As ironic as it is, traveling around to see the world actually takes quite a toll on the world itself. Transportation is one of the highest contributors to carbon buildup and the destruction of the ozone. This fact can be quite annoying for the environmentally conscious, especially when all you want to do is see more of the world environment.
Even for the fiercest eco-warrior, abstaining from travel is just not realistic. Whether it's for business or pleasure, life is simply too short to remain locally locked. But never fear, because there are many ways to mitigate or offset any damage to the environment you may cause while traveling.
Here are our top 5 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while traveling:
1. Walk! Don't Drive!
This one's a no-brainer. Everyone knows that human power is better than horsepower when it comes to getting around (unless you mean actual horses, but even then it's marginally more efficient). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, USA (UCSUSA), "cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas." And it's even worse in countries with less stringent emissions regulations like China and India. So avoiding taxis and busses is one step in the right direction.
Besides, you're traveling to see the world first hand, not from the inside of a car! Get out and explore that foreign city on foot, or hike up that mountain the old-fashioned way. You'll get a more intimate experience in person than you would from the passenger seat.
2. Try the Locally-Produced Cuisine
In most cases, the beef for that hamburger patty and the dairy for that cheese originated states, sometimes even countries, away from where you ate it. According to the EPA, food production and transport accounts for 13% of the US's greenhouse gas emissions. If you're visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you gotta wonder where that sushi bar gets its fish from. Eating locally grown food isn't just a great way to ensure that you're helping the environment, but it's also a surefire way of making sure your food is fresh. 9 times out of 10 it's gonna taste better too.
And if you're traveling, eating locally is also a great way to try foods you may have never tried before! Do you really want to be that person that goes to a McDonalds when visiting Spain?
3. Stay in Eco-Friendly Hotels
On top of star ratings for quality of service, many hotels now display "eco-ratings" to denote how environmentally friendly the business operates. Hotels are notoriously wasteful businesses. Between daily sheet washing for hundreds or thousands of rooms and 24/7 power usage, most guests expect a level of service that demands unsustainability. But for the eco-conscious traveler, websites like http://www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com and http://site.destinationgreen.com offer a way to find hotels and lodgings with sustainable business practices.
And if staying in a standard hotel is unavoidable, you can lessen the environmental load by requesting for your sheets not to be washed daily. Is that really necessary? How often do you wash your sheets at home? You'll be helping the environment and the hotel staff will thank you for making their jobs a bit easier as well.
4. Fly Green
Flying is another big culprit in terms of carbon output. Airplanes consume huge amounts of fuel and eating through it at around an average of 1 gallon per mile. On top of that, according to the Smithsonian, jet fuel that produces more carbon dioxide emissions per gallon than the gasoline in automobiles.
There are techniques you can use to reduce your own personal carbon output when flying, and luckily enough, they tend to be the cheapest options too. Try to fly as direct as possible, minimizing layovers and plane change and buy economy seats when getting your ticket. You may not have a ton of legroom on that 13-hour flight, but at least you'll be saving money and the environment.
Additionally, attitudes within the air travel industry itself are changing for the better. Airports like Chicago's O'Hare and London's Heathrow and Gatwick are a few major airports to take sustainability seriously. O'Hare has a number of eco-friendly practices including the world's only aeroponic airport garden and Gatwick and Heathrow have each committed to a 10 point sustainability plan, and are remodeling to reduce resource use and environmental impact.
5. Invest in Carbon Offset
Unfortunately, no matter how diligent you are, traveling anywhere will build some CO2 emissions. However, for the concerned, "carbon offset" is a method creating counteracting your CO2 build up through trees. Services like Native Energy, Terrapass, Brighter Planet, and Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty allow you to fund the planting of trees to offset your carbon output. Over time, the trees you fund will absorb the same amount of CO2 you produced and replace it with O2. It's not a catch-all fix to the problem, but it's a way to take responsibility for the carbon produced from your travels.
There's no way to eliminate your environmental impact completely. But with these techniques, you can lessen that impact, and maybe even inspire others to do the same. With enough like-minded people, traveling and seeing the world doesn't have to mean destroying it too. Attitudes are changing and technological progress is being made in terms of transportation's eco-footprint, but simple actions by normal people like you are the catalyst for that change. Now get out there and see the world!
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