Can Travel Really Be Eco?

Can Travel Really Be Eco?

May 11, 2011

I have been mulling a recent comment on an older blog entry.  The person wrote “I was told by a wise woman not too long ago (who runs an ecological farm – Permaculture based) that: ‘There is no such thing as Eco travel. You wanna be Eco? Good – Stay Home!”

Is she right?  Is travel itself intrinsically bad for the environment?

There’s no denying that flying is bad for the environment.  Pollution from jets contributes approximately 3 to 5% of annual carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.  By getting on a plane and flying somewhere, you are immediately contributing to that total.

But there are things you can do to mitigate it.

The most immediate thing you can do is carbon offsets.  There are several website which will help you calculate the impact of your trip, and allow you to make financial contributions towards organizations promoting renewable energy, reforestation, or similar programs.  One of the best known, and most reputable, is MyClimate, a Swiss based organization.  Their website offers both a calculator of carbon usage, and easy ways to contribute to projects to offset your use.

But carbon offsets are limited in their ability to counteract the total impact of travel.  What else can you do, to reduce your carbon footprint while on vacation?

– Take fewer, but longer, vacations.  The single biggest impact is the flight, so make it count.

– walk, bicycle, or use public transportation.  Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, it’s a great way to meet both locals and fellow travelers.

– consider a tour.  Tours can actually be very efficient.  Instead of 5 parties of people all renting their own cars, you have 10 people in a mini-van.  Far more fuel efficient per passenger!

– but before you book that tour, investigate the tour company.  Find out what their policy is on responsible tourism.  Many companies contribute to local initiatives to preserve the environment.  Others purchase carbon offsets for tour-related emissions.  Be sure to book with a company that takes its responsibilities seriously.

– discard excess packaging before you travel.  Garbage disposal is a problem everywhere, but in many parts of Latin America recycling is all but unknown.  Minimize the amount of garbage you import.

– purchase local products, particularly handicrafts or foodstuffs produced in a sustainable fashion.  This is tricky, as it’s hard to verify if the wood used to make that lovely bowl really was harvested in a sustainable fashion.  But when possible, make sure you are contributing to industries and individuals who help rather than harm the environment.

– and of course, never purchase products made from endangered animals or plants.

Is travel inevitably  bad for the environment?  Like so many things in life, it depends.  Through eco-tourism, Costa Rica has been able to reverse a disturbing deforestation trend and become home to over 70 national parks and nature preserves. The Sani Lodge in Ecuador is  owned and run by the local indigenous community, allowing them to profit from preserving the jungle.  Many, many travelers have returned home with a new-found respect, and concern, for the unique environments they have seen. They help publicize the threats to these magical places, in turn helping efforts to preserve them.

If  you choose to make the effort to minimize your impact, support environmental awareness, and spread the word for those trying to make a difference, you can keep traveling, and still maintain your low carbon footprint.



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