Over Christmas my family and I traveled back to Australia for the first time in five years. There had been several reasons for our not returning sooner, high on our list was the cost, and a close second was the actual ability to take a month off to make the trip worthwhile. In a new job, with a gracious boss, I was able to take this time off over the holiday season, swapping rainboots for flipflops and skis for a beach towel.

Having been heavily involved in the sustainability scene over the past 5 years, I know full well the environmental consequences of our decision to travel, (just under 30 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for the family of four if you are interested), and because it was a trip to reconnect with family, I feel justified in using up many of the “credits” we’d saved through our more sustainable lifestyle over the past five years. What interests me more about this trip, like many holidays, is how much it was an artifact of the current age; even just a couple of generations ago, when you left the homeland for a foreign country, it was unlikely that you would ever return, regardless of who you had left behind. Long distance travel was typically a one way affair, occasionally dangerous, and it might be the last time you ever saw your family again, even in photographs. My grandfather left Ireland at the age of four – he never returned. Communication was limited to letters, telegrams were an expense reserved for the most important of messages, even the birth of a child was often announced by letter, as money was simply that tight.

While we were in Australia, we visited the Blue Mountains, one of my favourite destinations close to Sydney, (about 100km from downtown). Many of the tourist type facilities up there were developed in the 1880’s at a time when only the wealthy could afford to take a holiday, travelling on primitive roads in horse drawn carriages on a journey that could take days. It wasn’t until after the great depression, and the start of the age of the automobile that the average person could make the trip up to Katoomba to enjoy the mountain air and scenery. The simple act of driving out into the country to visit a beautiful place was impossible for the average person without oil and the industries it created.

Society has forgotten how to wait. Opportunities to exercise patience are limited to consumer purchases, when we yearn for the next iDevice, even though there are a dozen devices that could perform similar functions. The age of cheap, plentiful oil has spoiled our expectations, making simple pleasures mundane through excess; shrinking distances to the point that almost all trips can be taken in hours not days, weeks or months. There are of course benefits to these advances in technology, but too often we forget what we’re sacrificing and what we’ve lost – not attempting to glorify a past that was harder than our current situation.

Is there a moral to this narrative? Not one in particular, but I would say, “Go out for a walk”, “Slow down”, and “Be thankful”. This weekend I did all three and feel quite refreshed.


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.