dryer in China, I had to wait for my clothes to dry, which could take days in the humidity of Shenzhen. Now I have a high-efficiency washer/dryer in my apartment, but I don’t even bother with the dryer–I have a drying rack.

China also taught me to appreciate the local markets. The ones near me now tend to have better produce and lower prices than the supermarkets. They also have a great variety of organic products that I wish I could afford more often. Jersey City also has farmers’ markets that aren’t outrageously expensive.

Fujian Rice Terrace
Terraced fields of Fujian province, China

Traveling green

It’s important that we maintain our positive environmental habits as we travel. It’s not always easy since we don’t always know the local culture or language–it’s also easy to just pay for a taxi instead of walking or figuring out public transportation. Every now and then we get lucky, like the taxi my family and I had between Kuala Lumpur and Malacca that ran on natural gas. I learned quite a bit about sustainable travel at The New York Times Travel Show and I still have the information for a few of the tour operators–they’re not the cheapest travel alternatives, but they are worthwhile.

Gunung Kawi temple in Tegalalang, Bali
Gunung Kawi temple in Tegalalang, Bali

Even if we’re not entirely certain how to keep our environmental impact to a minimum as we travel, we should at least be conscious of our habits. It’s best to keep disposable products to minimum. We want those scenic views to remain scenic.

What do you do to reduce your carbon footprint, either while traveling or at home?

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