National Parks, Camping and Digital Media
Paradox and the Parks

Paradox and the Parks

Man is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions.

                                                                         – Charles Caleb Colton

retro logo reading "the newest coast to coast craze"

People from all over the world love the national parks, traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to visit. Many have noted the irony of this: we love the natural, wild spaces and in order to see them we get in our gas-guzzling cars, RVs/campers and/or emissions emitting planes. Extensive transportation contributes to human-caused global climate change which damages natural spaces and their ecosystems in small and large ways. That we damage the parks and natural spaces in order to experience them is one of the primary paradoxes of the national parks system that lovers of wild spaces from John Muir to Edward Abby have bemoaned.

Yet knowing this, still we go.

In our case, dragging along a camper is making even more of an impact with its sewage tanks, natural gas-run appliances, generator, and all the things that make a “home” on wheels. Even still, we believe there are ways we can limit the environmental impact that range from small to large. One small thing is a commitment to not relying on paper/plastic disposable products. It would make our lives easier in a small space by relying on paper products, but we’ve decided to make as little landfill waste as possible and wash our dishes. Another small thing is to expand the “Meatless Monday” idea and eat vegetarian meals with locally sourced fruits and veggies five out of seven days a week. Studies show that meat production adds to greenhouse gases, species extinction, and ecological disruption, and while a small commitment on our part, seems a good trade-off for traveling across the country.

One large commitment we have made is with our dollars. We bought carbon offsets for 10,000 miles with a diesel truck. This in no way truly “offsets” our trip by negating the impact. No matter what we do, the environmental impact will always be there. When we back up our camper into a muddy spot and out tires cut up the grass, when we release CO2 emissions into the air during an 11-hour drive, when we purchase processed, fast-food while on the road, all of these are ecologically-laden actions that we can’t get back and undo. What action we can take is to financially support sustainable projects. While this kind of “pay the priest to sin” logic won’t undo our damage, our trip offers an opportunity for us to make positive change where we can.

The process of purchasing carbon offsets requires a little care and research. We decided to go with the company Native Energy, recommended by the Sierra Club. After looking into Native Energy we were impressed with the projects and sustainability ethos. They have a project in our native upstate New York at the Seneca Meadows Landfill, so it was easy to see how our contribution could make a change near our home. We also liked that they support global projects as well, including clean water in Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia.

One thing this project helped us realize is that we shouldn’t reserve purchasing carbon offsets just for a big trip. We can offset our carbon consumption on a day-to-day basis, too, including estimating how much carbon we use in a year. Try it – it’s pretty incredible to estimate your footprint.

Future goals for offsetting our carbon footprint include investing in solar panels for our camper to reduce our usage of electricity while at campgrounds. This will all depend on how well we enjoy camping. We’ll see in the next 8 weeks!

Not all solutions work for everyone, but for us, this is how we deal with the paradox of loving the parks and traveling to them with our diesel powered truck.


Image modified from “The Newest Coast to Coast Craze” by Nesster licensed under CC BY 2.0.


    1. Matthew Vollmer

      The replacement will have to wait till we get back home, but we are managing a work-around. The tripod for the kingpin is AWESOME! Thanks for all your help!

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