Eco travel and a recycled column: first published a couple of years ago (altho the photo is only a week old! Siam Safari on Phuket in Thailand)
Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of passports-holders some 80% compared with the fewer than 20% of Americans.( the most recent figure I can find) I’m a travelophile; like Asians need rice, Italians need pasta, British their curry and we Kiwi crave our fish and chips – I need to travel.
When I travel I feel great, and as a traveller and freelance writer means I visit where I want to go to – looking for both stories and fun – I don’t want to go to the flavour-of-the-month, or be ticking off some list of must-go-to-places. However with global warming and our position here at the bottom of the world, means we use more carbon to get to our holiday destinations (and this is a burgeoning problem for our tourist industry with Europeans now being told to holiday at or near home – specifically saying Australia and NZ are too far to travel. So what can I do about the carbon footprint I leave whenever I travel?
Well to start I reduce my use of carbon at home. I haven’t owned a car since 1995 and use our big red buses, a bike, and my feet. Living in the city means I can walk to a supermarket and catch the eco-friendly free, yellow shuttle bus home with my backpack and the more eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. I also recycle all I can.
However this doesn’t clear our carbon emissions but we can help by using eco bulbs, energy efficient frigs and washing machines and when we travel take as little luggage as possible. The more we carry the more fuel the plane needs and of course the more emissions it produces … so leave that extra pair of shoes behind and take a paperback not a hardcover book.
Theoretically, we can also offset our personal carbon footprint by buying carbon credits – this has been in practice for a few years but you need to check them carefully to know it’s not just a dodgy company that wants to build a fortune. Air NZ is considering ways to collect carbon credits from their customers and I have no doubt that their scheme will be a good way of salving our conscience for the pollution we produce.
We can also support genuine eco-tourism companies and practise the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism? Briefly, it’s an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the community it’s in. Independent travellers are more likely being eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home- giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge infrastructure costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience. Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful – a great eco experience. Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws abound.
We think of New Zealand – and market our country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. And are we really conservation minded or is it just the low population that produces less rubbish? What about visual pollution? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should participate in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has with Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes so they can see wonderful pristine sights. It this an oxymoron? It’s not only a New Zealand problem. At Lake Louise in Canada, I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.
More recently I was shocked at the air pollution at the fabulous Taj Mahal. The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on some unimaginative travel agents and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in specific areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. What can I do about global warning and travel? Both at home and abroad I shop at locally-owned places; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. in New Zealand support Kiwi Host, Green Globe, YHA,) and don’t change my towels daily in motels or hotels.
Combining the universal codes of ‘ pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.