Sustainable Tourism: How can we make a little, go a long way.

Venice is sinking and Lapland has no snow. Locals increasingly face extreme rainfall, drought and heatwaves. The damage to our climate has impacted our ecosystems, economies and human health, and worryingly, projections show that these extremes will only increase and worsen over many European regions.

Even if we were to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, the emissions that have already been and continue to be sent into the atmosphere will have an impact for centuries to come.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), fifth assessment report states that we can expect shorter winter seasons, sea level rises, ocean acidification, civil and social unrest in many poorer countries, risk to food, electricity and water due to large scales storms, and affects on tourist perceptions of many destinations.

The tourism sector seems to be in denial about the impact and no country has a specific climate change tourism strategy. It’s unacceptable to place all the responsibility on the tourist, but in the meantime, what can we do to be responsible tourists, and lead the way for responsible action?

Stay Grounded

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The aviation industry accounts for 2% of carbon emissions (some studies say more) and is one of the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in the world. Technology is being developed to produce more sustainable airplanes, that are powered by battery or biomass fuel rather than kerosene, but for the time being, it’s expected it could take decades before this technology will be available to us. In the mean time, high altitude planes produce contrails (trails of water vapour condensation) which are highly damaging to the earth, and whose effects double at night time, according to Dr. Piers Forster from the University of Leeds.

Shifting all UK night flights to the daytime would save the equivalent of 2.5% of the UK’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

So we can’t hang  around for the aviation industry to fix this problem overnight, and without public pressure the industry won’t have the real motivation to make the changes, nor will governments feel they need to regulate it. Just look at Finnair, recently caught out for providing misleading information about it’s carbon emissions reduction. So how do we do better?

Trains and Buses

Public transport in the form of trains and buses, are infinitely better than airplanes, and many are government owned. It’s always good to support a government funded service, as ideally that feeds back into government funded sources and amenities.

Cars

It’s also becoming easier for tourists to hire fully electric cars in many destinations around Europe, with Enterprise adding electric cars to their fleets from as early as 2011. But what if you need to cross the water?

Ferries

Ferries are more complex and it can be difficult to define their benefits in relation to airplanes as there are many factors in play. Cruise liners for example contribute high emissions because of the electricity needed to power onboard services. More modern boats and ships are made with lighter metals, such as aluminium, so they require less fuel to be powered. They are also painted with non-pollutive paint, which helps prevent water pollution. The Passenger Shipping Association’s (PSA) carried out an independent study and found that ferries contribute CO2 emissions of 0.12 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. For airplanes it has been figured at 0.35 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. However, it all comes down to the boat or plane model, passengers on board, distance travelled, time of day scheduled, and definitely more factors, my puny brain can’t emotionally deal with right now.

Walking and Biking

However, if you are considering a biking holiday or a walking pilgrimage, you are courting with the possibility of enjoying a potential near zero emissions holiday. The less time we spend in the sky and the sea at the moment, the better, and opting for public transport or leg powered transport carves your way to a much more environmentally empathic holiday.

Support Local

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Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

Use your next holiday as an opportunity to support local businesses and local initiatives. Drink the local beer. Visit a restaurant that prides itself in selling in-season and local produce. Spend your money on locally produced food, goods and services.

A common definition of “buying local” is consuming food and products that are grown or made within 100 miles of their selling point. Food that is bought locally tends to be safer, healthier and better for the economy of the country you are visiting and the environment as a whole. The less food has travelled, the less carbon emissions have been emitted into the air due to transport.

It’s not always straight forward to know the travel miles of all the food and products you buy, but start having those conversations with sellers in the market, seek out restaurants that advertise themselves as organic, local or in-season and visit local craftspeople’s shops and stalls.

Go Wild

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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Visit local charities and initiatives that support the local ecosystems and help support wildlife conservation. Book tours that are eco-friendly and help you learn about local customs, traditions, nature and the landscape.

Visit www.ecotourismireland.ie to learn more on how and where you can support ecotourism in Ireland.

Single Use, is Single Use Everywhere

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Photo by Ryan Everton on Unsplash

We’ve gotten much better (not perfect) at rejecting single use waste and opting for reusable coffee cups, water bottles, lunch boxes, shopping bags utensils, etc. However, still so many people don’t take this good habit abroad with them. When we make these clean choices, we make them for the planet as a whole, so don’t get lax when it comes to your holiday. Do your best to use your reusable and refillable products and even try learning a few helpful sentences that will make explaining you don’t want that straw or you you brought your own cup, easier to explain in Swahili.

Likewise, collect and dispose of your waste responsibly, giving equal respect to the beaches abroad, as you would at home. Recycle wherever possible and don’t litter.

Sea, Sun, Safe

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Photo by Emily Bauman on Unsplash

Avoid toxins for you and the sea, by using Ocean Safe or Reef Safe® sunscreens, that use natural ingredients and are preferably vegan and cruelty-free.

Opt for non-motorised sea transport like, kayaks, canoes, surfboards, etc., so you can avoid fuel waste entering the water and damage to sea-life.

Coral reefs are extremely diverse and sensitive ecosystem, never ever touch the coral, as they can be affected by the oil on your skin. Dive In recommends using buoyancy aids to help prevent overzealous kicking and causing damage to coral.

These are just some of the ways you can help the planet when you go on holiday. Please share any other ideas you have in the comment section below.

Green Travels! 🙂