We all hear the term “global warming” all the time. During recent months I have started to read travel stories how the permanent ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is melting, how ski resorts in the Alps are going to be closing permanently due to lack of snow fall, how glaciers are melting in the Arctic, how increasingly more frequent and severe weather disturbances are disrupting tourism, and on and on the stories go. Some of these stories even exhort us to go now before some of these scenic places will be transformed or gone forever. Climate change has now become an issue of concern for global travelers.
Travel, of course, has environmental consequences. Long-distance travel involves the creation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, airliners are some of the most intense pollutants in existence today. In addition, wherever we go, we consume food and other services, and we create waste. So what to do?
As far as airplane emissions are concerned, there are actually a few concrete things we can do. There are ways of offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel by means of purchasing trees that will be planted to offset these emissions. At Trees for the Future, your US$40.00 will actually pay for the planting of 400 trees which will help offset greenhouse gases. You will also get a Global Cooling Certificate and bumper sticker. On their website you will also see a list of partners, including lodges and bed and breakfasts that are powered by renewable energy sources.
The Rainforest Alliance actually offers a variety of information to eco-savvy travelers. They also offer a sustainable tourism certification to tourism establishments which is based on methods for reducing the consumption of water, energy and other resources, and to improve the management, handling and disposal of waste. They even make a toolkit for best sustainable tourism practices available for small and medium enterprises in the tourism industry.
On their website, the Rainforest Alliance also advocates a number of simple eco-friendly behaviours that we can all try to follow:
o Support local economies by seeking out locally owned lodging and dining establishments, locally grown food and locally manufactured products and crafts.
o Patronize green hotels whose managers have programs that save water and energy.
o Stay on hiking trails. Clean up your own mess and dispose of waste properly. Keep a distance from wildlife.
o Travel by mass transit as much as possible.
o Avoid vehicles with two-stroke engines such as jet skis, scooters and certain boats, which are enormously polluting.
o Be culturally sensitive to local customs, greetings, dress codes and food habits.
o Treat others with the same respect that you would ask for in your own community.
Other eco-certification programs for tourism operators and tips for eco-savvy consumers include the following websites:
– Terra Choice
– Green Globe 21
– Environmental Choice
– Green Seal
– The Global Ecolabelling Network
– The Climate Neutral Network
Another interesting website is Future Forests: it advocates a “carbon neutral” lifestyle, in order to neutralize our impact on the environment. Future Forests have been proving people with a variety of environmental gifts since 1997. You can dedicate a tree, for example, for $10.00. You can even plan carbon-neutral weddings with Future Forests.
One neat thing about their website is that they offer a really cool carbon emissions calculator that allows you to calculate your anticipated flying or driving emissions. I thought let’s check this out, so I entered some assumed data for a flight from New York City to London, England.
Instantaneously I found out that this flight would produce 1.22 tonnes of CO2. The calculator also tells me if I dedicate 2 trees I can make this flight carbon neutral. Alternatively I would be able to supply 2 energy saving light bulbs to a small community in the developing world. Both options would be £30. I also checked their carbon emissions driving calculator. If I travel 400 km (250 miles) every week in a car with an engine size between 1.4 and 2 litres, I would generate 4 tonnes of CO2 a year, which would take 5 trees to offset.
In addition to planting trees, you can also purchase “carbon offsets”. A “carbon offset” is actually an investment in a project or action with the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Offset projects come in many varieties and may include tree planting or reforestation, building retrofits (i.e. installing more efficient heating/cooling systems) or wind power projects.
According to the Better World Club’s website, this is the way it works: you can book a flight through Better World Travel – Members and get a free carbon offset for their US domestic flight ($11 value.) If you book a flight through the Internet, another travel agency or airline, send them a tax-deductible donation to offset the CO2 emissions from your flight. ($11 for domestic flights or $22 for international flights.)
So the good news is there are indeed ways of counterbalancing the environmental impact that we all have, even while we travel.