The author contemplates the dilemma of burning fossil fuels to travel and explore coral reefs while those same fuels are destroying the coral reef in front of him. (Peter Nix photo)

The author contemplates the dilemma of burning fossil fuels to travel and explore coral reefs while those same fuels are destroying the coral reef in front of him. (Peter Nix photo)

Struggling carbon buster encounters dying coral reef

Damn! Even on vacation, I can’t escape my ongoing, and imperfect, struggle as a carbon buster.

By Peter Nix Special to the Citizen

Damn! Even on vacation, I can’t escape my ongoing, and imperfect, struggle as a carbon buster.

After working in Greek refugee camps — a crisis fueled in part by climate change droughts in Syria — I had to leave and wait for a new Greek visa. Partly to avoid the high carbon emissions caused by flying back and forth from Canada, I decided to go snorkeling in the South China Sea.

Looking at promotional posters images, I want to swirl in ocean swells among garden-like towers of coral, accompanied by personable and colourful fish. And so expectantly, I gaze downwards onto the ocean floor, anticipating beauty. But reality intrudes.

Instead of magnificent coral towers, I see decaying coral pillars. White skeletons stagger on the ocean floor like bankrupt corporate buildings, bleached bits of coral peeling from once brilliant biological structures.

The destruction of coral reefs worldwide has been in the news. But do people understand that the death of a major ecosystem predicts our own human future if we fail to quickly lower our carbon emissions?

So I sit on the beach in Cambodia, conflicted by two opposing realities: the need to limit my use of fossil fuel, and my desire to travel.

Here’s the environmental problem. Fossil fuels allow vacationers to swim, happily, among far away coral reefs; but burning fuel to fly there warms the oceans, unhappily, killing tiny creatures that build the reef.

Here’s the human problem. Part of our brain routinely rationalizes contradictory behaviours, so we can feel good about ourselves. In this case, it justifies the act of flying to coral reefs even though carbon emissions from airplanes are destroying those same reefs.

That bundle of rationalizing brain neurons might say, “No need to do anything about coral reefs or climate change, someone else will do it”.

But another bundle of neurons, more thoughtful, could ask: “Really, how are refugees living in miserable camps in Greece doing with that do-nothing plan”? or maybe “How will children play when it’s 50 degrees outside?”

A famous writer, Walt Kelly, said regarding the need to take meaningful action about our environment “we have met the enemy, and it is us”.

A recent academic study concluded that it takes only 3.5 per cent of a population to create social change. After all, fossil fuel companies can sell oil only if “we” buy gas; politicians stop oil pipelines only if “we” protest.

And since about 70 per cent of produced oil is used for transportation, lowering your travelling carbon footprint would make you an agent of change.

I was once an environmental consultant to tar sands companies — Canada’s biggest oil producers and greenhouse gas emitters. But eventually, neurons in the logical, non-rationalizing, part of my brain said “you are supporting the unsustainable.” So I quit.

To lower my carbon footprint, I rarely fly because airplanes are huge carbon gas emitters. Whenever possible, I use less polluting buses or trains. And to compensate for any travel carbon emissions, I buy carbon credits to decrease wood burning in Africa — yes, wood is a carbon fuel.

Are carbon credits a rationalization for doing what I want to do anyway? You decide. But for sure, two choices now confront every thoughtful traveller: pollute more, or pollute less.

Before flying to my volunteer job in Greece, I loaned my electric car (a great investment) to my son to compensate for my use of aviation fuel by decreasing his consumption of gas. And renewable energy from solar panels makes my house carbon neutral for my adult kids while I am travelling.

You too can be an agent of change by choosing your personal carbon busting travel strategy.

You can help save coral reefs, and your kid’s future. Australia’s magnificent barrier reef is dying, and that country is spending $2 billion for restoration. But this is just a public relations trick by politicians that deny reality.

Any climate change restoration money will be wasted unless they, and “we”, have the brains to phase out the main cause of climate change – fossil fuels.

Cowichan Carbon Buster Peter Nix lives in Maple Bay