We’ve all watched them, and probably follow them. The Youtube channels and the Instagram feeds from the people who have no fixed base and travel constantly, living in airB&Bs and running their digital busineses from laptops. They do great travel photography. They spend a month here taking amazing images of fantasic places before boarding a plane to somewhere else to do it again. They’re great, they’re informative and even though for most of us they’re not aspirational then we at least get to vicariously travel to these places with them. I’m not knocking any of this, I subscribe to loads of them.
With the climate emergency, how much longer can this lifestyle last?
There is no doubt among pretty much everybody who isn’t a politician that the climate emergency is real, it’s clear, present and dangerous. The simple fact is that flying is about the most damaging single thing you can do for the climate. All that cycling to work and turning off the lights you’re not using gets pretty much wiped out in your annual return ticket to your holiday villa. The simple fact is that if you really, really want to do something about the climate emergency then don’t fly. So where does that leave the digital nomads? Their lifestyles rely on them flying, a lot. They have built lives and careers around jumping on a plane to somewhere to run a workshop, or speak at a conference, or go to an Influencer press event. To be blunt; their lifestyles are at the expense of the future of the planet. Now, to offset that they don’t own much so they only rent a car when they need to use one, and the airB&Bs are always studio apartment sized, so in many other ways they’re pretty low carbon. But all those air miles almost certainly exceed the savings.
So ultimately, how much longer, morally, can they continue with these lives in their current form? Should they be making their lives look so aspirational for the next generation, are ‘Could You be a Digital Nomad?’ videos socially acceptable now? Fairly soon are they going to have to settle down, or at least be nomadic within the confines of bus or rail travel? Are the (few) people who currently go on their photo workshops in Patagonia, or Iceland, or Vietnam just going to have to forgo that? Is that going to be a problem. Most people run digital business from offices somehwere. Most of the great photographers lived before cheap air travel, I think I’m right that Weston and Adams never left the American continent, Cartier-Bresson was solidly european, Bailey could have done equally well just in London, and Avdeon’s masterwork is The American West rather than People I met in Various Countries .
Is a life based around easy, fairly cheap, air travel not going to be an option much longer?