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Ecotourism flourishes when local people are engaged with sustainability

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‘Green’ is a term that has been getting on my goat during my travels. Everyone is green; everyone is eco-friendly. Simply by virtue of operating outside – which let’s face it, we all do at some point, even if only when walking from the front door to the car – seems to allow people to classify themselves as such. So when arriving in Kaikoura, an ‘ecotourism’ town in New Zealand, what was I to find?

Ecotourism is a policy following a combination of environmental concerns and tourism, defined by the International Ecotourism Society in 1990 as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people“.

New Zealand is in a strong position in terms of its link with nature; it prides itself on being “the youngest country on Earth“. As a result, tourists experience a pure environment that has been largely uncontaminated by humans.

A small population has meant the landscape in many parts of the country has gone almost untouched, but efforts to preserve its natural beauty are key in ensuring that it continues to attract large volumes of tourists.

However, ecotourism is unfortunately used interchangeably with the outdoors, and exposing people to these environments is not the same as being a green tourist destination.

With more than 5,000 people visiting Kaikoura on a daily basis during peak season, the infrastructure is the only way that a green community can continue to exist. Pollution in the form of exhaust fumes, erosion from walking, an increase in plastic bags and waste all take their toll, more so than from the everyday activities of living here.

Kaikoura is a town that does allow ecotourism principles to flourish – but only because it allows the permanent population to practice eco-friendly living. One can not exist without the other.

The community was recently awarded a platinum certificate by the environmental benchmarking programme EarthCheck for 10 years of sustainable tourism practice. It continues to prove its ability to remain eco-friendly in areas such as efficient energy management, air quality protection, land use and freshwater resources management – all measures that help the local community and infrastructure.

The local council does not provide a rubbish collection, just weekly recycling, and whilst locals claim different figures in their bragging to me, all say that around 90% of ‘waste’ is not wasted. It is instead recycled, whether at the local plant or at quirky events such as the annual Trash To Fashion catwalk show, where everything from toothbrushes to fishing buoys are converted into clothing.

The council was also the first to employ an environmental officer, and the plastic bag free campaigns, recycling bins on every street, and LoveNZ recycling project all ensure that it is on track to have no rubbish going to landfills by 2015.

Even tiny details, such as washing tour boats with high-pressured water rather than chemical detergent, or packing group lunches for tourists in 100% biodegradable boxes, have been attended to.

Kaikoura does thrive on outdoors activities, particularly marine-based. But the nature of these activities – marine life watching, walking (or tramping), climbing the hills – all suggest that the environment in some ways allows them to visit and engage.

If the town, the air and the sea were horrible and polluted, would rare animals live here, let alone local townspeople? As it is, the sea air is wonderfully fresh, the hills a lush green, and the breath you inhale walking around a heady delight.

In 1992, a new species, the black eyed gecko, was discovered in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. Usually shy seals can be found just relaxing on rocks on the peninsula, and dolphins, penguins, albatross and whales all cavort the seas around here. The very rare Hutton Shearwater is being assisted by a relocation project and new breeding reserve, and the forest ranges are monitored closely. These are signs of success, and measures to preserve and persevere with.

Green, outdoors, nature-focused tourism can only exist if the nature and animals are there to see, and are interesting and vibrant enough to see. Their environment must therefore allow for this, and it is local tourists and townsfolk, and eco-friendly measures, that will allow this.

By living an eco-friendly everyday existence, Kaikoura has allowed itself to be an ecotourism destination. Being green is so much more than just a slogan.

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Further reading:

Sustainable tourism: ‘going green’ doesn’t just mean a splash of colour

Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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