As we head toward the global climate change meetings to be held in Paris in early December 2015 by the countries which are part of the Kyoto Protocol (the international treaty extending the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), let’s pause and consider how climate change will continue to impact tourism and our travel destinations and what we can do to mitigate against the effects of a warming planet and emission of greenhouse gases.
CLIMATE CHANGE: THE CAUSES
As we know, the climate is changing as a result of both natural phenomena as well as man-made activities. Both are contributing to the “greenhouse effect”. When sunlight reaches Earth, some of it is absorbed and then released back into the atmosphere as heat (also called infrared radiation).
Greenhouse gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide (74%; both use of fossil fuels and deforestation, decay of biomass) and methane (17%) absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space and making Earth warmer than it would otherwise be.
The sources of greenhouse emissions are many. In the U.S., 26% are from the nation’s energy supply, 19% from industrial production, 14% from agriculture and 2% from the aviation industry:
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON OUR TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Many of the destinations AdventureWomen travels to have already begun to see evidence of climate change in terms of changes to ecosystems and wildlife habitats, increasing glacial erosion, rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns.
- In Alaska: Thawing permafrost, glacial erosion, loss of tundra vegetation and sea ice
- In the Galapagos Islands: Intensified El Nino activity, ocean acidification, increased sea levels and temperatures, shifts in habitats and altered ecosystem function, changes in nesting behaviors and animal physiology, invasive species and health issues, altered rainfall and land use patterns
- In Montana: Increased wildfire risk, damage from storms and floods, decreased snowpack, pest impacts on forests and agricultural production impacts.
- In Sri Lanka: Extreme weather events such as high intensity rainfall followed by flash floods and landslides, rising sea levels, storm surges and extended dry periods resulting in water scarcity.
- In New Zealand: Higher temperatures (North Island), rising sea levels, more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts (Eastern New Zealand) and floods (Western New Zealand).
GLOBAL WARMING : ECOSYSTEM EFFECTS ON WILDLIFE HABITATS
Global warming can cause land-based species to migrate to higher latitudes or higher elevations where temperatures are lower. Similarly, as sea levels rise due to climate change, saltwater can be introduced into freshwater systems forcing some marine species to relocate or die and removing predators critical to the food chain. For many animal and plant species, the location of habitats influences key stages of yearly life cycles, such as migration, pollination, blooming, and mating. Global warming can thus lead to mismatches in the timing of migration, breeding, and food availability and wildlife and plant survival rates can be compromised when migrants arrive at a location before or after food sources are present. Shifts in ecological conditions can also support the spread of pathogens, parasites, and diseases, with potentially serious effects on human health, agriculture, and fisheries. And climate change can alter the frequency and intensity of forest destruction via insect outbreaks, invasive species, wildfires, and storms.
Most importantly, chain reaction effects in the food chain multiply the effects of climate change and global warming on wildlife. For example, recent declines in the extent of sea ice in the Arctic has reduced ice algae, a source of food for zooplankton. Reduced supplies of zooplankton, eaten by Arctic cod, has lowered this important food source for many marine mammals, including seals. Since seals are eaten by polar bears, declines in ice algae thus can contribute to declines in the population of polar bears.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Many of us feel powerless to stop something as pervasive and widespread as climate change. But we’re not!
As the EPA says “Driving a car, using electricity to light and heat your home, and throwing away garbage all lead to greenhouse gas emissions. You can reduce emissions through simple actions like changing a light bulb, powering down electronics, using less water, and recycling”.
- Use the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate your household greenhouse gas emissions resulting from energy use, transportation, and waste disposal.
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Avoid air travel for business in favor of video conferencing. A round-trip coach ticket from New York to San Francisco accounts for 2 metric tons of carbon dioxide—compare that with the average American, whose annual carbon footprint is roughly 19 metric tons.
- Avoid using your car except when necessary and consider owning a hybrid.
- Buy carbon offsets when you do decide to travel by air.
- Consider installing some solar panels. If you live in a state with a Net Metering law, you could eliminate your electricity bill or even earn money by selling electricity back to the grid.
- Use Energy Star® products which generate less heat (and save you on electrical bills!) and buy Green Power (renewable energy sources) to power your home.
- You can find the Energy Star label on more than 60 kinds of products, including appliances, lighting, heating and cooling equipment, electronics, and office equipment.
- Eat local
- It’s been estimated that 13% of S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the production and transport of food. So eat local produce and meats and avoid dairy and beef which come from destinations like Latin America where rainforests are destroyed to create farmland.
- Maintain your home properly
- Insulating to reduce air/heating leaks, changing air filters regularly, using a programmable thermostat and having your heating and cooling equipment maintained annually will all help reduce atmospheric heat emissions.
- Fixing leaky toilets, pipes and faucets, broken irrigation valves and conserving water reduces the need to use the energy required to pump our water supplies.
- Reducing, reusing, and recycling in your home helps conserve energy and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from resource extraction, manufacturing, and disposal. Composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing landfill deposits.