2012 stands under the sign of sustainability. The United Nations (UN) designated this year under the device “Sustainable energy for all” and fosters projects that help human (in rural or urban areas) to have access to modern energy services and aim to enhance energy efficiency plus the share of renewables to the global energy mix (www.sustainableenergyforall.org). However, sustainability is not just about energy matters. It is the measure of the behavior how to deal with human, natural and economic resources – your quality of life!
As I travelled through Australia and New Zealand recently I asked myself, how sustainable can you design your travel and being a backpacker, can this go together with a low budget? But first, how would you determine “a sustainable living”? Three terms tip the scales:
Fairness – how well are resources distributed?
(income, energy supplies, education, ethnical difficulties)
Efficiency – how efficient are we using our resources?
(atmosphere/greenhouse gases, energy consumption, work and skills/labour)
Preserving resources – what will be left behind?
(environment, education, economy, culture, biodiversity)
If you arrive at your foreign destination with your cheap Asian flight company and are finally dropped by the airport shuttle at the most noisiest place in downtown you feel it right away. Budget travel means privations. Most of the young party crowd just left home at their first time, freshly graduated and no idea about life at all. But there are also a lot young people that try to escape unemployment and ethnic disadvantages. They unite as work and travelers – backpackers-and feed one own industry in Australia supporting agriculture, construction and hospitality work. Some have money in their pockets, earned or from rich parents, some have not. Compared to circumstances in their dream country, e.g. Australia, European backpackers resources are nevertheless fair, mostly graduated or educated with start capital in their pockets. The way I recognized the contrasting social standing and chances of Aboriginal people has been rather shocking: a lot have been ragged and alcoholised, poor and under-educated, rather seldom I viewed “integrated” natives. Thus education and income are not necessarily fair distributed for ethnic minorities.
Champagne Pool - geothermal field close to Rotorua/NZ
In terms of public education and ecology Australia and also New Zealand step ahead: most state museums and art galleries are for free! Also an advantage for travelers to save some money. You can be very efficient if you watch out a bit. You can for example reduce your CO2-emissions in many ways. If you travel in your own bought car you can share travel costs and fuel and take people on a lift. Or travel in public transport. In Perth you can even use the inner city bus system for free! In some Australian cities you can hire bikes for free – or walk, as the distances are not far anyway. If you need to fly just because the distances are indeed huge you can neutralize your carbon footprint and support forest projects – sometimes directly via your chosen airline. Another way of preventing CO2-emissions is to avoid fast food. It is healthier any way to prepare your own food and cheaper.
Energy and resources consumption happens everywhere in the daily backpacker life. Go to the supermarket and you realize that Australia and New Zealand still have no recycle system and waste fossil resources in terms of plastic bags that come with every article group you buy: one bag for fruit, one for milk, and yoghurt and one for even if it’s only one toothbrush… On top there is simply no waste separation-not in backpacker’s kitchens. But you can use one bottle for your drinking water from the tap (if it is not thoroughly chlorinated). Use textile bags for shopping and shock the packing girls and boys at the counter. “No bag, really?”. “Really!”
You can do more. Educate yourself by using free book shelves to exchange books and also to leave some excess books there instead of throwing them away. Do the same with excess food. There are free food boxes in backpacker accommodations that are usually empty. Someone’s always hungry. If this could work out globally, what would that change the global life quality!
And remember, you are not at home-respect resources of others. Try not to waste energy. At some places you find still coal-fired ovens and heating systems and maybe shake your head. Australia draws most of its energy from fossil resources (coal). Solar and wind power contribute below 1 % of the total energy mix. However, Aussies use solar panels a lot to gain hot water. You can see that on nearly every roof in Western Australia. In New Zealand at least 35% of the total energy supply comes from renewables (geothermal and hydro power) that largely contribute to electricity. You cannot really choose your energy supply when travelling. Just think ecologic!
Also a matter of sustainability - effect of greenhouse emissions on the climate, spoken dramatically
The way you bring your work and skills into the foreign society also is a measure of efficiency. Backpackers are often used as cheap laborers that now significantly contribute to agriculture and other industries. If you work “under value” it may be not efficient, yes even frustrating for you. Why not try in your usual profession and also achieve something sustainable for yourself?
Try to keep something for your future and get involved in preserving resources. The biodiversity of a country is one important measure of its sustainability. In New Zealand there are numerous volunteering projects in the field of nature and species conservation that you could join. If you want to save their national bird from extinction you can also adopt a kiwi or support it with donations. You can also contribute to farm work and help out in Australian or New Zealand families. This will thrive the economy and along the way you learn about people and their culture as well as they will exchange values with you!
Therefore a work and travel or backpacker’s life can be as sustainable as your daily life at home. Sustainability is not only a matter of money but what you are willing to give. The little things count.
Backpacker petting a little lamb on a sheep farm (Mata Mata/NZ).
Interested in sustainability in Germany? Visit the Science Year 2012