2014: A Year of Travel

Submitted by Larry on 31 December 2014 - 2:58pm

As 2014 draws to a close, I look back at the year and realize... holy crap I traveled a lot! I hadn't actually done a fully tally yet, but here's the full rundown:

Sunshine PHP - Miami, FL - February
Drupal South - Wellington, New Zealand - February
Florida Drupal Camp - Orlando, FL - March
MidCamp - Chicago, IL - March
Museums and the Web - Baltimore, MD - April
Lonestar PHP - Dallas, TX - April
Drupal Association Webinar - Online - May
php[tek] - Chicago, IL - May
DrupalCon Austin - Austin, TX - June
Refactor::Chicago (User group) - Chicago, IL - May
Nomad PHP (User group) - Online - June
Crafting Code Tour - Minneapolis, MN; Milwaukee, WI; Cincinnati, OH - July
Design 4 Drupal - Boston, MA -July
Twin Cities Drupal Camp - Minneapolis, MN - August
Madison PHP - Madison, WI - September
DrupalCon Amsterdam - Amsterdam, The Netherlands - September
Symfony Live - New York, NY - October
Higher Ed Web - Portland, OR - October
BADCamp - San Francisco, CA - November
php[world] - Washington, DC - November

In all, I flew 64,082 miles (103,130 kilometers for the metric fans in the audience), presented 29 times, with 13 distinct presentations at 20 conferences and user groups across 3 continents, and spent 82 days on the road (not counting non-conference travel). You know what that means?

It means I created about 10 metric tonnes of carbon pollution.

The downside of business travel

Jet fuel is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The more you fly, the more carbon dioxide and other waste gases you contribute to the atmosphere and the more we continue the downward spiral of human-created climate change. Flying is way worse than driving in that regard. Most people don't fly all that much but if you're a frequent conference-goer like I am (and like I know a great many of my friends and colleagues are) then air travel pollution is a significant contributor to us destroying our world.

I know some people have called for a reduction in air travel, powered by remote-conferencing technologies, but as anyone who has actually used them knows they are at best a very useful but poor substitute for in-person interaction. Humans are social beings and we are not going to stop traveling to spend time hanging out and learning from each other. That's a pointless battle to fight.

A partial solution

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Many companies offer "carbon credits". The basic idea is that if you generate 1 tonne of carbon dioxide, you invest in funding some project that will reduce overall carbon dioxide output (or equivalent from other greenhouse gases like methane) by an equivalent amount. That could range from reforestation efforts to methane burnoff to any number of other techniques. The end result is that you are, in effect, "carbon neutral". It's less ideal than reducing your greenhouse gas emissions in the first place but it can reduce your impact.

It's also far, far cheaper than you would expect. I chose this year to offset my travel with credits from a company called TerraPass, as my company Palantir.net has worked with them before. (The carbon offset industry is too new to be regulated, so be careful of scams.) The cost of offsetting 1000 lbs of carbon dioxide? $5.95 USD. That's it. Less than breakfast at Starbucks. That means offsetting all of my air travel in 2014 is a mere $130. Adding in my home energy usage and driving brought the total up to about $260. That's it. You probably spent more than that on your phone.

So I did. And you should too.

Your turn

I know many of my readers are frequent conference travelers and speakers. Many of them cross an ocean much more than I do. Friends, that means you're churning out just as much greenhouse gas pollution as I am, if not more. It's ridiculously cheap to compensate, and only takes a few minutes.

My challenge to you then is this: Offset yourself. I'm not going to tell people to stop going to conferences (that would be rather hypocritical), but I am going to call on everyone who attended or spoke at a conference to, at least, buy offsets for their air travel if not their full carbon footprint. You spent more on the ticket than you will on the offsets. (If you were a speaker and got your ticket free, you spent more on the cab from the airport.) If you can afford to attend a conference, you can afford a latte grande's worth of carbon offsets.

No, it won't cure the world, but every little bit helps. And if we can make it a trend and an expectation, especially for we frequent flyers, it can have a larger impact.

Conference organizers, you too

I know of only one conference that offered attendees the option of purchasing carbon offsets at registration, and that was DrupalCon Chicago 2011. Conference Organizers: Let's make it easier for people to go neutral for your conference.

Partner with some reputable carbon offset company, give people a calculator for their travel distance, and let them buy offsets along with their ticket, T-shirt, and whatever else. Make it optional, sure. (Opt-out would be nice, but possibly not feasible without some default travel distance for the calculation.) But put it there in people's faces. For most people it will cost less than the T-shirt.

Make that your 2015 resolution: At least make your business travel carbon-neutral. It's cheaper than a gym membership and much easier to stick with. And you don't even have to break a sweat.

See you next year

And I'll see many of you again this year at Sunshine PHP, DrupalCon Bogota, Midwest PHP, Lonestar PHP, and other conferences yet to come. Just make sure to travel environmentally-friendly to get there.