Travel responsibly: reduce your environment impact while travelling.


Although in the past 3 months the global attention was “stolen” by the pandemic, there is another emergency that, from my point of view, should not be forgotten and need immediate action. That is climate change. Although my blog is not meant to support causes at political level, there is a set of activities in the tourism industry that cause pollution on a global scale and should be approached consciously of the damages we may cause to the planet while travelling. I investigated the most authoritative researches in the field and I managed to identify 3 tourism-linked activities that are felt by the scientific community as the most threatening ones to the planet, thus I decided to share them with you, together with some tips to reduce our footprint on the environment while travelling.

Hope you will find them helpful while planning your next travel.

A little monkey at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Cruises

The cruise industry emitted nearly 10 times more sulphur oxide (SOX) around European coasts than did all  260 million European cars in 2017. An analysis by sustainable transport group Transport & Environment reveals that the largest cruise corporations emits four times worse than the European car fleet. SOX emissions form sulphate (SO4) aerosols that increase human health risks and contribute to acidification in terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Norway are the European countries most exposed to SOX air pollution from cruise vessels while Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Venice are the most impacted European port cities, followed by Civitavecchia (Rome) and Southampton.

The full report by Transport & Environment is available here

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap – Cambodia. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Flights

Based on a report by the British magazine The Guardian, taking a long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a whole year. According to figures from German non-profit Atmosfair, flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in a whole year – from Burundi in Africa to Paraguay in South America.

Here are some examples:

  • London–Rome flight – 234 kg CO2
  • London–New York City flight – 986 kg CO2
  • London–Los Angeles flight- 1,650 kg CO2
  • London–Perth flight- 3,153 kg CO2

Milan Malpensa – Johannesburg and back, generates about 1,489 kg CO2. There are 68 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year.

You can calculate the emissions of your own next flight on The Guardian portal

A Beduin tent in the desert. Somewhere near Bidiyah – Oman. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

 Audio Guides

When visiting attractions such as museums, villas and palaces, we are very frequently offered the use of an audio-guide (sometimes it’s included in the entrance fee, sometimes it’s an extra cost). Unfortunately audio –guides are not an environment risk-free option as their batteries are based on lithium or other chemical components.

In 2016 some protestors from the town of Tagong in Tibet, took to the streets after fish from the nearby Liqi River were found dead on mass, following a toxic chemical leak from the lithium mine.

The area has seen a sharp rise in mining activity in recent years, which has led to two similar incidents in just a seven-year period. Fish and other livestock have been found dead after drinking the polluted water.

Chile, the world’s second-biggest lithium producer after Australia, is also feeling the effects of mining.

The Salar of Atacama – Chile. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

In order to begin operations, miners drill holes into salt flats to pump salty, mineral-rich brine to the surface. The holes are then left for a period of up to 18 months, so the liquid can evaporate, before returning to scoop up the lithium carbonate, which can then be turned into metallic lithium. This leaves the potential situation similar to the one in Tibet, unfortunately, destroying local habitats and polluting nearby grasslands and rivers, with hydrochloric acid being used in the lithium process. One of the main issues in Chile, though, is the water consumption associated with lithium mining. For every tonne of lithium produced, 500,000 gallons of water is used. In Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed up to 65% of the region’s water, causing havoc for local farmers.

Solutions

Taking a cruise might be your lifetime dream so you don’t have to abandon it. Many of us might wonder how looking at a Caribbean island from the sun-deck of a cruise ship look like, or docking at Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or even entering the Venice Lagoon aboard a massive cruise ship.

Well, if that is your lifetime dream, do a cruise only once in your life: choose the route carefully and exploit it all, feel the experience of surfing the big waves of a storming ocean or the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean sea and maybe hop from one Greek island to the next. Then, when your dream is fulfilled, do not take cruises anymore. Be aware that every time you board a vessel it’s like you are turning on the engines of 20.000 cars.

The Caminito district in Buenos Aires – Argentina. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

If your travel destination is not at a very far distance and you can allow yourself a good number of days off-work, it may be better to drive instead of fliying, or, if possible, take a train. If energy is not produced by nuclear power plant, travelling by train emits dramatically less than planes and cars.

On the other side, long haul destinations cannot be reached in a reasonable and sustainable time, thus we must fly. However there are some expedients we can think of whenever possible, such as flying non-stop. The more times we take off, the more fuel we use. A report from NASA found that about 25 percent of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off. That includes taxiing, which is the largest source of emissions in the landing-takeoff cycle.

Casa Batlo, Barcelona – Spain. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Anytime you are offered and audio-guide just refuse it and hire a local guide instead. Just look at the device they give you as something that  killed fishes miles away and made water poisonous for several communities on the Andes. Then, just imagine how much you can take from a professional local guide. The human to human relation will enrich your visit and will supply an enormous added value that technology can’t provide, as much as it is well conceived. A local Guide is someone you can question not only about the attraction you are visiting but also about the local culture, habits, food and many more queries an audio-guide will never be able to reply. Beside the mining threats also think how much the dispose of lithium and other chemical based batteries contribute to global pollution.

Hiring a local guide might be more expensive than using an audio-guide but look at the added value of the money you spend!!! Moreover, after the pandemic, hiring local Guide will help supporting the economy and contribute to the renewal of the job opportunities for those who suffered the most from the global travel restrictions.

Finally, try to offset.

If you can, donate money toward replanting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There are several non profit and NGO around the world you can support. So just let’s turn your next travel into an environment supporting activity.

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