Dreams of Green Travel

07/27/2010 06:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I dream and hope that some day truly green travel will be possible. Travel is a wonderful thing, but not when it trashes the earth.

I used to work for ocean explorer Captain Jacques Cousteau and even back in the 1970s he knew that we had to invent new ways of getting around that didn't destroy the remaining beauty and health of the planet. One of his ideas was that high-tech, wind-propelled sailing ships would be smart alternatives to our highly polluting, climate-destroying modes of transport.

Did we listen? Of course not. Our fossil-fueled ships, cars and planes have continued to pump toxic emissions into our atmosphere and the oceans. Almost 40 years later, in spite of more fuel-efficient vehicles, we're reaping the true environmental costs of not heeding the warnings of our early green pioneers. Air travel and other vehicle emissions, including huge tankers bringing "stuff" from Asia for our local Walmarts, are a core cause of escalating global warming, ocean degradation, species extinction and human and animal disease.

Is it time at last for us to take a look at 21st century travel with an awareness of the true environmental and social costs of unlimited travel by the wealthy peoples of the world?

Travel is a wonderful thing. It expands our minds and provides precious, enlightening experiences. It is also a luxury available mostly to First Worlders who remain oblivious to the true environmental, social and even political costs of their peregrinations and pilgrimages.

When I first raised this issue in environmental circles a few years ago, I thought my green friends would immediately understand the damage done even by well-meaning leisure travel to vacation spots and conferences. I was surprised when some of the most liberal and progressive people I know responded with anger at the mere suggestion that their beloved and privileged travel jaunts might actually be causing harm. As a therapist, I knew this response: it happens when someone stands between an addict and her bottle!

I too love the freedom to travel and hate to think about who or what I'm harming with a simple flight to visit relatives. I try to put that out of my mind, but the more I'm learning about the consequences of climate disruption, the more I have to face the fact that others pay the price of my ticket.

Is "eco-travel" the answer? Certainly it's a good idea (as long as it's not just greenwashing), but we still have to fly and drive to that nice green hotel in Costa Rica. No, I think we need a bottom-up redesign of travel, considering ALL the impacts.

I'd love to hear of any creative solutions HuffPo readers may know about.