To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, Take Longer Vacations

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: How to limit the damage you cause the environment while on holiday, according to two experts

Isabel Lissner and Michal Wimmer-Luria.
Tomer Appelbaum

Isabel Lissner, 29, lives in Copenhagen, and Michal Wimmer-Luria, 44, lives in Hadera; Isabel is arriving from Copenhagen

Hello, Isabel. Can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I’m here to work. It’s my first time in Israel, and I’m here to train inspectors in a program called the “Green Key” – a certification that hotels get if they’re very environment-friendly – and to promote another program, the “Blue Flag.” That’s a label of quality that’s given to beaches and marinas that are friendly to the environment. Michal is our representative in Israel, and I came to meet her.

Michal: I’m director of the coastal department of EcoOcean, an environmental research and preservation NGO.

Isabel: I work in an international organization whose head office is in Copenhagen. We work with more than 89 countries around the world.

So you do a lot of flying. Isn’t there a problem with your carbon footprint?

Naturally, I compensate for my flights through the Global Forest Fund. They have a website with a calculator where you enter your port of departure and arrival and find out how much carbon dioxide you produced during the flight and what that means in monetary terms. You donate the money and it goes to projects all over the world in which children plant and cultivate trees.

Michal: In Israel we have the “Good Energy Initiative,” a compensation project that invests in clean energy, solar panels and similar things.

Isabel: Sustainability isn’t only a trend any longer, it’s a matter of efficiency. Once it was considered a curiosity, but today people understand that it’s a way to save money. Many organizations are involved in it. There are more active programs, like those of Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, that are more aggressive and publish photographs of animals swallowing plastic and things like that, and then there are organizations like ours, with an approach that aims more at education.

Whom do you educate, and how?

In Green Key there are categories of criteria that the hotel has to meet. For example, recycling is important – not to use nondegradable plastic, to use environmentally friendly materials, plus the hotel has to agree to buy local products in order to assist the local economy. The challenge is to persuade management to educate both the staff and the guests – to hang up and reuse towels, let’s say, and not throw them on the floor.

Michal: In the end, it’s people who make the difference, but the education process is continual, because the staff at hotels is constantly changing.

Isabel: A few years ago, I worked at a hotel on the island of Zakynthos, in Greece. Tortoises came ashore to nest and lay eggs, and the hotel helped protect them. They instructed the guests how to behave and asked people not to bother the tortoises, and they really kept the silence; it was amazing.

How did you get into this field?

Isabel: I traveled a lot with my parents when I was a girl and encountered many people and problems. We traveled a great deal in developing-world countries. I saw poverty among children, problems of garbage, trophies from dead animals being sold. That made me sad and sparked my desire to contribute. The first incident I remember was in the Dominican Republic. I was just 8, I loved snorkeling, and I saw a guy picking oysters from the reef. I went over, took the oysters and simply put them back in the sea. He probably went back five minutes later to collect and sell them as souvenirs, but I remember that moment.

Do you have tips for reducing environmental damage when traveling, apart from patronizing green hotels?

Isabel and Michal: 1. Pack light: less weight means less energy used. 2. Don’t take things that are wrapped, because sometimes you go to places where it’s not possible to recycle plastic or paper. 3. Don’t go on short vacations: the longer the flight, the longer the stay should be. 4. Use direct flights, because take-offs and landings consume more energy. If possible, fly to nearby destinations. Flying is so cheap today that people don’t think about the flight, but if you’re from Israel and you want to lie on a beach, go to Spain rather than to the Caribbean. 5. Use public transportation or a bicycle. 6. Try to speak the local language a little. Don’t be parasitic tourists who exploit the local folk. Buy local and communicate, because to get acquainted with people is to change the world.

Silvia Burstein and Ariel Malamud.
Tomer Appelbaum

Silvia Burstein, 53, and Ariel Malamud, 52; live in Los Angeles, flying to London

Hello, can I ask you what you were doing in Israel?

Ariel: My nephew had a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall, so we all came for a great adventure in Israel.

Was it your first time here?

The first time I was here was in the Peace for Galilee [the first Lebanon] War, in 1982. I spent six months at Kibbutz Alonei Yitzhak [in northern Israel]. I remember thinking how strange it was that everything was in Hebrew, even though I knew Hebrew, because we learned it at the Jewish school in Lima.

As in Lima, Peru?

Yes. Silvia and I were born there, second generation. My grandparents came from Austria, Romania, Poland and Russia before the war. It’s the same for Silvia, except her mother’s family is from Turkey. I’m the dull Ashkenazi and she’s the amusing, friendly Sephardi.

How did you meet?

In high school. There was a tiny Jewish community in Peru – 30,000 out of a population of 30 million. But it was a very organized community, and very old-fashioned. It was important for them to maintain tradition. There was one school, but three synagogues.

Well, we’re talking about Jews, after all. Why did you leave?

Ariel: In the 1980s, a group of communist extremists tried to take over the country. They bombed cities, and people were kidnapped and “disappeared,” like in Cuba. I’d just started med school. My father pushed me to go to Madrid because he thought that as a student I was in more danger. I didn’t know a soul in Madrid. There was no internet, and phone calls were very expensive, but I was lucky, because after a year I persuaded Silvia to join me. It wasn’t easy.

She didn’t want to leave Peru?

She’s a year older than me, and back then it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to date a younger man. But in the end I was successful. She was accepted to law school in Madrid and after graduating we were married.

And today you’re a doctor?

A gastroenterologist. From the mouth to the large intestine there’s actually one long tube with all kinds of organs attached to it, and it protects us from what’s outside. The heart is not in contact with the external world, and neither is the brain, but the intestines are in constant interaction with the outside, so a lot of diseases occur there.

There are some interesting new trends in gastroenterology, right?

Thirty years ago, when someone said he was nervous and his stomach hurt, he would be told that it was all in his head. But no one says that any longer – we know that the head is connected to the stomach. Even though we don’t necessarily know exactly what’s happening there. My own criticism of this field is that we may know how to treat the problem after it appears, but we know very little about preventing it, and we also don’t have enough knowledge about nutrition. It seems to me sometimes that in medicine we’ve divided things into very specific and small parts, and that we need to break down those walls. It’s a paradox: You know so much, but you can’t see the forest for the trees. I also think that many diseases call for a doctor-patient relationship of the old kind, and that’s hard to find today, certainly in the American system. It’s better when a doctor has known you for years and sees what works for you and what doesn’t. 

Have you known your patients for years? 

Not at all. My specialty is [treatment of] a very dangerous condition: stones in the urinary tract that interfere with the functioning of the kidneys. You can die from that within 48 hours. There’s a small canal tube in that region that’s very difficult to get at, and not many surgeons perform the operation. But I work with a small camera that traverses the whole path from the mouth to the liver, and I can make a small incision in the canal and remove the stone. I’ve been doing it for 25 years and I still get a thrill every time. I can arrive at the hospital in the morning and meet a woman in a state of near-death, and by the afternoon she’ll be fine and the next day she’ll be discharged to go home. And it’s also usually someone who has small children, because in California the disease is common mainly among young Mexican women, after they give birth. I’ve done thousands of operations like that in the past 20 years. And it’s still a treat.