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Humans, nature and responsible tourism: chronicles of an Italian holiday

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The impact of irresponsible and unsustainable travel and tourism is clear for everyone to see, as Ilaria Bertini found out during a recent holiday in her native Italy.

While driving south along the eastern coast of Sicily, I felt mixed emotions. I was pleased by the arid landscape, occasionally coloured by almond and lemon trees, but I was horrified by the amount of rubbish in the streets – the result of people’s ignorance and the local administration’s laziness.

When I arrived in Avola, home to some beautiful small lakes, I immediately felt that the place was being respected for its natural beauty. But a closer look made me realise that people – both Italians and foreigners – were treating the place as somewhere to leave their lunch leftovers. I ended up collecting someone else’s rubbish, because I couldn’t stand the sight.

Something similar occurred a few days later in Porto Empedocle, when I visited the stunning white rocks of the Scala dei Turchi, one of the most impressive spots in my country. Again, the breathtaking panorama was contrasted by the cigarette butts, shamefully abandoned on the white stones, and with the writings and engravings made by teenagers in love. Even worse, the sea around this beauty spot was so polluted that it was forbidden to swim in the harbour.

I spent the following days in Lampedusa, close to Tunisia, which is well-known for being the first place that migrants from Africa try to reach. They leave their homes full of hope for a better life but often meet a tragic destiny at sea. Over 18,000 people have died in these waters since 1988. There is a migration museum on the island where things carried by these people have been collected, including personal items, food, clothes and hand-written notes. Outside, shipwrecks rest under the blue sky.

Lampedusa is a beautiful island, with wonderful beaches. The most famous one, the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island) has been chosen by the marine turtle Caretta Caretta to lay eggs. It is therefore monitored 24/7 by volunteers, in order to prevent people from putting up parasols and leaving their waste on the beach. It is a rare case of controlled tourism in Sicily (the beach closes at 7.30pm to allow the turtles to have some peace and quiet; otherwise they wouldn’t lay eggs), but this does little to dispel the overall impression that tourists are more important than nature.

Before leaving Lampedusa, I had the opportunity to learn more about one of the most silenced fights going on in Italy. In Niscemi, a desolate and poor part of Sicily already devastated by pollution from oil drilling, the US armed forces installed a Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), a satellite system to allow global communications for the US and its allies.

There are several stations around the world, but these are usually located in uninhabited areas. But in Sicily, the MUOS is near a village, in a site of natural interest.

There are many reasons why the locals are protesting against this satellite. First of all, it is a war instrument. This means that if a war occurs, the base and its surrounding area would be an easy target, especially considering it is close to the Middle East and areas in which the US have many economic interests.

Second, it destroys the nearby cork oak trees that are traditionally vital for the local communities. And third, as professors Massimo Zucchetti and Massimo Coraddu claimed, there are health implications due to electromagnetic pollution by the MUOS that pose “serious risks to people and the environment”. The professors said the machine should therefore not be placed in densely populated areas – such as adjacent to Niscemi.

Mothers in the town have been protesting against the MUOS and Sicily’s militarisation. But it will take more than a group of defenceless women to overcome the world’s number one superpower, especially considering that since the second world war, Italy’s government has arguably been a ‘doormat’ for the US. Activists from No MUOS pointed this out on the night they presented their documentary film in Lampedusa.

I left the island with mixed feelings of sadness and nostalgia, to visit the small volcanic island near Lampedusa called Linosa. A black pearl, calm and out of time and space, it has only 400 inhabitants who seem to live the slowest life imaginable, just spending their days chatting in the streets and seeking rest from the burning sun.

Linosa also hosts a laying site for turtles, but as a veterinarian in the rescue centre explained, people often stay with boats near the beach, listening to loud music and throwing rubbish in the sea. They sometimes refuse to leave when they are asked to, because, they say, “the sea is everyone’s”.

Turtles come to the rescue centre because they have eaten too much plastic or hooks and fishing lines. I saw turtle shells seized by the police from poachers and learnt how difficult it is for them to survive: only one out of 1,000 cubs reaches the adult age. The centre was set on fire last year, probably because someone was uncomfortable with it. This is how it works in a forgotten place, where institutions are nothing but puppets.

So what is left from this holiday? Many beautiful memories and some hope for sure, because things must change. But also a worrying feeling that the world is going down a worrying path, as people treat the sea, the land and animals as property, commodities, something that is owed and something that does not have to be respected.

To prove my point, I’ll leave you with something I saw years ago, which has always stuck with me.

On a beach once, I saw a child screaming because there was a jellyfish in the water. His father, instead of telling him to swim somewhere else to avoid the animal, took a net and removed it from the sea, from its natural habitat and home, and left it to melt under the sun.

Because humans, evidently, are more important.

Further reading:

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

A responsible tourist considers local communities

Sustainable tourism can help tackle the world’s biggest challenges, says UN official

81% of tour operators and 75% of travellers say yes to more sustainable travel

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

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What Does the Rising Alt-Right Movement Mean for Climate Change Propaganda?

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Time author Justin Worland penned an insightful post this summer about the increasingly divisive attitudes on climate change. Worland pointed out that concerns about climate science used to be a bipartisan focus, but have since become primarily the concern of the left.

The Alt-Right Gives Renewed Voice to Climate Change Denialism

Unfortunately, the battle is becoming more divisive than ever before. The rise of the alt-right movement has propelled climate change denialism into overdrive. The election of Donald Trump illustrates this perfectly. In 2012, Trump tweeted that climate change was a mess created by the Chinese. At the time, his statement was dismissed as a mocking jab at the current president. However, after millions of alt-right voters put Trump in office, these fears became more pronounced.

The alt-right movement is gaining steam across the Western World. This has created profound concerns about the inevitable future of climate change. Of course, not every alt-right group adheres to climate change denialism. A British paper writing service would likely publish more articles that are favorable to the climate change discussion, even if it was read primarily by right-wingers. However, that is of little solace to the rest of the world. While alt-right groups in mainland Europe may not share the American GOP’s hostility towards climate science, they will help reinforce their political capital.

Around the same time Worland published his article, his colleague at The Guardian, David Runciman wrote a piece that focused more heavily on recent developments driven by the alt-right.

“Not all climate sceptics are part of the “alt-right”. But everyone in the alt-right is now a climate sceptic. That’s what makes the politics so toxic. It means that climate scepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism. A sceptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable. A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not. Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.”

Does this mean that the quest to fight climate change has been lost? No. A new generation of right wingers are beginning to break the cycle of climate change denialism. According to recent polls, millennial conservatives are much more likely to be concerned about the future of climate change then they’re older conservative brethren. They may help turn the tide of the political discussion, so climate change can once again be a bipartisan concern.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of concerns:

  • Millennials are less politically active, so they may not have the influence necessary to temper the alt-right position on climate change.
  • The alt-right has significant control over the discussion. Trump has taken efforts to bar studies that contradict his position on climate change. Millennial attitudes on climate science make shift after being exposed to alt-right propaganda.

The biggest concern of all is that it may be too late to address the problem by the time millennials have any meaningful political influence.

So what can be done to address the issue? Climate change advocates must be more diligent than ever. They will be combating a group of climate change deniers with a lot more political support. They will need to make the case that fighting climate change is not a political concern, but a concern of human survival.

With concerns about climate change mounting, they will also need to make it one of their primary ballot points during coming elections. If they create enough of a protest, they may be able to turn the tide of discussion.

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How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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