Dear EarthTalk: Why is it that airplane exhaust is so much worse for the environment than engine emissions on the ground?
– Winona Sharpe, New York, NY
While air travel today accounts for just three percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants that come out of jet exhaust contribute disproportionately to increasing surface temperatures below because the warming effect is amplified in the upper atmosphere.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the United Nations (UN) to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of the risk of human-induced climate change, reports that CO2 emitted by jets can survive in the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years, and that its combination with other gas and particulate emissions could have double or four times the warming effect as CO2 emissions alone.
Modern jet engines are not that different from automobile engines—both involve internal combustion and burn fossil fuels. But instead of gasoline or diesel, jet fuel is primarily kerosene, a common home heating fuel used around the world. Just like car engines, jets emit CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and soot.
Beyond their contributions to global warming, airplane emissions can also lead to the formation of acid rain and smog, as well as visibility impairment and crop damage down on the ground. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that aircraft engines contribute about one percent of total U.S. mobile source nitrogen oxide emissions and up to four percent around airports in some areas.
What worries environmentalists is the fact that the number of airline flights is on the rise and is expected to skyrocket by mid-century, meaning that if we don’t get a handle on airplane emissions, our other carbon footprint reduction efforts could be for naught. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that commercial flights grew nine percent from 2002 to 2010 and will rise another 34 percent by 2020.
A woman cooks traditional Mexican food in the mountain town of Cuetzalan. Photo by Starre Vartan.
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of Eco-Tourism, but what on Earth is “Geo-Tourism?
– Sally Kardaman, Sumter, SC
“Geotourism” describes tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a given place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of local residents. The idea is that tourism can be a positive force that benefits both travelers and local environments and economies.
National Geographic Senior Editor Jonathan Tourtellot coined the term in 1997 to distinguish it from “ecotourism” or “sustainable tourism,” both which more narrowly focus on travel’s ecological impacts. In addition to a “do-no-harm” ethic, geotourism seeks to enhance prospects for sustainable development based on the specific character of a given place rather than on standardized international branding, generic architecture and food, etc. In other words, a geotourism tour won’t involve sending you to an exotic locale only to put you up at a Hilton or Marriot and give you discount coupons to Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
“Today the world’s great destinations are under assault as visitor numbers rise exponentially every year,” reports the non-profit National Geographic Society, publisher of National Geographic. “The result is damage to the sites, overcrowding and erosion of the local culture and environment.” The Society hopes to reverse these trends with geotourism. Its Center for Sustainable Destinations (CSD) helps local communities, governments, tourism bureaus and private businesses enhance and sustain their distinct character while harnessing the power of tourism for positive impact: “Residents discover their own heritage by learning that things they take for granted may be interesting to outsiders,” reports CSD. “As local people develop pride and skill in showing off their locale, tourists get more out of their visit.”
Starre Vartan does yoga on the California Coast.
The thing that I love most about yoga is how flexible it is; I practice to focus energy during the workday, to relax at the end of the day, and in the morning when I feel tight or have slept weirdly. I do 10 minutes of yoga to cool off and loosen muscles at the end of a good run, but can also rely on it as my workout on the days I don’t want to run or cycle.
But I especially love to do yoga when I’m travelling (and, as you can see here, especially on beaches or near bodies of water). But also on mountaintops in the midst of a hike, or in a city park during a day of walking around. Not a full-on, yoga-outfit situation, but a few poses, ideally sans shoes, to just connect to the moment and the world around me more fully.
A group yoga class on the beach.
One of the best ways to keep up your practice while on the road (or if you are sojourning somewhere without a yoga studio or teacher nearby) is to keep a few podcasts saved in your phone or mobile-music device. And some hotels, like those in the Kimpton family, provide yoga mats and blocks for your room, so you can practice there or in their gym with your own mat that’s cleaned for you. There’s nothing like a focusing practice before I begin a day of walking, or post-flight (even five minutes of yoga before you pass out, exhausted, is amazing! It will help you sleep better and you’ll wake up more refreshed).
Ethicaltraveller.org is a nonprofit that takes an unbiased look at the status of socially and environmentally responsible programs in developing nations. I was incredibly curious to see which countries they designate as being the ‘best’ to travel to, because I believe in not only seeing the world, but supporting companies, countries, programs and incentives that actively work to protect indigenous people, give good jobs, protect the environment, and support human rights.
As they state: “There are many ways to deliver a message and take a stand for human rights and the health of our planet. Social networks are critical—but travel is also a powerful communicating tool. Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change.”
And The Winners Are:
Ethical Traveler congratulates the countries on our 2012 list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations. The winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:
Costa Rica *
( * = also appeared on our 2011 list).
Check out all the considerations that went into putting this list together on the Ethical Traveller site, but the short list is below:
“Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of all the nations in the developing world. We then select the ten that are doing the best job of promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and creating a sustainable, community-based tourism industry. By visiting these destinations, we use our economic power—our travel dollars—to support these countries.”
So far, of countries on the list, I’ve gotten to visit Costa Rica and the Bahamas, and Chile and Argentina are high on my list of places I’d like to see in 2012. Where have you been and where do you want to go? (PS – I’m going to have to do some reading about Mauritius and Palau…have to admit I don’t know much about them!)