The Saturday edition of Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper carried a lengthy article about American author Elizabeth Gilbert and her latest book, The Last American Man. Elizabeth Gilbert is most famous for her previous book, Eat, Pray, Love, which has sold more than six million copies worldwide..
They sound like interesting books, but what really struck me about this article was a sentence in the final paragraph of the article, which says that Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband run a small import business “bringing back hand-picked treasures from their extensive, continuing travels”.
Now, I don’t have any beef with Elizabeth Gilbert, or her husband, but that made me think about writers and their travels, mine included, at a time when rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions are leading many scientists to warn that the risks of catastrophic climate change are being badly underestimated by politicians and the public.
There is a lot to be said for writers travelling. It can lead to unexpected collaborations, such as the way Renee Liang has involved Wellington poets in the Wellington production of her play Lantern; it can lead to writers finding new audiences in new territories; it can help to ease that sense of isolation that writers often feel. I enjoyed my recent trip to Christchurch to take part in a poetry reading, and I’m looking forward to reading in Palmerston North on 2 June.
But all that travelling produces greenhouse gas emissions – air travel most of all. Of course, writers’ travel is a very small part of overall travel, but it raises the wider question: can we continue all the good things of our globalised culture, which depends so much on travel, when travel is so heavily dependent on burning fossil fuels?
With resources of those fuels depleting rapidly, the environmental consequences of their use becoming increasingly dire, and alternatives a long way from widespread deployment, I suspect that there will come a time when “bringing back hand-picked treasures from their extensive, continuing travels” is no longer looked upon as something to admire.
UPDATE: Having had a little bit of a go at Elizabeth Gilbert – even if only incidentally – it seems only fair to let her speak too. This is a very interesting video of a talk she gave about the nature of creativity, and how the modern West has got it wrong. It’s 19 minutes long and well worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA (Thanks to Neda Akbarzadeh for the link)