You live sustainably at home, have a fuel efficient vehicle and greened up your office. But there’s still one area that you could make more eco-friendly – your leisure trips.
Since horses are no longer a viable means of travel, taking a trip inherently means your generating an eco footprint. For the eco-conscious, the goal is to limit the size of that footprint without sacrificing the experience. The demand for environmentally friendly vacations is growing and the travel industry is paying attention. CEOs like Justin Francis are building entire businesses around making it easier to plan eco-friendly vacations.
Even if you can’t afford your own eco-friendly travel agent, there are ways to ensure your trip is green and clean for the environment.
Get the Details Before Booking a Room
When you’re splurging on a relaxation vacation the details matter. The better prepared you are the easier it is to relax once you get there. Here are a few ways to gauge how eco-friendly a hotel or resort really is before booking a room.
Spa Products and Equipment
If relaxing at the spa is a top priority, the services provided and products used can influence where you stay. Many spa products are full of harmful chemicals, but an eco-friendly establishment will go all-natural. Also ask about the equipment, like what type of massage tables they have available. The equipment is just as important as the skill of the service providers, especially if you have special requirements like the use of a pregnancy table.
Energy Sources and Conservation
More hotels are starting to see the benefit of going green since it helps their bottom line while helping the environment. It began with giving guests the option to forgo daily towel and linen changes. Now some hotels and resorts are investing in solar power systems while others are taking steps to conserve water from the infrastructure up and implementing recycling programs.
See if the hotel offers guests transport to area attractions. Carpooling in the hotel van can be more convenient and it’s greener than taking your own vehicle.
One Energy Consuming Feature to Have: Wi-Fi
During your vacation, you’ll probably want to unplug for the most part, but being in contact with family is important to most people. You never know when life is going to dole out something unexpected so you may not want to go completely off the grid.
Find Eco-Friendly Flights
One of the least eco-friendly parts of any vacation is getting there and back home. The least green option is traveling by plane. However, in some cases, it makes more sense to travel by plane rather than vehicle or train. You can make your flight a little greener by:
- Taking direct flights – Whenever possible book a direct flight to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Choosing a green airline – Airlines like Southwest are taking steps to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. Look for a carrier that has fully embraced the United Nations ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) agreement that caps carbon emissions.
- Comparing carbon emissions – Google has created a tool that will tell you the carbon emissions for a flight along with the price. You can lower your impact without affecting your budget.
- Utilizing an airline’s carbon offset program. Delta and a number of other airlines are offering customers the ability to join their carbon offset program.
Look for Eco-Friendly Entertainment
Selecting a resort or locale where you can get out in nature is good for your mental health and the world’s well-being. You can easily spend hours out on the nearby trails without adding one bit to your eco footprint. Even in an urban location you can take leisurely walking tours or bike tours to cut out the carbon emissions.
Staying in and spending a day at the resort can be equally entertaining and environmentally friendly. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making travel arrangements.
Choose an Eco-Friendly Destination
Where you go is possibly the biggest decision if you plan to take an eco-friendly getaway. You want the destination to offer creature comforts that make relaxation easy while also promoting a green lifestyle. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the world’s greenest destinations:
Costa Rica – For years Costa Rica has been the poster child for conservation. The country’s leaders have gone to great lengths to conserve rainforest, and this year the country made headlines for going 150 days on nothing but renewable energy.
Finland – Another country that’s so green it doesn’t matter where you go is Finland. The country recently ranked number one on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index.
Iceland – Iceland is another top eco destination. There’s no shortage of spas built right into the natural surroundings, which provides endless relaxation and 100% of the country’s energy.
New Mexico, USA – The rugged, raw beauty of the New Mexico landscape is the perfect backdrop for a number of eco-friendly resorts. Local hot springs offer a natural relaxing soak, minerals that can soothe the skin and geothermal energy.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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