This case has flown coast to coast and back again a half dozen times, and has traveled to the middle and southern parts of the country another dozen or so by air, bus and/or train.
My adventures have been rewarding and highly instructive, and I am grateful for having had every single one of them.
And yet, the more I've traveled, the more I've wondered about how much damage my travels have helped do to the planet.
This is not a new set of worries at all. When I made the decision to phase myself out from the bicycle industry and to make touring and recording Jewish music my primary goal, I did so from the hard reality of living in Portland, Oregon -- one of the most UN-Jewish cities in the country. I would HAVE to travel to find and take work, since the synagogues in town generally paid little or nothing to non-clergy musicians.
So I upgraded to a travel-grade case that could take the beating regular travel would dish out. (I don't check my guitar -- I refuse to -- but this hard shell case DID save my guitar once back in the bad old days when United required me to hand-check it and then sent it all the way through to my destination before I saw it again. The case took a beating, and my guitar was dinged up a little but still playable. I eventually sold that guitar. And I don't fly United anymore.)
I began to actively hustle for out-of-town gigs in cities with larger Jewish populations where there was enough of a base for someone to pay me to come and teach and perform.
I've been doing this for several years now, and it remains demanding and highly rewarding work.
From the very beginning, I fretted about my carbon footprint. Prior to making a career from music, I worked full-time in a bike shop and taught religious school two nights a week. I got everywhere I needed to go by bicycle, public transit, or a multi-modal combination of the two. I still largely get around town that way today. I have not owned a car since 1990. It was a choice, deliberately and thoughtfully made, in a city with better than merely decent public transit. And it has been a good choice for me. Not owning or working to maintain a car has allowed me to work fewer hours outside the house, and to have more time to rest, create and share time with loved ones. As I've gotten older, this time-based lifestyle has become more important than ever. I need and value the downtime between big trips, and I'm grateful to have a partner in life who supports my music-making and my creativity so that I can live this way.
That said, fretted about my carbon footprint when I began working out of town more, especially because I had to fly everywhere. (My first year of camp, I took the bus to save on transpo costs, so more of the budget for bringing me to Kansas City would land in my pocket. It worked out as planned, but it took almost a week for the swelling in my legs to go down. Subsequent trips to and from camp were made by air, at the director's insistence.)
As a lifelong bicycle commuter, my carbon footprint was pretty darned low. Now that I was flying everywhere for work, I became stressed about how my carbon footprint had blown up in a short time. I've never stopped fretting about it. But the truth is that bus and train travel are harder during the winter months, especially now that climate change has given us earlier and harder winter storms. (Also, train travel is being bled to death by a Congress that is being pressured by Big Oil and Big Auto to dismantle passenger rail travel in favor of cars. But I digress.)
Today, at the start of the Christmas Shopping Season (because if Christmas never existed, no one would be calling this the Chanukah Shopping Season -- think about it), the government released a National Climate Assessment, which lays out in cold, hard scientific fact, the harsh reality of human-caused climate change, and where we are headed if we don't do something about it NOW. Read about it here.
Here's the clincher: Air travel is destroying our ozone layer and atmosphere faster than any other form of transportation currently in use. Driving is also bad, but one cross-country car trip isn't nearly as bad as one cross-country flight in a private jet. (And before you get all smug about your brand-new E-cars and E-bikes, you should know that the lithium batteries both depend upon are also causing a huge environmental problem.)
Later this week, I'm flying down to California for a Shabbaton. The community is looking forward to my visit, and so am I. I just wish I didn't have to fly to get there and back. But timing-wise, I have to this time, because when I return, I have one full day at home to do laundry, re-pack my bag and fly to Chicago for the URJ Biennial, where I am getting something like a big break by performing in front of hundreds of people at a time, at a conference where 5,000 people are flying in from around the world. So I need this trip in order to make myself known to more communities, in the hopes that a few of them might find that what I offer is what they're looking for in a visiting educator/artist -- and invite me to visit.
And here's where things get weird.
Assuming that at least one or three communities show interest in hiring me to come out next yer, what would they say if I tell them that my preference is to take the bus or the train instead of flying?
Sure, the trip will take longer, but it will use far fewer resources than flying will and it will do a bit less damage to our atmosphere. I'm sure I'll get some funny looks. But I also know that I might convince a few people -- I hope I will. The nature of my time-based lifestyle means that I actually have more time to travel on the ground. And so asking for an alternate transportation stipend doesn't seem as far-fetched. Especially if I tell folks why.
Obviously, this won't make overseas travel easy or convenient; but I've never traveled overseas and can't afford to anyway, so I don't see it as a huge loss. At this point in both global climate history and my lifespan, it feels far more important for me to figure out how to live a smaller life that leaves less junk behind. And if that means not flying as much, or at all, I'm actually okay with that.
The British band Coldplay has just announced that they will suspending touring until they can figure out a way to make it "completely sustainable" -- which may mean no longer flying to tour stops.
Other artists are calling attention to climate change and many have pondered putting major tours on hold while they ponder the same issues of sustainability and reducing environmental harm.
If Greta Thunberg's mother can stop flying and still work as a professional singer in Europe (she did and she can), then I can take Amtrak with my guitar in its battered travel case. And so my goal in 2020 is to book trips that don't require air travel, but instead will allow me to utilize graound-based transportation so that I can do less environmental harm, at least on my smaller scale.
Because my legacy shouldn't be limited to the stuff I leave behind, but should also include the things I chose not to leave behind for the sake of generations to come.