Traveling is a delight, and yet during the current pandemic, environmental experts point out how travel bans have benefited so many destinations. For example, lots of video clips have surfaced and shown such sights as jellyfish and dolphins in the canals of Venice. The waters there have cleared because there is no traffic, and it makes many wonder about the impact on the environment when travel bans are lifted.
Can you protect the environment when you begin to travel again? The experts say you most definitely can, but it will take some effort.
While it is certain that there will be a veritable flood of cheap travel deals, even low-cost and luxurious options, you need to be mindful of the impact that a flood of tourism is likely to have on the environment. As one expert said, with “travel more accessible than ever before, mass tourism is creating problems for the world’s most popular travel destinations like Iceland and Thailand. So much so that some attractions in these countries have had to close down because of the negative impact tourists have had on the environment.”
That is just two of countless areas that are likely to feel the impact once bans have lifted. So, don’t book a handful of cheap flights or low-cost holidays. Instead, take some time now to mindfully plan a trip that uses fewer flights and requires very little ground transportation.
Just those two steps would have an immense effect if all travelers decided to do so. If you doubt that, consider the statistics. The aviation industry produces around “2% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions and accounting for 859 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”
You can simply travel less or always take direct flights whenever available. You can also donate funds that offset your carbon footprint. You might also donate to projects that look to lessen carbon emissions or bring renewable energy to the communities or regions you visit.
Let’s start with that first option – finding a way to fly and yet also reduce your carbon footprint.
Rather than always looking for a low-cost fare, just opt to go the eco-friendliest route and fly direct. Do some research to see if you have any sustainable airlines around. These are airlines that are investing in the newest technologies such as biofuel use or electric planes (in the future). Look to see if any use methods that increase their efficiency. This may mean by carrying more passengers on any flight, eliminating weight, and using tailwinds or relying heavily on air traffic controls.
Then look for the carbon offsets. What are they? As another travel expert explained, one of the ways “air travelers can reduce the impact they have on the environment is through carbon offsetting their flights. Carbon offsets are voluntary schemes where people can pay to ‘offset’ or make up for the emissions that their flights produce.”
These sound great, but many wish they were a bit more straightforward. Some are for-profit, which makes them less appealing. Some worry because there are no standard certifications for such companies. The way it works is simple: the airplane you use to travel produces a lot of carbon dioxide. It and its fellow planes put out tons of it during every flight.
A carbon offset is simply a project that aims to reduce carbon dioxide levels by the same amount. So, your flight pours out two tons of carbon dioxide, and you invest in a carbon offset project that has the goal of removing two tons of carbon dioxide from the environment. This is done in a few ways:
- Forestry projects that plant scores of trees to pull the carbon dioxide from the air.
- Energy projects that “reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by investing in energy-efficient products or renewable technology. Often these projects have social and sustainability benefits for developing countries too.
Which should you choose? The smartest and easiest way to make the choice is simply to work with an airline that offers it. You will pay an added fee on top of your costs for the flight. Around 30% of all airlines offer a carbon offset scheme of some kind or another, and you will want to determine if your airline’s option is as valid and measurable as you would like.
Some of the top programs come from Qantas, Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Austrian Airlines, and United Airlines. How can you tell if your airline is using a good carbon offset? Look at how the offsets are calculated (if it is mileage alone, it may not be as valid as you’d like). What are the projects funded with the monies charged? What percentage goes to the project? Is it a Gold Standard or Carbon Standard verified plan?
Gold Standard is also a good way to find a carbon offset if your airline is not currently extending offers. This is a Swiss nonprofit “founded by a group of environmental groups and NGOs including the WWF. Their projects are based in developing countries and combine reducing CO2 with sustainable development.”
There is a noted environmental impact that comes from travel, and it goes beyond carbon dioxide emissions. There are more than 1.5 billion international tourist trips per year. Many emphasize famous cities, but many also head into the natural settings outside of urban centers.
Does this mean you should limit your travel? No, but it is best to travel mindfully. No last-minute, super deals that pour tons of carbon dioxide into the air for the round trip flight. No wasteful driving or mindless touring through natural spaces. And always look to support any local agencies that ask for voluntary entry fees. This last point is crucial. Whenever you visit a location, be sure you do more than support the accommodation provider, restaurants, and shops. Be sure you try to offset the environmental cost of your visit by making donations to organizations that support local initiatives to preserve the landscape. You want to visit beautiful spots, so be sure you do what you can to guarantee others will want to pay a visit themselves in the future.