Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”
–Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”
I just finished reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig (I started reading during the Climate Change Dialogue). In Chapter 1, Pirsig describes the value of roadtripping on a motorcycle by detailing the disadvantages of driving a car: "You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame."
I also just finished listening to a podcast called "The Pool and the Stream" that was produced by 99% Invisible. Host Roman Mars introduces the episode with this quote from Finnish architect Alvar Aalto: "Architecture and its details are in some way all part of biology. Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They're not born fully grown. They're not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They're born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas."
At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I’m introducing these two quotes because they capture different facets of my conviction that staying at home just isn’t an option. While I don't usually describe TV I watch or books I read as boring (I'm too proud to watch or read anything that isn't worth my time), I think only watching and reading about the effects of climate change and efforts to mitigate its effects on coastal communities would fail to illuminate the gravity of the issue. By traveling to Singapore and Indonesia rather than treating climate change as little more than a thought experiment, the communities I visited have become inextricably linked to my identity, and I feel a sense of duty to each of them.
Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention, and my experience bearing witness to the role of climate change in Southeast Asian communities generated my necessary sense of duty as a global citizen. Hundreds of miles away from my home, school, and place of work in Boston, my newfound sense of duty spawned new ideas about how I can reduce my environmental impact and contribute to local, state, and national environmental policy discussions. And though it will take more time for my ideas to develop into formal examples of civic activism, I am already using less water, less energy, and less material that winds up in landfills.
Of course, there are many questions of travel. Where, when, and at what cost are important to answer. Nevertheless, to travel or not to travel isn’t a question at all. In light of a president whose “lack of imagination” leads him to think that climate change is a hoax, travel is more important than ever for us to resolve pressing global issues.