How Travelling Has Increased My Environmental Awareness

Global warming and climate change are two things we keep hearing about frequently. Unlike some high authority figures, it’s not something we should be ignoring. However, it’s always been difficult to really grasp the effect global warming is having. It’s easy to get caught up in our day to day lives of finances, work, and personal relationships. My most recent travels have opened up to my eyes to the impact our livelihood is having and has increased my environmental awareness.

Air Pollution in China

Since being home, the question I often get asked is “How was China?” By now, I’ll admit that I have a small talk answer all sorted: “Amazing, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.” This brief sentence doesn’t fully describe my experience there, but it is true. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been and, for that, I greatly appreciate my time there.

Still, as amazing as my experience was, there are some things that I do not miss in China. One of which is the air pollution. If you’ve ever met Mitch or watched his YouTube videos, you’ll notice how passionate he is about air pollution. During those conversations I’ve had since being home which do go into more detail about my life in China, air pollution is certainly something that comes up. This iconic photo from our apartment in Hangzhou I feel sums up the reality of air pollution in China.

See those buildings in the distance? Nope, you can’t.

When you see pollution so obviously in front of you, it’s difficult to ignore the reality of it. What’s more, I could feel it having an effect on my health. We started looking into the main causes of air pollution. China still uses coal as a major source of energy which is where a lot of it comes from. One of the next biggest factors affecting air pollution is flights. This isn’t the best news for people who love to travel, such as ourselves.

In a country as huge as China, it’s very difficult to cut out air travel altogether but we did try. Thankfully the train system in China is very efficient and good value for money. We continued to bring down the number of flights we took while travelling in the USA. Greyhound buses, although they weren’t great all the time, did manage to get us from A to B, reducing the number of internal flights we took.

The Mass Consumption of Meat

One night in China, Mitch and I went to one of our usual local restaurants. I ordered my usual noodle soup with beef and Mitch then proceeded to order the same dish with no beef. The mandarin for “no meat” is very easy, and so the guy understood exactly what Mitch was saying but didn’t quite understand why. The idea of being vegetarian in China is odd. I imagine in some hipster parts of Beijing and Shanghai, vegetarianism could become a thing, but in our Hangzhou suburb, the noodle guy was baffled. I met a South African girl who was a vegan but that was so difficult in China that she opted to be a vegetarian instead.

Many dumplings in China were filled with pork

I’ve always eaten meat and while I was somewhat aware of the impact, it was once again in China that I began to realise the effect of meat on the environment.

While travelling in Serbia, Mitch and I found also it difficult to come across vegetarian food and in fact we did once get laughed at for asking where we could find some. In China too, it is was just standard to have meat.

I enjoyed my lunch at school every day and its routine. Rice was self-served, then there was the main dish, which always involved meat, followed by the “vegetables”Why is vegetables in quotation marks? Because the vegetable dishes would always somehow have tiny pieces of meat in them. Eating meat was a very natural and very unquestioned thing to do.

It was always a pleasure finding dishes with no meat – this was a tofu-based dish.

Given the population of China, it dawned on me just how much meat the whole country must consume on a day to day basis. After researching, I found this really useful BBC article detailing the increase in pork consumed in China. This year China has outlined its intent to reduce the amount of meat eaten.

What Can I Do With my New Environmental Awareness?

Although I highlight how China has increased my environmental awareness, per capita, China does not produce the most emissions. We also saw other countries problems. In the beautiful UNESCO heritage site of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, the gorgeous blue water could be found littered with bottles and other such waste.

The sea in Ha Long Bay looks lovely but if I moved my camera down slightly you’d see some litter in the water

Now that I’m home and have lots of things to keep me busy and concern myself with, it would be very easy for me to forget what I’ve seen and the real impact our lifestyles are having on the environment. I’m aiming to start small and hopefully start scratching the surface on how to reduce my own carbon footprint.

While I haven’t turned vegetarian, I’m certainly more aware of the amount of meat I eat. Dining out on our travels I often opted for veggie burgers and I am slowly attempting to reduce my meat consumption when eating out. Mitch and I both bought flasks so we wouldn’t have to keep buying plastic bottles with water. I don’t have any travel plans this year, but if possible I will keep up my train and bus travel, rather than opting for planes. There are lots of ways that I can try and reduce my carbon footprint.

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but being environmentally aware of my lifestyle and taking small steps and adjustments to create a better impact on the world is definitely one I will strive for.

Has travelling made you more environmentally aware? Do you take any steps to reduce your carbon footprint?

Leave a Reply