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Spencer Rendahl: True Cost

Spencer Rendahl
On their last day in Spain, Suzanne Spencer Rendahl's family visted the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, which is still under construction.

I'd been dreaming of taking a break from early spring in northern New England and spending two weeks in Spain as a family sounded like just the ticket.Since round trip air fare for four was more than we could afford, I got the tickets by using sign-up bonuses from opening a couple of credit card accounts.

And it was a memorable trip, from the Alhambra in Grenada to the Alcazar in Seville. We climbed the Rock of Gibraltar, and took a ferry to Morocco, where my kids and I set foot in Africa for the first time. We visited Cadiz on Spain's Atlantic coast, first settled by the seafaring Phoenicians three thousand years ago. And we toured many cathedrals, including Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.

But on our first morning in Madrid, we watched Spanish TV coverage of France's Notre-Dame Cathedral burning. And as a world-wide outpouring of grief and support for the historic cathedral made international news, we witnessed another response on social media, where someone wrote 'What about this cathedral?' and posted a picture of the northern California forests that burned last summer. Someone else posted a picture of the Great Barrier Reef, now dying from warming ocean temperatures, asking 'What about this cathedral?'

The destruction of these and other examples of what many call 'Nature's cathedrals' has been associated with climate change, so now I can't stop thinking about the true cost of those 'free' plane tickets. In Spain we traveled green by taking buses, metros, and trains. But those round-trip flights added significantly to our family's annual carbon impact.

Right after we got home, the United Nations reported that in coming decades one million of the Earth's species are expected to become extinct because of human activity, including carbon emissions. And now, parliaments in Ireland and the U.K. have declared a climate emergency.

I want my kids to see the world, not just read about it. But now I'm more conscious than ever that it may come at a cost I’m no longer willing to pay.